Thursday, March 3, 2011

Creighton Lee Calhoun: A Master Preserver of Heirloom Apples

This fascinating article from the New York Times today features a man from North Carolina who specializes in grafting heirloom apple trees from some very old and nearly-forgotten Southern varieties.

Mr. Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr. is 77 years old, and a retired army lieutenant colonel. He also seems to be on a one-man mission to preserve heirloom apple varieties, and to share his knowledge with a new generation of apple enthusiasts, orchardists and backyard growers. He currently maintains an orchard with 300 varieties of apple, which used to contain 456 varieties. He also wrote a book called Old Southern Apples which catalogs the many varieties he's helped preserve.

This in-depth article is not just a profile of Mr. Calhoun, the pomologist, but offers sobering facts on this most precious resource. Apple varieties in the United States once numbered over 16,0000, but this number has dropped to less than 3,000, and this lack of genetic diversity may be bad news for apples, just as it is for other species who have seen their diverse permutations dwindle in recent years.

The apples Calhoun champions have names like Blacktwig, Carter's Blue, Magnum Bonum, and Summer Orange. He offers to graft trees for their owners, and give them a new tree from the graft to plant. His enthusiasm and knowledge, not to mention a sensitive palette that can differentiate among hundreds of apples, just may create a whole new legion of heirloom apple enthusiasts.

Mr. Calhoun, I salute you! And I'd love to get one of those Magnum Bonum trees to plant out at the Brushwood Folklore Center, where we gather apples for fresh cider in September.

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