One of the projects that has been taking up some of my extra time these days is a dream project involving creating a Heritage Apple Orchard at the 1870’s Adaland Mansion in Barbour County, West Virginia. I actually started work on this project last spring during the Covid shut down. Volunteers came together to apply for a grant to bring apples back to the historic property. The application was awarded to Adaland from “Try This West Virginia”, a health improvement coalition in West Virginia that are tackling health issues in the state. The hope is that not only can we restore a historical part of the story of the mansion, but bring food education to the community. We hope to teaching families about how to grow fruit trees, how to care for them and how to preserve the food that they grow, so we can help make West Virginia a healthier place.
The orchard has sparked new partnerships in our small community. Everyone wants to be involved in our little project from our local hospital, to West Virginia University Extension, to even our local Heart and Hand food pantry. We have discovered that there are only 3 locations in our state where these old examples of apples are being grown on this scale. Although we are starting with only 20 trees on our 20 acre property we are 1 of 3 Heritage Orchards that will be open to the public. Not only will this orchard be used not only by Adaland but the University of West Virginia Extension Service as an outdoor class room.
Adaland Mansion historically had an apple orchard and was known to have produced cider and apple brandy or as locals call it, Apple Jack. So the thought of bringing cider and other apple products back to the property was over whelming supported by the Adaland Mansion Board of Directors. Not only does the orchard allow us to talk about foods and farming at the turn of the 20th century but give us a chance to cook, preserve, and share the apples with the public. Eventually if this experiment is successful we would like to add 20 more trees to the project. We hope to produce enough apples for the mansion to create small batches of apple cider annually and apple sauce that we hope to sell here on the farm.
We have chose to use a small family owned nursery high in the mountains of Pocahontas County named Allendale Nursery to purchase our trees. In our selection we have the Grimes Golden Apple a West Virginia native tree that is one of the only self pollinating trees in our collection and is our featured tree through the whole project. Others that we are working with include, Summer Rambo, Wine Sap, Wolf River, Northern Spy, Cortland and Yellow Transparent for apple sauce. It is hoped within the next 5 years we see some fruit production but some of these trees will not produce fruit for about 10 years.
With advice from our local WVU Extension Agency were able to make a plan for our orchard. Things that needed to be considered in our plan were location and soil type. Apples don’t like the top of a hill or the bottom of a hill due to winter wind freeze damage or the water at the bottom hills in drainage areas. So we found a location that fit those guide lines and had our soil tested free by WVU Extension Services and added 75 pounds of fertilizer to our 125 foot by 30 foot orchard. Then started the long process of putting in the fence and digging the wholes for the twenty trees. We did dig extra wholes for additional Golden Delicious trees and crab apple if we needed them for pollination.
After receiving the trees we sorted them by size and type. Then soaked them for a couple hours before planting. This energizes the roots and encourages them to grow. Then in the dug holes we added compost and placed the trees on top of the small mound of compost spreading the roots over the mound. Then covered the roots with dirt up to the graft line. All of the the trees we purchased are semi- dwarf trees that had been grafted to short root stock. This will keep the trees about 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide. After planting, each tree got a water bucket, a cage, a stake. The stakes keep the cage from moving and a place to tie of the tree if needed to encourage straight growth. We also gave away 16 trees to families in the local community. Some volunteered to help with the planting, others were families in need who wanted the trees to try to help feed their growing families.
The future is to trim the trees and watch for any sign of pests or diseases. So far we have already seen aphids and will most likely need to treat for them this month. We will use a mix of soap and water to spray down the young trees. We are hoping to learn about the most non-toxic ways to help keep the trees healthy. In some cases that will be spraying the trees in others it will be using things like bars of soap tied to the cages to repel deer from eating the young new shoots in the spring.
We hope to use the orchard as a outdoor class room with a pruning class and grafting class. These activities will be free and open to the public and many more ideas are coming to light on what is next for the trees and the Adaland Mansion Heritage Orchard project. I am most looking forward to our out door cooking class this fall. Where we will be cooking apples over a open fire and making apple sauce as take aways for those who attend.
It has been a wonderful experience bringing back the history of apples to the Adaland Mansion. It is exciting to see the results of all the volunteer hours spent making the orchard happen. If all goes well in the future Adaland will once again be producing cider and making apple butter for visitors and children come to the house for an event or tour. We hope that our project helps the community understand how easy it is to grow their own food, and how wonderful cooking and eating apples can be. As we move forward the orchard will be another educational feature to Adaland and will help the local community with a source of apples. I cant wait to share what happens next with the orchard project as we get ready to apply for another Try This WV Grant this spring, wish us luck!