Gabriola’s unintentional, unconventional apple orchard
Keith Mackenzie and Marti Wright just wanted a Northern Spy apple, crisp and sweet with a touch of tartness. Marti grew up in the apple’s native upstate New York, and had no luck finding one in B.C.
So she and Keith found some land at the end of Coats Drive on Gabriola and planted some Northern Spy trees. Then they planted a few more varieties, and soon enough they were planting five acres of heritage apple trees.
The first-time apple orchardists began Ravenskill Orchards in 2006. This season the tree boughs are heavy with fruit for eating and for juice, which is UV pasteurized, preferred to heating because it preserves the flavour better, said Marti.
More than one passerby has seen Keith and Marti’s trees from the road and asked the couple if they were growing grapes. That’s because they are growing a high density orchard: the trees are grafted on to dwarf rootstock and trained in an espalier fashion (horizontally). Spaced five to nine feet apart and pruned to no higher than eight to ten feet, the result is higher yields in two to three years as opposed to at least 10 years for a standard tree. Harvesting and pest control are easier on the low-growing trees as well.
Preserving heritage varieties is another tenant of Ravenskill Orchards. Keith and Marti rescued their Creston trees from the Okanagan, which were at risk of being destroyed. They propagated about 50 trees in their nursery and it has become their favourite variety. They currently have 11 varieties including Gravenstein, Cox Orange Pippin, Winesap, Honeycrisp, Spartan and Mcintosh.
“We have such a diverse climate and we can grow so many varieties in the Northwest,” said Marti.
In another three years, Keith and Marti will produce hard cider from some of their trees.
“[Hard cider] apples are completely different” than eating apples, explained Keith. “You buy them for tannins and ... acid content.
“Each type of fruit has different qualities, not unlike wine.”
While the cider house is being built, they’ll keep planting more trees and sharing their love of apples with Gabriolans.