WARNING: I just read through this post before putting it up, and though it starts out calm and reasonable, I get increasingly over-excited as it goes on. So brace yourself.
My good friend, Rachel (http://cityscapesandgardengates.blogspot.com/) and I have known each other for 7 years now. And for nearly that long, we've been plotting to go to Geneva NY to visit the grape and apple germplasm center there. I would post a link to the page all about them, but it is a USDA funded project, and so defunded with the current government shutdown. But here is what you need to know: It is housed at Cornell's Agricultural experiment station, and their mission is to collect and preserve as much genetic diversity of apples and grapes as possible. In other words, visiting there is going to see an giant collection of all the possible awesome that apples can do. Aside from being so cool you can hardly stand it, it and the rest of the USDA germplasm system is incredibly important, preserving genetic diversity and making it available to breeders and researchers to create new varieties with better disease resistance or winter hardiness or just generally more awesomeness.
But the BEST thing about the germplasm center there? KAZAKHSTAN!
Um yeah. Let me explain. Apples come from Kazakhstan. Modern cultivated apples are descended from wild apples in Kazakhstan, possibly with a little hybridization with other species thrown in. Okay, so yeah, that is where the wild ancestors of apples live. What's the big deal? Apple FORESTS. Seriously, whole forests of wild apples. http://exhibits.mannlib.cornell.edu/apples/expeditions.htm
To be honest, I don't know logically why that excites me so much, but that concept just blows my mind and makes me very happy. Someday I'll get to Kazakhstan and dance euphorically through the apple forests, but in the mean time: Other people have gone there and collected seed, and planted HUNDREDS of them. In Geneva, NY.
That's right folks. A little slice of a wild Kazakh apple forest growing happily in upstate New York. And I got to walk around in it. And taste the apples. And TAKE SOME HOME!
There weren't just Kazakh apples, there was a whole host of them, row upon row upon row of trees wth big fruits and little fruits and pretty ones and ugly ones and delicious ones and ones that tasted so gross you had to give it to someone else to taste too just so you could watch them be grossed out by it.
After I got them home, I spent a few hours extracting the seeds...
Of course, apples don't come true from seed, each of these seeds will produce something different from the parent tree I picked the fruit off of... which, you know, makes me crazy excited too. (I think I may be overusing the phrase "crazy excited...") The whole plant breeder thing in me... I've got a mix of seeds from all sorts of different apple trees, pollinated by who knows what gorgeous and interesting diversity of an entire germplasm collection... oh what marvels may grow from these seeds!
So, yeah... I'm going to plant all these seeds and grow my own little slice of Kazakhstan.
And if you ever get a chance to visit the germplasm center, DO IT. So much amazing. And that was just the apples! They have grapes too. (Oh. My. God. Grapes!!!)