Heritage Orchard Survey

MAPPING AWAY IN OLD ORCHARD COUNTRY

Montezuma County is a “hot spot” for fruit exploring. Last season MORP mapped 63 out of nearly 200 identifed historic orchard sites; and although only a third done, placed 2,611 fruit trees (mostly apples)—66 to 125 years old—back on the map. This work entails taking a Global Positioning Unit (GPS) coordinate of each tree, photographs and field notes; and importantly, talking to the owners about the history of the trees. Data is entered into MORP’s orchard database, building knowledge of our heritage fruit resources as we design strategies to preserve them.

The last time this type of work was done here, albeit without GPS, was in the early 1920’s, when then state horticulturist, E.P Sandsten, surveyed every fruit district in Colorado. The 1922 Orchard Survey of the Southwestern District of Colorado documented 67 apple orchards, 49 known apple varieties and 48,630 apple trees in Montezuma County. Jonathan (old fashioned) was the most popular; Rome (old fashioned), Winesap, Gano, Delicious (old fashioned), White Winter Pearmain, Ben Davis and Grimes Golden followed in decreasing abundance.

Sandsten’s survey also foretold the immediate future of southwestern Colorado fruit, “The district has great potential possibilities for commercial fruit growing…and if transportation facilities were available it would become one of our greatest fruit sections in the State”. Southwestern Colorado had no interstate highway and its only rail line, the Rio Grande Southern, was a regional narrow gauge train that struggled through the Great Depression only to cease operations in 1951. By that time the US apple industry was focused on five commodity varieties: Red and Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty, Jonathan, and Winesap. North central Washington, with its access to transcontinental railroads and Pacific Rim ports, had become the Apple Capitol of the World. Today however, there is a different future for old apples, thanks to growing interest in local and heirloom food and the resurgent hard cider industry. The work of our early fruit-growing pioneers holds potential to restart commercial fruit growing.

Varieties that MORP has identified include: Chenango Strawberry, Maiden Blush, Winter Banana, Stayman Winesap, Winesap, Yellow Bellflower, Gano, White Winter Pearmain, Grimes Golden, Yellow Transparent, Early Strawberry, Wolf River, Black Ben Davis, Willow Twig, Thunderbolt, Northwest Greening, Rhode Island Greening, Golden Delicious, Colorado Orange, Cedar Hill Black, Wealthy, MacIntosh (old fashioned), Wagener, Hawkeye Delicious, Double Red Delicious, Standard Delicious, and many Rome and Jonathan types—some of the “old-fashioned” type. Dozens more have been tentatively identified: Liveland Raspberry, Winter Rambo, Summer Rambo, Ben Davis, Northern Spy, Baldwin, Cortland, Early Harvest, Sweet Pear, Ralls, and others…the results from the DNA testing will help us better understand the valuable resources in our heritage orchards.

When we are out mapping the old orchards, one tree and one GPS point at a time, after 100 points and late in the day, we can wonder if mapping each and every tree still growing here is too detail-oriented. Then we think of the work that went into planting the orchards and Sandsten’s survey. We decide yes. We are going to put every one of these trees back on the map!