One Man's Apple Orchard

Nick Botner, an Oregon apple orchardist, grows 3,000 varieties on grafted trees.

| February/March 2004

The air in 77-year-old Nick Botner's 7-acre Yoncalla, Oregon, orchard is redolent with the aroma of apples, a sweet-tart sensation guaranteed to make your mouth water in anticipation. Three thousand varieties in every hue, from the palest yellow to vivid green to a spectrum of reds and mixed-color creations, hang like succulent jewels from more than 6,000 trees.

Botner, a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, tends what he says is the largest private collection of apple varieties in the world. Visiting the orchard is a tantalizing journey through time, cultures and continents.

Jerry Schroyer of Canby, Oregon, past president of the Home Orchard Society, calls Botner "the Noah of the apple collecting world." Schroyer says, "He wanted to have one of everything and sought out unusual varieties. He has this urge to save every apple variety out there."

Botner's admiration for apples began when he was growing up in the old orchard region along the west side of the Hudson River in upstate New York. The family's small city lot didn't afford room for even one full-sized apple tree, but when little Nick was old enough, he started picking apples by the bushel for neighboring truck farmers. Botner recalls, "Apples were grown on big, old standard trees, and we had to climb huge ladders to pick the fruit." A popular variety of the day was 'Baldwin,' still one of his favorites.

From Alaska to Apples

As an adult, Botner spent 28 years in Alaska, homesteading 20 acres and operating hunting and fishing lodges. There, he grew potatoes and grain, but with the timberline near, apples were out of the question. Then, he moved his family to Yoncalla, in the rolling hills of southern Oregon, and started planting many things he couldn't grow in Alaska — including 200 apple trees.

"They're such a versatile fruit," he says. "Apples store well, and you can dry them, cook them, sauce them, juice them, turn them into cider — things you can't do with lots of other fruit."

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