Apple tree planting @MetropolitanELS w/

December hardly seems like an appropriate time to plant trees, especially in New York’s chilly temperate zone. But the weather has been remarkable lately, in fact record setting, so planting trees is exactly what I did this week.

On Friday morning I biked over to Randall’s Island to meet Jeff Kerry. He works for NYC Department of Parks & Recreation at Icahn Stadium where the young apple trees had been stored and was helping deliver them this morning. We dropped a couple trees off at PS 99 before heading to the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School (MELS) in Forest Hills Queens. We met up with Erik Baard, founder of Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration and his friend Nadine. Shortly after, over 25 students walked over accompanied by their teachers. In a rush I laid out the placement of the trees, approximately 16 feet on center, in a line along the main sidewalk many of the students use on their way to and from school.

Newtown Pippin Restoration and Celebration is a project that gives away apple trees to local community groups, schools and community gardens. These apple trees we planted at MELS are part of a recent program Erik has rolled out in conjunction with the United Nations 2011 Year of Forests and in cooperation with the New York Restoration Project (NYRP) to plant disease resistant Kazakh trees (from the apple’s birthplace of Kazakhstan) in order to cross pollinate them with native cultivars such as the Newtown Pippin in order to create new, resilient native cultivars.

Erik spoke to the school kids for about ten minutes before we really dug in. He gave a brief overview of apple history and cultivation, then an overview of the local Newtown Pippin history.


We planted a dozen Kazakh trees grafted onto dwarf rootstock and one Newtown Pippin.  

It’s hard to believe that fruit bearing trees used to be a hard sell in the city because they are perceived as being “trashy”. That is to say, they drop fruit, littering the sidewalk, the fruit rots, it stinks and attracts pests. The thing is, if you harvest the fruit before it drops, it doesn’t rot, or stink. In fact you have quite a resource on hand. With the years the school will have opportunities to enrich their educational programs by demonstrating proper pruning and care of these apple trees. There may even be some interesting research into the new cultivars yielded by allowing these ancient Kazakh apples and native Newtown varieties to produce valuable open pollinated heritage species of apple trees.  As an added bonus, the students, faculty and staff will have beautiful trees all year and fruit in the fall.

It is my hope that this idea will spread to other school yards as a simple and effective way of incorporating edibles into their campuses.

I also wanted to mention as a prelude to future projects that the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School is adjacent to the abandoned Rockaway Branch LIRR rail line which is the focus of a group I am involved with which is encouraging the transformation of this derelict infrastructure into a community asset including elevated bike trails, public open spaces and gardens. To find out more about this visit my friend Anandi’s blog or these two FaceBook pages dedicated to the mission. I’ve also blogged about it here:

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