I am going to make a momentary assumption. Either you have, or would like to have, a bit of land to grow things on. Since you are on my blog and not going through Monsanto’s seed list right now, I will assume you like heirlooms and heritage breeds as well. Taking five minutes in a catalog like Trees of Antiquity can tell you just how expensive even a modest orchard of ten trees can be.
Sure, the breeds they offer are wonderfully diverse and some of them sound absolutely amazing. Varieties for drying, for cider, for baking and for eating. Some with unusual scents or unique spicy flavors and even one with a hint of boysenberry! Want one? Maybe more than one? Go for it.
And here is where you ask yourself why in the world I picked that title up there when I am going to tell you to buy the heirlooms that cost an arm and a leg compared to the bargain bin Red Delicious found in every garden center for five dollars. Well, for one, they are going to be way better than that run of the mill Red Delicious. More importantly though, they are going to be the basis for your much larger orchard.
I think it is safe to say that most of you aren’t planning to plant a few hundred rows of apples and try competing on the open market. More likely, this is for your own benefit or maybe a few farmer’s markets. Once they ramp into full production, that handful of heirlooms you bought will be enough to satisfy your needs while you work out the rest of this plan.
Now that you have a rich genetic blend floating around your tiny orchard, the apples you harvest will be a wealth of possibility. Every one of those little seeds that you plant will have an advantage almost none of our grafted, pot raised apple trees ever had a hope of. It will have a tap root. It doesn’t sound like much, after all, don’t the other trees all do just fine without one?
Well, the trees get by okay, but their root system and the plant as a whole can never reach its full potential. That long tap root is going to give it stability and endurance to outlast dry conditions that would be beating other orchards down. By reaching deeper, it can access water long after the ground above is baked hard. Better still, a healthy root system means a healthier tree.
Those of you who know about why people don’t normally plant apples from seeds are shaking your heads right now. Yes, I know none of them will be true to type even if you plant nothing but a single variety. I also know that the chances of breeding an apple with the marketability of a Braeburn or Macintosh apple is pretty low, but the odds are good it won’t be a crabapple either.
Some of the trees will have a fruit that is flawed. Terrible taste or poor texture, just to name two possible problems. Another number will just be blah. Good enough to use, but nothing to go out of your way for. The rest will still be good, just not some amazing new variety everyone wants to buy. So what? Here is the thing with the bad ones, they don’t have to stay.
You paid nothing for those seeds after all. They were a byproduct of eating the delicious apple. If you didn’t baby the trees, any of them that aren’t suited for your area died off before they could produce fruit, so that’s not an issue. Better still, apple wood makes a wonderful firewood. It is considered to be one of the best woods for BTU that isn’t also a lumber tree. Do I also have to remind you of how delicious apple wood smoked bacon is? Imagine homemade bacon that has been apple wood smoked.
If you don’t need the wood, sell it. Money for the cost of pushing a few seeds into the ground and waiting a while. Even if you only keep one tree out of twenty, you are ahead on the deal. Better yet, if you manage to get that 1 in 20,000 find, your apple seed venture just netted you a nameable variety that can stand against the big boys as a whole new breed of amazing apple.
If you do find one you really like, start planting out more seeds and using them as root stock for cuttings to expand the number of that variety you have in your orchard. Who knows, maybe one day your apple will be right along side the handful of varieties found in the supermarket. If nothing else, your apple pie will be one of a kind.
I hope that I’ve made a solid case for trying to grow apples from seed. It isn’t quick, but it can be a way to really expand your orchard for next to nothing and it can go a long way towards adding genetic variety into the world. If you really want to go cheap, just use the apples from the store. Just be aware that the genetics are probably going to be way more limited if you do. Enjoy and have fun planting.