Couple growing apples like they used to be

Richard Stevens selling some of his apples at Waimate's market. Photo: Supplied
Richard Stevens selling some of his apples at Waimate's market. Photos: Supplied
In early days, pioneering families on the land in New Zealand were almost totally self-sustaining, producing their own food.

Apple trees and small orchards were often seen alongside farmhouse buildings.

Those days have largely faded away, as have some of the old heritage varieties of apples.

But a couple living outside Waimate are going back in time.

They are growing old-style apples seldom seen these days, and certainly not in supermarkets.

Angela and Richard Stevens have a lifestyle block amid the rolling hills on Elephant Hill Rd. They grow apples and run eight pure-bred Dexter cows, and have just acquired eight sheep ''for the health of the land''.

The Stevens have seven purebred Dexter cows on their property.
The Stevens have seven purebred Dexter cows on their property.
But they have done considerable work on the property, so much so Mrs Stevens joked she considered it not so much a lifestyle block as a ''deathstyle'' block.

''We work bloody hard.

''It was just like a little house on the prairie when we arrived in 2014.''

Their house is built of straw bale, which they love and find remarkably warm, and they have their own solar power.

Mr Stevens said they did a lot of fencing and developed a garden.

''It's a super-fertile area - you should have seen the size of the cabbages; I had to cut them with an axe.''

Some apple trees were already on the property when they arrived from the West Coast, and and there were now about 200 of them.

''All are heritage apples and are pre-1950s. Some varieties go back 300 to 400 years and the apples are sun ripened; they haven't gone into a coolstore.

''We pick them all ourselves.''

Richard Stevens and wife Angela have a lifestyle block amid the rolling hills in Elephant Hill Rd...
Richard Stevens and wife Angela have a lifestyle block amid the rolling hills in Elephant Hill Rd, in the Waitaki district.
The Stevens sold their apples at Waimate's market, or gave them away to friends.

The reaction of people when they taste the apples is generally the same.

''One man tried the Discovery apple; he said they tasted like strawberries; he couldn't get enough,'' Mr Stevens said. ''He bought 2kg of them until we ran out.

''A lady came up from Wyndham and took some of the apples back. She said she needed some more, so I sent her six varieties.

''People want something that's real. The apples you get in a supermarket are perfect. How did they get like that?''

The Stevens grow Black Prince, Crowders, Discovery, Fairbelle, Lawfam, Lord Nelson, Mount Cook, Peasgood Nonsuch, R du Thorn, Cox's Orange Pippin, which sold out in a day at Waimate market, and Hettina.

''We've got Captain Cooks as well. Someone threw a seedling out of a cookhouse; a shearer grew it, grafted it and now we grow them.''

The Stevens have been inspired by Riverton man Robert Guyton, who has scoured Southland saving the ''DNA'' of old apple varieties from the remains of early settlers' orchards and gardens.

Besides apples, the Stevens also grow pears, plums, nectarines and apricots.

Their interest in apple growing is not to make money.

-By Chris Tobin

''I give a lot away,'' Mr Stevens said. ''I gave one woman 50kg, but it [apple growing] might help to pay the rates.''

Mr Stevens will give a talk on heritage trees and grafting at the Waimate District Library on Saturday.

''I got talked into it. There's a lot of different ways of doing grafting. I'll show them the simplest way; anyone can do it.''

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