Charla Huber/News staff Dan O’Connell

Apple lovers seek to save historic trees

DND OK’s Metchosin taking over care of orchard planted by pioneer Robert Weir

Apple enthusiasts endeavour to regrow and preserve the legacy of heritage apple trees on Department of National Defence land.

Just in time for fall to descend, DND OK’d the municipality to restore the orchard planted by Metchosin pioneer Robert Weir.

The 19 heritage trees are on 7,900 square metres of land off William Head Road next to the correctional facility. Weir sailed to Metchosin from England in 1853 and purchased the land from the Hudson Bay Company.

“This will help preserve the heritage apples here in Metchosin,” said Coun. Larry Tremblay standing in Weir’s Orchard. “This is the earliest land the Hudson Bay Company could sell as private lots.”

Later the land was used as a quarantine station for Chinese labourers before being used by DND.

The apple trees remained a constant, surviving to today produce big, round, shiny, red apples.

When Dan O’Connell, president of the Metchosin Pomological Society, discovered it years ago, he felt compelled to preserve the 160-year-old trees, their fruit and their legacy. The trees planted in 1856, are nearly at the end of their lifespan. O’Connell plans to take healthy young branches to graft onto new trunks to duplicate the trees.

He’ll combine the branch and trunk, bind them and then seal with wax. The connecting of cambium, a thin layer under the bark, is what eventually helps grow a new tree.

“It’s a real art and it needs to be cut at the right angle for it to match,” O’Connell said. “You have to make sure you wrap it well, because as soon as you plant it a big fat bird will sit on it and could ruin your graft.”

Grafting offers a higher success rate than planting seeds. “If you take an apple seed and plant it you have a one in 1,000 or 10,000 chance of it growing,” O’Connell said.

So far he has three unsuccessful grafts, but he plans to try again next spring.

Volunteers will also prune the trees, and help prevent disease and pests in the orchard.

“We have to cut off the branches of the trees with tent caterpillars on them and then burn them,” said O’Connell.

Inmates from the William Head Institution will help on the project by reducing invasive species in the orchard including Scotch broom and blackberries.

Metchosin celebrates its apple fest this weekend.