Thursday, 12 July 2012

Ukrainian Orchard Plans for Calgary?

actinidia kolomicta growing in my front yard
So when my husband and I were in Ukraine a while back and visited the family dacha outside of Kiev, we admired their cherries, apricots, plums, oh, so many beautiful fruits! Then sitting under the shady grape vine covered car port for lunch and catching up with family, we also couldn't help but notice the half white and half green leaves of a special vine crawling up the side of the two story cottage. My husband's attention was grabbed by the pretty vines which, family explained, were actually kiwi. The pretty vines, vigorous climbers, are called actinidia kolomikta. Here in Calgary he found them at the garden center.  Turns out they are creating quite a sensation in gardening circles, as the hybrid is actually referred to as arctic kiwi for their relative hardiness. They have glossy dark green leaves, which go yellow in the fall.  They have little white flowers in springtime and delicate, thin skinned fruits that are delicious.   Planting them in a sunny location up front seemed logical, but when they struggled, we bought more, and noticed from the tag that they love sun and part shade. So we have some more in the back garden, nestled against the shady wall, and they are growing quite reasonably. The year before last we even had a few handfuls of the fruit. The hail that fell last summer (was it four or five times!) really prevented any little fruits from growing, much less ripening on the vine. But when they do get protected from the ravages of Calgary hail and frost, the fruit is small, like a long green grape in size.  The fruit is delicate, soft skinned, and the sweet taste is exactly like ripened kiwis you buy in the stores, imported from some tropical land far away!

Did you know that way back in the first immigration from Ukraine there were people who had come with full intentions of having fruit orchards here? Well I know this because when I went to Peter Svarych School in Vegreville a long time back, I discovered he was among the most interesting company when he immigrated. Ambitious just isn't the word.  Came here in 1900 to help family, then as a labourer, then opened a lumberyard and building materials shop.  Was a game warden.  Eventually became a school trustee with a school named after him.  What was his background?

It just so happens that the people in western Ukraine have a great climate for apple trees, cherry trees, you name it! And, transplanting their lives here, over a century ago those eager homesteaders brought the idea of orchard farms to life in the Vegreville area (maybe it was Royal Park?). Everything from raspberries, to chokecherries, gooseberries, apples, pears, plums, nanking cherries, strawberries, saskatoon berries have become part of our prairies orchard vernacular.  With a shelter of fast going pine, spruce, and poplar, they ambitiously planted fruit trees which actually bore fruit in the short term. The remnants of that era are at the experimental farms out there (are they still there?)  Imagine taking virgin prairie land, and nurturing lush, market garden orchards way back then?

When my grandparents were still on the farm, my Dido, dad and uncles planted an orchard on the family farm north of Edmonton. Harvesting apples, cherries, plums and (I think) gooseberries, combined with the fact my Dido had an apiary (he kept bees) (it always makes me smile to say that, because you can't own bees!) my family tried to emulate this centuries-old Ukrainian orchard tradition. For many years the cartoon image of Mama and Tato sitting in rocking chairs, shooting nuisance prairie gophers with slingshots would cause spontaneous laughter! It never did happen, although the gophers probably would have backed off a bit had the folks at least tried, but then time flies!

Here in Calgary some years ago I visited with Mrs. Meketiak, then a centenarian who shared some of her heritage garden flowers from her home near SAIT- I think they were snow drops.  And Mrs. Swityk, who also lived not far away also gave me garden clippings - she had a huge lemon tree growing in her front porch!!  I always recall driving past and seeing their gardens just bursting with joyful color and abandon.  How did they get so good at it?  Well, we haven't been here long enough for those kind of bragging rights. 

Here at our home in Calgary, in the shadow of Nose Hill, we have a lovely apple tree which will probably bear 2,000 apples this year. It will be apple pie season again! Apple raspberry, apple rhubarb, apple-kiwi? Maybe not this year, but there is always hope.
I wonder whether kalyna - the high bush cranberry would grow somewhere on my yard??

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