Historic Stewart Farm in Surrey, British Columbia, is a charming heritage site with a Victorian farmhouse and gardens. Originally built in 1894 by pioneer John Stewart, the farm has taken upon itself the challenge of preserving heritage practices and plant varieties. Early settlers to North America propagated fruit trees clonally through grafting, and these varieties can be hard to find because supermarkets and commercial orchards produce more marketable fruits instead of unusual and interesting cultivars.
Stewart Farm has a demonstration orchard with one golden plum tree, two pear trees, and an astounding 23 apple trees, each a different heritage variety. Jerrilin Spence, the curator who manages the site, says that the crisp and juicy Fameuse and Jonagold are the most popular eating apples. The Spencer apples are a favourite among kids, and the Wolf River variety makes the best applesauce. Other types of apples include:
- Rhode Island Greening, a tart cooking apple, which is great for pies (developed 1650).
- King of Tompkins, a yellowish-red apple good for eating as well as cooking (developed pre-1804).
- Winter Banana, a sweet, slightly acidic apple that is said to smell like bananas (developed 1868).
The farm has three century-old trees (two apple, one plum) from the original orchard. These trees, while they don’t produce fruit as well as they used to, are still healthy. In the late 1980s, Stewart Farm planted the newer trees.
In addition to their heritage fruits, the garden also has varieties of heritage flowers and vegetables. People at Stewart Farm save vegetable and flower seeds, preserving them for use the following year.
The farm uses the gardens and orchard in interpretive programs, and the fruit is used in baking programs as well as other activities that appeal to several different age groups.
- Children in grades 1-3 peel apples in school programs.
- Girl Guide groups have applesauce-making workshops.
- Participants of all ages press apples into apple cider during Harvest Fair celebrations.
- Demonstrations take place in Stewart Farm’s restored farmhouse kitchen, where participants make dried apples and applesauce that they use in baked goods and serve at teas.
Volunteers do most of the work, however, city arborists prune the orchard trees once a year. The farm hosts fruit tree pruning workshops every February, and a basic pruning workshop in March. Stewart Farm works with local Master Gardeners and allows them to use the site to deliver workshops about related subjects such as family gardens and bees.
But, maintaining a heritage garden does have its challenges. Apple maggots and other pests have caused considerable damage to the crop, the hardest hit varieties being Cox’s orange, Vanderpool, Gravenstein, and Gilliflower of Gloucester apples. The staff members at Stewart Farm are currently trying to determine which trees are the most resistant to pests and disease.
Today, Stewart Farm is combining the old practices with the new in order to educate the public and provide an enjoyable, classic experience. They are now experimenting with Orchard Sox, which they slip on baby fruit, to protect it and keep it healthy and maggot-free. John Stewart and his fellow pioneers would look with pride upon the upkeep of heritage fruit, vegetables, and flowers at this historic site.
OrchardPeople.com features many resources with further information on preventing pests and disease organically. Growing Urban Orchards, a book by Susan Poizner, can be found here. We also offer an online workshops on identifying and preventing pests and disease as part of our Orchard People Certificate in Beginner Fruit Tree Care.