Valley’s Jerome ‘Appleseed’ preserves fruit from the past | AspenTimes.com
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Valley’s Jerome ‘Appleseed’ preserves fruit from the past

Some people want to save the Roaring Fork Valley’s historic buildings. Others want to keep its small-town feel. Jerome Ostentowski is scrambling to preserve the fruits of the labor of some original settlers.

The valley is losing many of the apple, cherry and other fruit trees planted by early homesteaders, according to Ostentowski. Some of the heartiest apple trees – which are capable of living 100 years or more – are reaching the end of their lives and finally succumbing to old age or disease.

Other trees that were nurtured to cope with the Roaring Fork Valley’s sometimes harsh climate are getting bulldozed for development or sitting neglected.

Ostentowski doesn’t want the valley to lose those strains, which have passed the test of time. So he recently launched the Heritage Fruit Tree Awareness Project.

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He is taking an inventory of the oldest and highest-producing fruit trees he can find in the valley. He will then select the best of those apple, plum, cherry, pear, peach and apricot trees and use them for propagation material that gets grafted onto new seedlings.

The preserved varieties will be given to people that provided propagation material as well as sold by Ostentowski’s nursery and planted in Crown Mountain Park, formerly the Mount Sopris Tree Farm.

“I would like to see this park be a historical treasure of all the fruit trees the old-timers brought in here,” said Ostentowski, who is also director of the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute.

Ostentowski is eying trees from Aspen to Peach Valley, a prolific fruit and vegetable growing area between Silt and New Castle. Trees were often perfected there through grafting, then spread throughout the valley.

The best trees have adapted to the soil types in the valley and tolerate the sometimes harsh environment. For example, they “cannot be tricked into blooming too early” or the late frosts common in the valley will kill the buds, Ostentowski said.

The modern-day Johnny Appleseed is already collecting scion wood from some of the best trees he has found. Scion wood is last year’s growth. He will wrap and refrigerate the cuttings until late April or May, when the sap starts flowing, then he will graft them onto fruit tree seedlings.

Ostentowski checked out the trees one recent day on a homestead dating from 1914 in Peach Valley. He’s also found a few hearty varieties in the sunny microclimate of Basalt Mountain.

He’s encouraging people with prolific fruit trees to give him a call so he can include their trees in the inventory. He is particularly interested in centennial fruit trees, but anything older than 40 years or so will be considered for the preservation effort.

The project has already received an enthusiastic response from people who want that segment of the valley’s history preserved. The Thrift Store has given $2,000 to the Heritage Fruit Tree Awareness Project.

Fruit trees owners who think they have varieties worth preserving can contact Ostentowski at 927-4158.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com.


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