Foraging for Fruit and Vegetables

Abandoned orchards are full of fruit just waiting for you to harvest.

| July/August 1972

  • apples
    You can harvest fresh apples, cherries, pears and other fruit from abandoned orchards.

  • apples

Sheep sorrel, purslane, wild mustard and a hundred other wild plants may be good eating . . . but my taste runs to more familiar fare: asparagus and rhubarb in May; cherries in June; red and black raspberries in July; blackberries in August; elderberries, pears, peaches, plums and grapes in September; pumpkins in October; tomatoes and squash from July until frost and apples from July 'til November.

Does this mean I buy not-so-fresh fruits and vegetables from the supermarket or try to raise them all in my small garden? Not at all. I simply visit my "farm" of free-for-the-picking produce and select whatever's in season.

That "farm" is all the unoccupied land within walking distance of a city of 30,000 population in southeastern Ohio . . . and "unoccupied" does not mean without ownership. It means the curious conglomeration of fields, thickets and wooded hillsides mingled with housing developments . . . that speculators are holding while waiting for value increases (in terms of coal, highways, shopping centers or more housing). Soon enough the bulldozers will arrive to destroy the weeds, volunteer gardens and fruit trees. Meanwhile, the land is there as if abandoned .. . and whatever may be harvested is free for the picking.

Free for the pickin' . . . and the time it takes to search out this bounty in the warm sunshine and soft breezes along the back roads forgotten by superhighway traffic, down country lanes now reclaimed by nature, across meadows that no longer know the mower and into thickets on once-cultivated land.

Abandoned orchards, homestead grapevines-gone-wild and volunteer vegetables that can be traced back to old farm gardens are fairly common in most parts of this country . . . but we in the eastern half of the United States are especially fortunate in this regard. Our abundant rainfall allows cultivated plants "gone wild" to thrive in competition with natural vegetation and, thanks to the relatively dense and highly mobile population that has shifted throughout this section of the nation, an especially high number of garden and orchard "escapees" have had the chance to go wild.

Most of these volunteer fruits and vegetables are tastier and pack greater nutritional value than grocery produce . . . and, thanks to chance natural hybridization, some even develop into super-plants better than those propagated by any seedsman or nursery.

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