Captain Howell, the first settler in Southland, had orchards planted in each of his stations. There were hundreds of orchards around Southland by 1910, some were acres in size. There were apples, pears, quince, apricots and berries. The Drummond Store was reported as not stocking fruit, because it was growing so plentifully in the area in the early 1900’s. Every corner of Southland has remnants of these orchards and some are still standing complete but near the end of their natural life. Our colonial ancestors brought the best from their homelands and these had origins sometimes centuries back from all over Europe. There were once thousands of varieties of apples available world wide, and as many as 600 varieties of gooseberries! Elderly Southlanders recall the fun of raiding local orchards when they were young and remember with pleasure tasting the varieties of the fruit found in them.
This diversity has been greatly diminished throughout the world during the last century with changing land use, the advent of supermarkets and the ready availability of imported fruit. The few varieties of each fruit available now in the supermarket are a poor reflection of the potential, bred as they are for colour, storage ability and commercial scale management. These varieties do poorly in a home garden and most can’t be managed organically.
Tree Crops Association and Hort Research work has uncovered simply what people have known for years that modern apples do not have the flavour of the old varieties. This work has shown that some `old apples' have superior levels of antioxidants that can inhibit cancer cells and reduce heart disease.
Heritage apple varieties grow healthily and fruitfully with little or no care in Southland.