Fruit trees growing on meadows and along winding roads and old stone fences glisten with their pinkish-white flowers. Welcome to the wild meadow orchards in Åsnen’s apple kingdom.
Åsnen has its very own apple kingdom. Apple trees have been growing in the Nordic countries since the Viking Age and the fruit was used as food for both man and animal. With time came the knowledge of refining through grafting and the wild meadow orchards were created.
In the southeastern Åsnen area, the white-flowered fruit trees grow among meadow flowers and along old stone walls and roads. Come here on a sunny early summer day and see the whole area shimmer with the pinkish-white flowers. The environment still teems with life when the apple blossoming is over. In high summer, insects thrive here. In early autumn, rare meadow fungi cover the ground in rich colours. Birds are drawn to the area all year round too. When travelling along small roads through the Apple Kingdom in late summer and autumn, you will pass several farms and shops selling local apples and homemade apple juice and flavourful marmalades.
The meadow fruit orchards in the southern Åsnen area are the only preserved meadow fruit orchards in Sweden still in operation today, and in 2013 they were classified as a national interest by the Swedish National Heritage Board.
The area is the northernmost example of a popular cultivation form that has been common throughout Europe and is still in use here. Today, the meadow orchards are managed by some twenty farmers who put a lot of effort into pruning the trees and cutting the meadow hay beneath them. The orchards also are a good example of sustainable use of natural resources, as they provide both hay and fruit, as well as a valuable habitat for meadow flowers, meadow fungi and butterflies.
This method of farming is old and popular in for example, France and Germany. The establishment of meadow orchards in the southern Åsnen area probably happened because the environment was less fertile than that of the lake plains up north. Farmers simply had to make even better use of their land to survive – and the meadow orchards did just that by providing winter feed for the animals and fruit for the household. The climate of southern Åsnen was also favourable and farming was simple.
Tasty apple varieties were grafted, preferably at such a height that they were out of the cows’ reach, onto the wild meadow fruit trees that were left to stand where nature had once placed them. The combination of hay meadows and fruit orchards is called agroforestry in modern farming, and is implemented all over the world as an excellent way of getting the most out of farm land.
The wild meadow orchard environments are amongst the most beautiful and biodiverse created by man. It is a unique cultural heritage that has strong roots in the area and with the local population. There is a Swedish book, Äppelkungar – De sista ängsfruktodlarna i vildapelns rike”, written by Lars-Olof Hallberg who interviewed the apple farmers. It is a book that heartily depicts a valuable, noble tradition and the neighborhood’s driving spirits.
If you should find yourself in Åsnen’s Apple Kingdom, talk to the locals and they will proudly tell you more about the wild meadow orchards.