My Volunteer Journal: Episode 28 – The Unintentional Volunteer Activity – 40 Tree Seedlings on My Porch


Slicing up a bunch of Granny Smith apples for a pie one day it occurred to me that it would be easier walk outside and pick apples from a tree rather than go to the store to buy them. Free, local, organic apples - Genius. With only inspiration and absolutely zero planning I bravely forged ahead with a new vision - an orchard on my 4 x 4 porch.

On the Internet I found a plethora of information on apple seeding. Step one – use organic apples because conventional apples might have been sprayed with a chemical to stop them from germinating. Check. Step two – Extract apple seeds from apples. Eat apples. Check. Step three - Dry seeds in the sun for two weeks. Check... though my cats kept jumping into the seeds on the windowsill. Note to self: find better place for seeds. Step four – Wrap apple seeds in a wet paper towel, stick in a plastic bag, place bag in the refrigerator, and monitor for the next three months to make sure paper towels stay damp. Check, but so boring.

At the end of three months I was convinced the seeds were dead. The bags were slimy and the paper towels surrounding the unchanged seeds had turned bright orange. Since the gross slimy little bags in the refrigerator didn’t seem to be bothering anyone I kept them there while I grappled with how to say goodbye to my four-month project. Eventually, I forgot they existed.

Month 5. While cleaning out the fridge I saw the seed bags and immediately got depressed; such a promising project with such a disgusting, moldy outcome. I grabbed the bags to throw them away and froze. Tiny white worm like tails sprouted out of the seeds. Roots! They’re Alive! I let out a brief maniacal giggle and then dashed outside with my bags to find somewhere to pot the seedlings. Finding no free pots I improvised with some cardboard boxes. I filled the boxes with three inches of soil and got to work.

At first I laid the seeds out neatly, covering each tiny baby gently, but once I passed ten seedlings boredom took over. I threw the remainder of the seedlings in one box, covered them with soil, watered them and left them to their own devices. “Most won’t survive anyway,” I told myself.

One week later I sat balled up in a chair on my porch staring at over 40 green baby trees popping their heads out of the soil. I had my orchard - too soon! For two seconds I kind of understood Octomom’s predicament (on a much much smaller scale).

Knowing that I couldn’t abandon my little trees I turned to the only people I thought might be thrilled with my fertility problem – TreePeople. Several months ago I had planted citrus trees with them. Was that day of work enough to call in a favor? Fortunately, they are also nuts. My request was met with an enthusiastic, “Yes, bring the trees in and we will repot them.”

Last week I drove the baby trees to their tree nursery at the top of Mulholland Drive. Instead of being horrified by the obvious neglect apparent from the tangled mass of seedlings in some dirty boxes they were thrilled. Steve who runs TreePeople’s Fruit Tree Program worked with me for an hour. We separated each seedling from the dirt with a fork and then repotted them in a seedling pot. After every tree was dosed with water I said goodbye and left the 40 little ones to grow in the nursery for a few month.

Steve said TreePeople would welcome volunteers who wanted to try and seed fruit trees as long as they were climate appropriate. He also said that when I have room and the seedlings are strong enough I could come back and take a couple. I like knowing that the trees, which survive will eventually be planted in low-income neighborhoods to provide delicious apples and shade on a hot day.

Seeding trees is fun and a productive volunteer activity because whether you eventually give them to an organization, your friends, or just plant them in your backyard you are helping the planet. In a few years you might also be able to offer fruit to local food banks with programs like Food Forward or needy families that you know. Next project for me – seeding nectarines!