John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, was not only a pioneer of the West but also a pioneer of life in the way he lived. The man Native Americans considered to have been touched by the Great Spirit believed in a life of simple living and sometimes even wore a large sack for clothing.
Included in that image is the handle of a cloth bag full of apple seeds wrapped around his neck. Apple seeds are the real co-stars of his legend, but where did he get those seeds?
Once away from civilization, Johnny planted one little seed after another. His bag of seeds kept dwindling and surely ran out at some point.
Considering how apples grow, inside an apple are seed pockets which could have around 10 seeds in each. The germination rate for apples is about 30%, and it takes 4-5 years for an apple tree to produce its first fruits.
Growing seeds from apples is not just a matter of sticking them into the ground either, and then apples automatically grow. Once planted, a seed from an apple may not even produce the same fruit as its parent. This depends upon the pollination.
Reports are that Johnny preferred working with wild apples, so this may have cut down somewhat on the nurseryman work he had to do in achieving the correct pollination to produce large, healthy fruit. The fruit from the trees he planted may only have been suitable to make cider.
Out in the wilderness with years to wait for a harvest of apples, Johnny had no other choice than to travel back east to replenish his store of apple seeds. He once transported 16 bushels of apple seeds down the Ohio River in 1801, all the way from apple presses in Pennsylvania which were making cider.
Then there were storage considerations and manual transport of the seeds into the wilderness. Think about gathering up those seeds and how many it took to make a bushel. Seems the logistics of Mr. Appleseed’s life’s work reveals it may have been much more complicated than the Disney version of his life. (Watch the Disney animated video with this article to hear the hymn, “Oh, the Lord is Good to Me,” which is Johnny’s theme song.)
September 26, 2013, was the 239th anniversary of Johnny Appleseed’s birth. Hats off to this free-spirited man who carried out his dream as well as handled and hand carried more apple seeds than most of us will see in a lifetime.
University of Illinois Extension-Apple Facts
Voice of America, People in America transcript and radio program
Johnny Appleseed, 1774-1845: Many Stories and Poems Were Written About This American Hero