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Denman Island Heritage Apples

Kate Janeway


Photography - HIRO 
Interview -MINA

"Community here is one of the main reasons for me being in Denman Island. I feel very lucky to live in a place where everyone really cares and is committed to make it a good place to live."

If you are looking for an apple tree to grow in your backyard garden or start a small orchard, look no further. Denman Island Heritage Apples will take good care of you and your apple trees.

Denman Island is located off the eastern shore of central Vancouver Island. Just a 10-minute ferry crossing from Buckley Bay brings you to a whole new world of paradise that is invested in tranquility and magic. You will find Denman Island a lot quieter and laid-back than other neighboring Gulf Islands. There are also a lot of interesting small businesses that are rooted in the simple yet wholesome island way of life.

There are a surprising number of apple businesses on Denman Island as well. Back in the '70s, a loose collective of four couples decided that they would each plant a thousand apple trees and grow them organically. They went down to Vancovuer’s Granville Island Market for years to sell their fruits. Now 40 years later, there are just a few properties with those original planting of apples remaining.

Kate of Denman Island Heritage Apples is "not doing anything new, but merely carrying on the tradition" of the apple culture on the island. She and her mother took over the nursery business from a local couple when they were ready to retire. "A lot of my knowledge is from one-on-one mentorship. Jane and Larry taught us everything they knew, and I’m thankful for their generosity and mentorship." With Kate's background in resource conservation, permaculture, and community development and her mother's background in horticulture, this small fruit tree nursery specializes in propagating traditional apple trees on 5 acres of organically cultivated land. On their beautiful property overlooking Baynes Sound, surrounded by pollinating flowers and lush green, everything looks so happy here including an ancient apple tree aging back to 1890 - a true guardian of the property. A sense of special time flows in this place, a fusion of old and new, as Kate, now the sole owner, continues the legacy of hard work and care for preserving unique heritage apples.

VOICE(V): What brought you to Denman Island?

Kate(K): " When I was doing a degree in resource conservation at UBC, I fell in love with the idea of organic agriculture. As I got more and more inspired by organic agriculture and permaculture, and with my mother`s gardening background, my family was ready to leave Vancouver for a new adventure. We looked at many other islands before Denman Island, but when we got out of Buckley Bay and off the ferry, all of a sudden, we felt that we were somewhere different. It was fall when we came up to Denman. Apples were ripening and things felt very special here. It was magic. I think that is how it really happened."


V: What exactly do Denman Island Heritage Apples do?


K: "We sell apple trees. We have around 150 varieties of heirloom apples for eating, cider, cooking, as well as some rare varieties. We also propagate and grow quince, plums, and pears, again with a focus on reviving and preserving old varieties. The trees are grown using a technique called grafting, which involves 2 plants and fusing them into one. Grafting is the way to provide a guaranteed variety of an apple that you want to grow. If you plant an apple from seed, you wouldn't know what you would get. It is like how a child of 2 parents is a little bit different from the parents. Every single seed is like that, so if you like a specific apple, and want to make more, you have to make lots of clones of that tree by grafting. Bud Grafting takes about 18 months to produce finished apple trees ready for sale. Our fruit trees are field-grown as I think field-grown trees develop a healthier root system and regulate themselves better during periods of climate instability. The whips, as young trees are known, will be ready to sell once they are dormant, during the winter, almost two years after being created. I'm also pretty passionate about fruit tree care after they leave the nursery and  provide year-round services of orchard care, orchard design, and juice pressing."


V: What kind of people order your fruit trees?

K: "A lot of backyard gardeners, homesteaders, and small market gardeners.

The covid-19 pandemic forced us to go online, which has worked very well for us. Now we can sell to people all over Canada."


V: How do you ship your trees?


K: "When they are dormant, the trees are hardy. So we dig them out to order,  wrap up the root bulbs so they don't dry out on transport, and put them into special long boxes for shipping with Canada Post!"


V: What is your favorite variety of apples?


K: "It depends on the time of the year. In August, my favorite would be Gravenstein. In November, Northern Spy is one of my favorites. Egremont Russet, with its very nutty flavour, is also delicious with a piece of cheese. You can also pick your favorite by their cool name, especially cider apple names. There are some interesting ones like Kingston Black and Porter's Perfection and Westfield-Seek-No-Further.  Prairie Spy is the name of a Heritage Canadian apple variety that I’m excited about right now. There are over 3,000 varieties of apples in existence! They all serve a different purpose to the folks who’ve chosen, named, or preserved them around the world."


V: How is the food resiliency in Denman Island?


K: " As a community, we are definitely trying! I am on the board of the organization called the Denman Growers and Producers Alliance, and one of our goals is to make Denman Island more self-sufficient. We run the Farmers' market from May to October and provide a tool sharing library so you can rent  types of equipment like a dehydrator and nut crackers.

The island does really well in terms of vegetables. Almost everyone on Denman grows a food garden to some degree. Dairy and grains are bigger issues in terms of self-sufficiency, but we will get there one day. A friend of mine, also from Denman, is now trying to grow wheat and oats on the island. Another is experimenting with rice, it would be a big step if we could grow our own grains here!"


V: How do you find the Denman Island community?


K: "Community here is one of the main reasons for me being here. I feel very lucky to live in a place where everyone really cares and is committed to make it a good place to live."

V: How do you like to spend your day off?

K: "I hang out here! I don't go out a lot, I don't buy a lot of things, and I don't eat out a lot. I enjoy taking the extra time to make my food at home, like baking bread, roasting coffee, or foraging seasonally. I think I get a lot of fulfillment from simple daily tasks."

V: What is the most joy in your work?

K: "I love Seedy Saturdays and to share these unique  trees with people who are equally excited about them. Knowing that these special varieties of trees will go to a good home makes me happy. I am thrilled to engage in any questions that they might have along the way."

V: What is the best advice you can give to growing an apple tree in the backyard garden?

K: "The general advice I would give is to take the time in the first 2-5 years to really care for the tree. Give it a good start with 3 basic things: water it in the summertime, give it some nutrients or fertilizers in the spring, and keep the weeds down. It will set the tree on such a good path. Your tree will grow to fill the space and be beautiful, producing year after year."

Denman Island Heritage Apples

Kate Janeway

There's more to preserving heritage apples than meets the eye.

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