On February 18, Dana Olson spoke to us of her efforts, together with her husband, Nansen, to start a commercial “gourmet” apple orchard and nursery in southcentral Alaska. Their orchard is on the Knik Arm, which means they have a longer growing season (and less wind). The Olsons want to promote and encourage the growing of apple trees and orchards in Alaska using environmentally sound methods. They believe a fruit industry can be established here-a fruit industry that produces quality, organically-grown apples that taste good-and they personally are looking more towards larger apples for public sale.
The Olsons prefer hardy dwarfing rootstocks (employing interstem grafts) trained into central leader trees. They are also extremely interested in disease- resistant varieties because they believe apple diseases do exist in Alaska and will become more prevalent in the future. Dana Olson is a strong believer in the ability of mycorrhizal* fungi (a naturally-occurring soil fungus) to take up nutrition right out of the soil and promote healthy growth in their trees without the use of chemical fertilizers (the fungus and roots live in a symbiotic relationship).
Nansen and Dana Olson have been taking an experimental approach to developing their nursery and orchard in that some of the varieties they are recommending and distributing are as yet unproven here. I do not know when they anticipate producing a commercially-viable crop; their trees have been planted for 4-5 years now, and only time wall reveal how productive they prove in Alaskan conditions. The Olsons are cultivating many varieties and, although they are not at liberty to discuss the results of their experimental trials, they have been testing apple varieties for Stark Bros, and Purdue University.
In addition to their nursery and orchard business, Nansen has been teaching classes in interstem grafting and Dana is promoting the setting aside of land for fruit production-and she encourages all of us to contact our legislators in support of this proposal!
*(Editor’s note: Dana was not certain which variety of mycorrhizal fungi had been so beneficial to their trees.)