Heritage apples revived

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Apple man . . . Richard Stevens says the Stevens' apple growing "will help pay the rates." PHOTO: CHRIS TOBIN

by Chris Tobin

A couple living outside Waimate are delving back in time growing old-style apples seldom seen these days, and certainly not in supermarkets.

Angela and Richard Stevens have a lifestyle block, “The Last Straw”, amid the rolling hills on Elephant Hill Rd and happily grow apples, run eight pure-bred Dexter cows and have just acquired eight sheep “for the health of the land”.

They have also done considerable work on the property, so much so that Mrs Stevens joked she considered it not so much a lifestyle block but a “deathstyle” block.

“We work bloody hard.

Fresh from the tree..The basket contains Lord Nelson apples with some Peas Good on the bench. PHOTO:SUPPLIED

“It was just like a little house on the prairie when we arrived in 2014.”

Their house is built of straw bales, which they love and find remarkably warm, and they are off the power grid having their own solar power.

Mr Stevens said they did a lot of fencing and had developed a garden.

“It’s a super-fertile area. You should have seen the size of the cabbages; I had to cut them with an axe.”

There were already some apple trees on the property when they arrived from the West Coast, where they had been living near Kumara. Their orchard now contains about 200 trees.

“All are heritage apples and are pre-1950s, some varieties go back 300 to 400 years and the apples are sun-ripened. They haven’t gone into a cool store.

“We pick them all ourselves.”

“People want something that’s real. The apples you get in a supermarket are perfect. How did they get like that?”

The apple season ran from mid-March to the middle of May. The Stevens sold their apples at Waimate’s market, or gave them away to friends.

The reaction of people when they taste the apples is generally the same.

“One man tried the Discovery apple; he said they tasted like strawberries. He couldn’t get enough,” Mr Stevens said.

“He regularly bought 2kg of them until we ran out.

“A lady came up from Wyndham and took some of the apples back [home]. She said she needed some more so I sent her six varieties.

“People want something that’s real. The apples you get in a supermarket are perfect. How did they get like that?”

Varieties the Stevens grow are Black Prince, Crowders, Discovery, Fairbelle, Lawfam, Lord Nelson, Mount Cook, Peasgood Nonsuch, R du Thorn, Cox’s Orange Pippin (which sold out in a day at the Waimate market), and Hettina.

“We’ve got Captain Cooks as well. Someone threw a seedling out of a cookhouse; a shearer grew it, grafted it and now we grow them.”

Flowering…A Fairbelle tree blooming in springtime. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The Stevens have been inspired by Riverton man Robert Guyton who has scoured Southland saving the “DNA” of old apple varieties from the remains of early settlers’ orchards and gardens, remnants of an age when pioneers grew what they needed on their land.

Besides apples, the Stevens also grow pears, plums, nectarines and apricots.

Their interest in apple growing is not to make money.

“I give a lot away,” Mr Stevens said.

“I gave one woman 50kg, but it [apple growing] might help to pay the rates.”

Mr Stevens will give a talk on heritage trees and grafting at the Waimate District Library on Saturday.

“I got talked into it. There’s a lot of different ways of doing grafting. I’ll show them the simplest way. Anyone can do it.”