As early as the 1880s early settler farmers planted apples, cherry, plum, prunes and other types of fruit trees on the Saanich Peninsula. We can see the legacy of these orchards throughout Saanich with many of these trees still around, over 100 years later. You may even have some original fruit trees in your backyard.
These orchards produced a wide variety of heritage varieties with glamorous names like the Cox Orange Pippin, the Northern Spy, or Belle de Boskoop, all with distinctive flavour, colours and textures. Some were best suited for eating fresh off the trees, others for baking, preserving or juicing. The choices we have now in our grocery stores, with apples grown for durability and uniform appearance, are slim pickins. Don’t despair. There is work afoot to preserve and celebrate this heritage and diversity of deliciousness.
Top of the list is the Rex Welland Legacy Orchard at 1215 Stancil Lane. Here, see over 200 trees and 100 varieties of apples, some found nowhere else in Canada. You can learn how to identify apples and care for fruit trees, or just take a picnic and enjoy the cool shade of the orchard in summer. Got an apple tree in your yard that you want to identify? You are in luck; a great resource is the BC Fruit Testers Association, a group of backyard hobbyists and professionals with a passion for educating about fruit trees (www.bcfta.ca). You can also call on the folks at LifeCycles, who run the Fruit Tree Project.
Now if this doesn’t make sense I don’t know what does. The LifeCycles crew work with a team of over 200 volunteers to pick fruit that would normally go to waste. The fruit is shared between the homeowner, the volunteers and community organizations that provide the fresh fruit to vulnerable people in the community. LifeCycles has teamed up with local businesses to make cold pressed apple juice, ciders and other products to raise funds for operating the project. Last year the project picked over 50,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables with over 15,000 pounds in Saanich alone.
LifeCycles Fruit Tree Project co-ordinator Jenny tells me that “The Fruit Tree Project seeks to honour the great abundance of local fruit here in Victoria, Saanich and the western communities, by making sure it’s shared widely with those who will not only use it, but cherish it. While doing do so, we bring together people from all walks of life to take part in this large community effort.”
Apple harvesting starts in early August and runs until late October. To learn more, become a volunteer picker or register your tree to be picked see www.lifecyclesproject.ca.
Did you know that nearby SaltSpring Island was among the first areas in B.C. to grow apples in the 1860s and now grows over 450 varieties of organic apples? You may want to mark your calendar early on Sunday Oct. 2, for the 17th annual Salt Spring Island Apple Festival held at the Fulford Hall on Ganges Road. They say it’s a chance to “visit apple heaven while you are still here on earth.” (www.saltspringapplefestival.org)
To learn more about local food, health and happenings in the region, visit www.crfair.ca.
Linda Geggie is the executive director with the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable and can be reached at email@example.com.