I’ve often found myself staring down at a half-germinated seed in my apple, contemplating the potential contained in such a small kernel. Each and every one is a potential tree, but up until a few years ago in my garden, most of them ended up in the compost.
I started planting many of the seeds of from commercial fruit a few years ago, when looking to furnish my forest garden with a diversity of productive trees. What better place to start finding unique trees than inside of fruit already eaten and enjoyed?
Planting the seeds of commercial fruit is like playing the lottery: Because single cultivars of orchard trees need to be pollinated by another cultivar, each potential seedling will grow into a totally unique tree, with a new kind of fruit that incorporates the genetics of both parents. This means the seed planted from a Granny Smith won’t necessarily produce a tree with Granny Smith-type fruit. Often, the result is an inferior fruit, but occasionally, a chance seedling will yield something surprising.
It will be five years before I see the quality of the fruit on most of these trees, so this is a hobby that requires time, space and patience. Further, most of these seeds require cold stratification, so they must be planted in the autumn if they are to germinate in spring.
There are numerous advantages to planting seedling trees, especially if they’re planted directly where they will grow for the rest of their existence. First and foremost, seedling trees have superior root systems and can even grow a long taproot in undisturbed soil. Thus they are often more vigorous and stable than nursery trees that have been raised in a pot or bag, with roots tangled and circumscribed.
If after raising a tree for five years, you don’t like the resulting fruit, there is also the option of grafting new cultivars on to the vigorous seedling stock.
In essence, planting these seeds is a cheap and easy way to produce either rootstock or ungrafted trees for the experimental or thrifty gardener.
About the Author: Lynsey Grosfield is the founder of BiodiverSeed, a global seed swap network devoted to the exchange of self-harvested, organic and heirloom seeds with the goal of preserving maximum genetic diversity. Follow BiodiverSeed on Twitter.