Apple Festival 2011 - Apple Heaven
Sunday, 2 October 2011 - 13th Annual

On Oct 2, 2011, over 1500 happy apple lovers roamed the 16 farms of the Salt Spring Apple Festival connecting with not only their favourite apple varieties, but also with a special hero, the farmer (or custodian of varieties) that grows their special varieties. After all, Salt Spring Island grows over 350 varieties of apples. THAT IS WHY WE CALL IT APPLE HEAVEN.

Here is an article written by Gwen Curry (

Reid Collins, dressed in drag as Queen Elizabeth, officially opens the 13th Salt Spring Island Apple Festival. The 2011 theme is ‘Let apples bring out the kid in everyone’. The festival is only an hour old and Fulford Hall is packed with people - a sea of bodies makes its way around the long tables lined with heritage apples. There are hundreds of apples, each set displayed on a paper plate with a doily beneath and a card describing the provenance: where and when it was first grown, its size, its flavour, growing characteristics, its sweetness level, when it should be picked, if it is primarily a good eating, cooking or juicing apple, how it stores and much more. In this monoculture world, the hundreds of varieties shown here are a sobering reminder of the exquisite bounty that modern agriculture has turned its back on. We have to be thankful that apple trees routinely live to be a century old, allowing enterprising orchardists to rediscover and propagate heritage trees.

The breadth of size, shape and colour is stunning. The Scarlet Surprise is the colour of a beet on the outside and red on the inside, the Sargententi is a tiny apple clearly marked with lime-green and red skin and the Pink Princess is a large yellow-skinned apple with a pink interior. At mid-morning the ladies at the pie table can barely keep up with demand. I choose a slice baked with Red Gravensteins and am not disappointed.

 My friend Sue and I pull ourselves away from the apple displays and the booths lining the walls of the gym: there are 16 farms on the tour today. We begin at the north end of the island at Whims Farms, an early homestead begun in 1858. This 17 acre farm has 25 century-old fruit trees and 138 varieties of heritage apples.

My experience has been the apple orchards of the south Okanagan where the trees stand in orderly rows with little space between them. Here, it is difficult to see more than a few trees at a time and they are woven into the natural landscape. Before the 1950’s Salt Spring Island was the major producer of apples for British Columbia before hydro dams and irrigation projects of that era set us on a new course of food production in North America. When I remarked to Sue about the incredible amount of orchards on the island she said: ‘It’s not just the farms, it’s difficult to take a walk in the woods here without coming across an apple tree or an old orchard.’ The owner of this farm, Bob Weeden, is away and neighbouring orchardist Conrad Pilon is talking to an interested group as we arrive. I pick up parts of his talk: ‘Gravensteins are great eating apples but I prefer them within three weeks of picking. If they are properly cooled at -1C they will last. At room temperature they will loose texture and flavour. They off-gas because of the sugars involved. The Tolman Sweet is almost too sweet to eat – many people actually pickle them.’

Nearby Bright Farm owned by Charlie and Bree Eagle is situated on the historic Mouat homestead and has one of the largest collections of apples on the island with over 280 varieties. Typically, it is difficult to see any apple trees at first on this 10 acre farm. There is a market garden, llamas, two greenhouses, an historic white farmhouse, tables and chairs on the meadow and an open air shed with 50 varieties of apples to taste, fresh pressed apple juice, boxes of apples and even apple trees for sale. We can’t resist the lunch being served – apple/squash soup (Cox’s Orange Pippin) beet/apple salad, and a large samosa with chutney – delicious.

Duck Creek Farm is situated on a bucolic hillside with a stream, two ponds, sheep, a greenhouse, tidy vegetable rows, and 80 dwarf espaliered Jonamacs. These trees may be a dwarf variety but their fruit certainly isn’t – big, round deep red apples – their colour is enhanced because of the espalier method which allows for more sun and less leaves. John Wilcox and Sue Earle are the owners and we learn that nothing has been sprayed on the farm since 1993 as they rely on natural predator insects. I’m intrigued by their large, floppy, rust-coloured plants along a border beside the greenhouse and learn that they are Amaranth, the ancient Peruvian grain.

We visit Beddis Castle, a unique property of beautifully manicured trees, rhododendrons and lawns, with its own beaches. Samuel Beddis had scions from 40 varieties of apples shipped from Ireland embedded in potatoes to begin his orchard here in 1873. Apparently 50 of these trees still exist, making them the venerable age of 138 years old. At Fern Creek Farm I enjoy some of their delicious apple juice and pair it with a square of moist apple cake. This was originally the Hamilton estate of 1897, where Julie Mills and Craig Leitch also grow pears, plums, cherries, walnuts and hazelnuts.

It is late afternoon but we have time for a visit to two more farms: Wave Hill Farm, the oldest orchard on the island (1860) and one of the biggest farms on the island, and Apple Luscious Organic Orchard, one of the youngest and smallest orchards and the organizers of the Apple Festival. The first impression of Wave Hill Farm is the magnificent organic market garden run by Rosalie Beach. Beyond the garden is the orchard with Rhode Island Red hens roosting in the trees and beyond that is husband Mark Whitear’s sustainable forestry operation. Everything seems intimate but this is a 150 acre farm. Displayed on a table are their Wolf River apples, the biggest apples I’ve ever seen. Mark says that many of them weigh in at two lbs. or just under a kilo. Apple Luscious Organic Orchard, on the other hand, is a testament to what can be done on only three acres of land. Harry and Debbie Burton began their orchard in 1986 and now have 200 varieties of apples with an emphasis on red-fleshed apples. Harry complements the soil each year with seaweed from the local beaches and allows blackberries, tall grasses and stinging nettles to co-exist with his trees as long as they aren’t encroaching too closely.

Touring these farms has been a wonderful introduction into the depth of our apple heritage but it is also a glimpse into the holistic heart of Salt Spring Island. Part of the experience of the tour is slowing down and throwing a ball for the family dog or eating lunch in a meadow and admiring the vegetables, flowers and herbs - each bucolic setting made possible by the hard work of the family involved.

I’m disappointed that I’ve been able to visit only seven out of sixteen farms in a day. I’ve missed the man who is called ‘the Pie Lady’ at the Indolent Poultry Farm. I’ve missed the Mistaken Identity Vineyard and the Salt Spring Vineyards, both of which also have apple orchards. I’ve missed Moonstruck Organic Cheese and Salt Spring Island Cheese where you can peer through the windows and see the various stages of cheese making. I’ve missed the Bread Lady today but remember her exquisite loaves from her wood-fired oven - the loaf I had purchased had great hunks of ginger embedded in it. I’ve missed the two Ruckle Park orchards, Cusheon Cove Park, Ruckle Farm and the Salt Spring Apple Company. But, the tour can’t be rushed, and it only means that I’ll have to return next year.

PHOTO GALLERY from 8 photographers.

1) The 2011 Apple Festival was dedicated to Lotus Ruckle, a Salt Spring pioneer, whose family created Ruckle Provincial Park. She was a incredible elder and a marvellous woman, who died at 99 years old and was an inspiration to all she met. Her tribute was set up near the Fulford Hall apple display (of 304 apple varieties grown organically on Salt Spring Island)

2) Local superhero, Captain Apple, was the MC at Fulford Hall for the historical reenactment of early 1900's Salt Spring Island apple farmer, Mr. J.H. Monk. Captain Apple is also an outspoken advocate for children to have access to organic food. The red on his face was a face-painted apple.

3) Salt Spring Island grows about 25 varieties of red flesh apples, and a few of these show up very well on a fruit dryers. Note also the variation in the shades of the white-fleshed varieties.

4) FREE Facepainting is a feature of the Apple Festival and these young women show off the talent of our local facepainters.

5) Children's activities abound also, and here is Christoph Weeks reading a story to children, while sitting under a Gravenstein apple tree.

6) The 2011 Apple Festival poster painted by Dianna Morris with caligraphy by Delainie Faulkner, was beautiful.

7) The diversity of apples is probably the most startling revelation after viewing all the Salt Spring apples. Here is a large Wolf River apple overshadowing a small crab.

8) Ruckle Farm shows off their apple varieties as well as their new locally made cedar Ruckle Farm sign.

9) At the Salt Spring Apple Company Farm this year, participants got to plant apple trees, as a way to experience becoming an apple grower, and also as a way of helping local farmers. What a treat that was for all, and especially for the children, our future farmers.

10) Apple energize and soothe. We need more apples in the world and that would foster world peace. These apple markers direct you to all farms.

11) Apples also bring out the kid in everyone. Vladamir from Calgary discusses the Belle De Boskoop Apple, which was also bringing back memories from his past.

12) The Salt Spring Island Apple Festival is truly an APPLE HEAVEN.

The 14th Annual Salt Spring Island Apple Festival

Sunday, Sept 30, 2012
9 AM to 5 PM
Suggested Starting point: Fulford Hall.
A chance to visit Apple Heaven while still on earth!


We will see you in Apple Heaven
on Sunday, September 30th, 2012.