Czech initiative aims to revive fruit orchards by growing trees from seeds

Tereza Kutínová, photo: Vlasta Gajdošíková / Czech Radio

Fruit trees have been a common feature in the Czech and Moravian landscape for centuries. However, in the past decades, traditional orchards and fruit tree alleys have been disappearing at an alarming rate. A Brno-based initiative, called Pecky z Moravy, or Moravian Fruit Stones, aims to reverse this trend by collecting tree seeds and planting them in the countryside.

Tereza Kutínová,  photo: Vlasta Gajdošíková / Czech Radio
Apart from being a traditional part of the landscape and a valuable natural heritage, orchards play a vital role in retaining water in the soil and providing a habitat for birds, insects and mammals. But with intensive farming and cheap fruit imports from abroad, small-scale orchards and fruit tree alleys have been disappearing from the landscape.

Since 2014, the overall area of the country’s orchards dropped in size by more than twenty percent and fruit growers expect another two to three thousand hectares to disappear over the next few years.

While five years ago, apples were grown on approximately 9,000 hectares of land, last year apple trees covered less than 8,000 hectares. The area used to grow plum trees dropped by 25 percent over the same period and walnut trees, raspberry and blackberry bushes saw an even steeper decline.

A Brno-based initiative, called Pecky z Moravy or Moravian Fruit Stones are fighting to preserve the unique natural heritage and the different fruit varieties by growing trees from seeds and stones and planting them around the countryside. Tereza Kutínová, one of the initiative’s founders, explains how she got the idea to establish this project:

“The first impulse came last spring when I went to the Jeseníky mountains to plant trees after the bark-beetle calamity. It was then that I saw the large de-forested plots of land with my own eyes for the first time. That’s when I realised the drastic impact of the increasingly frequent droughts.

“I also met some people there who had experience with planting trees from seeds, so that’s where I got the initial inspiration to help the landscape fight drought.

“I was gradually joined by other people and a friend of mine offered us her garden for planting the seeds, so that’s how it all started.”

Illustrative photo: Richenza,  CC BY-SA 3.0
Tereza Kutínová is an IT expert, but her family has always had a strong connection to the land and she spent most of her childhood at her grandmother’s farm:

“My dad has an orchard and he is also a beekeeper and sheep farmer, so I have always been close to all of this.

“After having my own kids and spending most of the time with them in the outdoors, I couldn’t face returning to the office full time.

“So I got really excited by the idea of planting trees. I thought I could apply my analytical thinking to a different field.”

The main objective of Moravia’s Fruit Stones is to return trees back to the landscape to help reduce the effect of the ever more frequent droughts. They also want to inspire and motivate other people to start planting trees from seeds on their own.

“We hope that by handing out seedlings for free, even people who can’t afford to buy them will start planting them in their gardens and fields.

“Besides providing food to people and animals, trees can also improve the quality of the soil in the fields. When the sugary fruit falls and decomposes, it fertilizes the soil.”

“We would also like to show people that it is actually possible to plant a tree simply from a seed. Many people are not aware of that, so we want to break these misconceptions.”

Last autumn, after consulting professional fruit growers and foresters, Tereza Kutínová and her friends planted the first batch of seeds, including apricot, cheery and peach stones as well as walnuts.

“My friend lent us her garden of approximately 1,500 square metres. We turned up the earth and planted various tree seeds and also spread around apple pulp from cider pressing.

“This year, we planted some of the first offshoots to see how they would grow. But most of the seedlings are still too small and will only be replanted next year.

Illustrative photo: Manfred Richter,  Pixabay / CC0
“By that time they will start developing a complex root system. We cannot destroy that, because it helps the tree to suck water from the deeper levels of the soil.”

The word quickly spread and many people have since approached the initiative, offering their unused gardens and land.

After the first trial run, the initiative Pecky z Moravy decided to established a seed bank, calling on people to bring or send in fruit stones and seeds found in their gardens or in the wild. The response of the public caught them by surprise, says Tereza Kutínová:

“We really received a lot of seeds. Last year we finished the planting pretty early, since we only had a limited amount of seeds. This year, we have been planting literally up until today."

“We have loads of apricot stones, because the apricot harvest was really good this year, and we also have lots of peaches. On the other hand, the plum harvest was pretty weak, but we have stones from last year.”

Ms Kutínová says they are most grateful for old and rare fruit tree varieties, which have not been over-cultivated. Such trees, she says, have a higher chance of being healthy and producing quality fruits.

“What is interesting is that you can actually distinguish the different varieties, for instance of apricot trees, just by their seeds, which also look different. So when we hand out the seedlings, it won’t be a monoculture. They are quite diverse.”

While some experts argue that uncultivated trees that are not pruned on a regular basis won’t produce quality yield, Tereza Kutínová says that from her experience, even wild-growing trees can bear delicious fruits:

“Wild-growing apples might be smaller, but they have other advantages. For example, they tend to be more aromatic.

“Of course we cannot sell such trees, because we cannot guarantee what the fruit will look like.

“But even if only every fifth fruit actually grows into its full size and the rest is eaten by animals, I still think it is worth it.”

The idea to plant fruit trees from seeds seems to have taken root pretty quickly, with dozens of volunteers offering their plots of land for free. While most of the seeds were planted in gardens, some have also been planted along old tracks that run through fields and meadows.

Illustrative photo: Flicker/bbum via Foter,  CC BY-NC-ND
“When we planted trees around the district of Líšeň, some of the elderly residents would stop by and say: oh, there used to be a cherry orchard here back in the old days.

“It used to be quite common back then. People working in the fields would pick the fruit to refresh themselves. Fruit trees were also commonly planted along roads.

“We can still see some old fruit trees growing by the roadside, but they are gradually being felled and unfortunately, they are not being replaced.”

While the founders of Pecky z Moravy will have to wait a few more years to see the fruits of their labour, one thing is clear already. Tree planting in Líšeň has become a new tradition that brings local people together and helps them create a special bond with their landscape.