Meet the farmer from Keswick Ridge, New Brunswick, who grows apples as old as King Louis XIII

Stroll through Daryl Hunter’s apple orchard and walk through history – along an ancient Roman road, through the court of King Louis XIII of France, to the home of the Niagara Peninsula by Laura Secord, heroine of the War of 1812.

In some places in his orchard, you’ll get a lot of that story from just one tree.

Hunter has 150 varieties of apples, 100 of which are considered historic and often grow next to each other on different branches of the same tree.

“It’s more exercise than collecting stamps,” said the 75-year-old.

A variety of apples from Hunter’s home garden. (Elizabeth Fraser / CBC)

Hunter began collecting varieties of apples when the apple orchards of the apple-rich Keswick Valley were disappearing. Over 200 hectares (500 acres) in the community west of Fredericton were planted with apple trees in the 1970s.

Today there are less than 40.

Hunter has owned a hobby farm since the 1970s. In this photo, he cleans his apples with a toothbrush so they don’t get bruised. (Elizabeth Fraser / CBC)

Efforts are being made to revive the industry, but even Hunter, who has done so much to preserve the apple varieties of the past, is considering giving up soon. He says he’s getting old.

Since the 1970s, he has collected pieces of trees from all over the world. He places a piece of the tree on the stem, root, or branch of another tree, a process called grafting.

A Ribston Pippin from England. (Elizabeth Fraser / CBC)

“It’s kind of like immortality; the tree is not dead,” he said. “He might be dead there, but I took a piece out of it to keep it going.”

Because trees are grafted, they produce different types of apples on one tree.

Hunter, who collected pieces of trees from old Keswick Ridge orchards, said many trees in the area were “dead and gone.”

“So I keep them alive on my trees,” he said.

Keswick Ridge man brings dead trees to life with the art of grafting

The apples found on Dary Hunter’s property are history – literally. Some of the varieties he grows in his home orchard date back to the days of King Louis XIII in the 1600s. Here’s how he brings apple varieties of the past to life. 3:54

Apples a “candy shape”

Hunter is part of North American Fruit Explorers, a nonprofit group that focuses on the discovery and cultivation of fruit varieties. He collected pieces of apple trees from all over North America and as far as France.

“The goal I originally had was to try and preserve some of the historic varieties of apples that you can’t get anymore,” he said.

One of these varieties is Tolman Sweet, which is appreciated for being both sweet and dry.

In the 1800s, this combination was perfect for cutting into apple slices, which would then be hung on a string to dry.

The result, Hunter said, “was a form of candy.”

“It was a dessert.”

Then there’s the Ribston Pippin, an apple from England that was first introduced in 1688.

“It contains about five times more vitamin C than a McIntosh,” Hunter said.

Hunter leaves apples he doesn’t want for the deer in his garden. (Elizabeth Fraser / CBC)

Another variety is the little red-cheeked apple, the 1600s “after-dinner mint”.

“French court ladies wore them in their handbags and used them as breath fresheners” after dinner, he said.

Also known as Pomme d’Api, it owes its name to the Appian Roman Road, the first and most famous of the Roman roads.

The apple ripens in late November and has been used as a Christmas apple in France, Hunter said.

An overview of all Keswick Ridge apple orchards in 1982. (Submitted by David Coburn)

There is also the Swazi Russet, a small apple that derives from the Russet family. Hunter said he was able to obtain pieces of the Swazi Russet tree from Laura Secord’s property in Ontario.

But her favorite is the Sandow apple, which softens over time.

“They get better with age,” he said, “just like me.”

Apple pickers on Keswick Ridge in 1973. (Provincial Archives / 10613)

According to Nick Brown, spokesperson for the province’s agriculture ministry, grafting is usually done in nurseries.

“It’s a technical process that requires experience and knowledge to be successful. It takes specialized skills to be successful in trading and time to learn the details and the art to do it competently. “

Packing of New Brunswick McIntosh apples at the Keswick Ridge Apple Co-operative in the 1970s. (Provincial Archives / 2603)

Brown said grafting is an effective method of reproducing plants with “similar and desired characteristics”.

“Specialized hobby growers, collectors and breeders also use grafting to [create] unique trees with multiple varieties, ”he said in an email.

He noted that the method can also be used to re-transplant or change varieties in an existing orchard to a new variety.

A business in decline

An old Apple sign on Keswick Ridge. (Elizabeth Fraser / CBC)

David Coburn of Coburn Farms, a sixth generation farmer from Keswick Ridge, remembers when dozens of tractors full of apples lined up in front of Keswick Ridge Apple Co-op Ltd. in the 1970s.

The apples would eventually be sold in supermarkets and warehouses across the province.

David Coburn of Coburn Farms on Keswick Ridge stands in front of an apple tree with roots dating back to 1875. (Shane Fowler / CBC)

“It would be nothing to see several wagons of apples coming up near the farm,” he said. “It was everyone who brought the harvest.”

Apple trees in full bloom in 1976. (Provincial Archives / 1007)

At that time, housewives also picked apples on the farm to help fill their families’ winter pantry shelves and Christmas shopping budgets.

As more women entered the workforce, farms had to “change who harvested our apples,” he said.

“People don’t make jams and jellies anymore, so we have to adapt to society.”

The Keswick Ridge Apple Co-op Ltd., today. (Elizabeth Fraser / CBC)

And with the effects of climate change, the high costs of farming and increasing real estate, he said, the apple trade has declined in Keswick Ridge.

Even the way houses are built now has had an impact on the apple industry, Coburn said.

“We build very energy efficient homes. They don’t have cold rooms. They don’t have a place to store the apples.

“We’re just going to keep growing”

Andrew Lovell, owner of River View Orchards in Keswick Ridge, said the apple industry will continue to grow as long as there are young people to take it over.

Lovell bought his farm in Keswick Ridge in 2012 and owns about 10 acres of trees.

An old photo of apple picking on Keswick Ridge. (Provincial Archives)

Lovell, the former president of the New Brunswick Apple Growers Association, says his son and daughter want to take over the farm.

“We’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We’re just going to keep growing.”

Lovell said producers must also work together to export their products around the world.

“Our industry is growing, and it will continue to grow as long as we provide markets for our product,” he said.

“You can’t do that just as a Keswick Ridge producer.”