The apple of our eyes

in the garden: Orchard park grows and teaches how to care for beloved fruit

craig.sailor@thenewstribune.comSeptember 26, 2012 

Imagine a world without apples. Never mind the loss to pie bakers, cider producers and school lunch makers. Consider what some of our favorite idioms would be without the apple.

“He’s the mango of my eye.”

“How do you like them grapes?”

“The persimmon doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

“Don’t upset the watermelon cart.”

“It’s lemons to oranges.”

History would herald Johnny Peachseed. Geeks everywhere would salivate over Pear Inc.’s latest iPhone release.

Fortunately, that’s a reality we’ll never have to see. Thank you, Eve.

As revered as apples are in American and Washington State culture you might not know it by taking a walk through local backyards. The fruit gets no respect. Bucket loads of apples hang on trees or rot on the ground. What gives?

Urban dwellers have plenty of excuses: “I don’t have time to gather them,” “I don’t know what to do with them all” and the ultimate conversation stopper — “Worms.”

At University Place’s Curran Apple Orchard Park, the volunteers have made apple appreciation and education their mission. The apples from the park’s 200-plus trees are put to good use. And, like modern day Johnny Appleseeds, they encourage home orchardists to grow their own.

The orchard, started by Mary and Charles Curran in 1951, became a city park in the mid-1990s. It’s largely run by the volunteers, called CORE (Curran Orchard Resource Enthusiasts), who get assistance from University Place Parks and Public Works.

Volunteer Debbie Klosowski has been involved with the park from its earliest days. When she moved to the neighborhood in the 1990s development was quickly changing the landscape.

“The fact that there was an apple orchard in the middle of a city was amazing,” Klosowski, a native of Wisconsin said. “This was like a little bit of home to me.”

The 7-acre property is first a park. An amphitheater hosts concerts and the attendance at the late summer cider squeeze’s exceeds capacity.

The trees can be “adopted” by families or individuals who are then responsible for maintenance, but get first pick at harvest time. At a higher adoption level, CORE will provide the maintenance.

The orchard is not organic. CORE sprays for apple maggot and coddling moth, and uses a fungicide. Beehives are rented in April and Mason bee “condos” are put in place for pollination. In early June, sticky traps are set out to snare pests.

Education is a big theme at the orchard. In spring, classes are offered on pruning and insects. In fall, more than 500 school kids tour the orchard.

“Some of the kids think apples only come from stores,” Klosowski said. “A lot of them just haven’t been exposed to that before.”

In the commercial apple growing regions of Washington, miniature apple tree orchards are sprouting like weeds. Smaller trees, usually grown on dwarf rootstock, offer quicker maturity, easier pruning and ground-based harvesting. Despite their diminutive size, the trees yield high amounts of fruit.

At Curran a space that until recently held two large apple trees now holds 40 much-smaller trees spaced about four feet apart. Three long “fences” of trees also fall into the high density bracket of apple production. The fence style, called espalier, is both productive and attractive. One of the espaliered features spells out the orchard’s name in six-foot high letters. The other two use horizontal and diamond-shaped training patterns.

Small trees offer homeowners an easy way to produce their own apples, Klosowski said.

“We want to encourage people to grow trees in their backyards,” Klosowski said. And fall, with its cool wet weather, is the time to plant.

And how many apple trees does Klosowski have in her own backyard? None, it turns out. She’s too busy at the park with her fellow CORE volunteers.

“We all consider the orchard our second home.” 253-597-8541

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