The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Fruit in colonial gardens

Old woodcut of apple pickingIn 1648, the governor of Massachusetts traded 500 apple trees for 250 acres of land.  I figure that means the trees were worth at least $500 apiece in today's dollars.  Can you imagine how scarce and important fruit trees must have been in early New England to command that kind of price?

Old fashioned plums and pears

As nurseries began to open up, fruit trees became a common component of the New England garden.  The most common were apples, pears, peaches, and cherries, but all of the following woody fruits were recorded in New England gardens before 1840: cornelian cherry, white and black mulberries, currants, highbush cranberry, fox and muscadine grapes, apricots, barberries, gooseberries, nectarines, plums, quinces, walnuts, chestnuts, and raspberries.

Old fashioned apple and gooseberry

Entire orchards were planted, but fruit trees were also tucked into gardens wherever they might fit.  Perhaps the colonists have something to teach us about forest gardening too?

More interested in history than ecology?  My newest ebook covers Appalachian historical specialties like herb-gathering, sugar maple tapping, along with a historical whodunit.

This post is part of our Early New England Gardens lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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No, I suspect that land was just really cheap then.
Comment by Rebecca Thu Mar 25 14:38:02 2010
Yeah, I was thinking about that as I read the post back over this afternoon. I wonder how much land was worth back then in today's dollars? I guess it probably depended on whether it was frontier land or not.
Comment by anna Thu Mar 25 14:53:06 2010

yep went looking for money translation from then, this is the closest I could find.

Prices and goods available varied widely from colony to colony, and the relative prices of goods were very different from what they are today. For example, because of England’s economic policies, all but the coarsest cloth — what could be made at home — had to be imported from England. As a result, bedsheets were very expensive, and if you examine colonial probate inventories, you’ll find that relatively few people could afford them. Land, by comparison, was cheap — more people could more easily afford land than they can today. It was also cheaper to build a house than it is today, since someone could simply cut down trees on his property or on unclaimed land, fashion lumber from them, and build a crude cabin with the help of a few neighbors.

The best way to evaluate what various goods were worth in “today’s money” is to examine probate inventories and bills of sale and use your own judgment. Compare the listed values of household goods, tools, slaves, and land; look at what everyone owned as opposed to what very few people owned. For example, in Valentine Bird’s probate inventory from 1680, we can see that “fine Holland sheets” were worth 50 shillings (£2:10:00) a pair — a pair being the top and bottom sheet; pillowcases were extra. A bed stead, meanwhile — the frame of the bed itself — cost only 8 shillings (£0:08:00)! Wood could be cut and and made into a bed in North Carolina, but fine sheets had to be imported at great expense — more than six times the cost of a bed.

Comment by Rebecca M Thu Mar 25 18:13:42 2010
Thanks for researching that! That sounds about like what was happening with the fruit trees. The pamphlet mentioned that the trees were imported from Europe at first (even though they were often grafted over here.) Until there started being fruit tree nurseries in New England, they must have been in the linens category. No wonder Johnny Appleseed was so beloved. :-)
Comment by anna Thu Mar 25 18:53:05 2010
i love these pictures!
Comment by emily harris Fri Mar 26 11:46:15 2010
Me too! There's a bunch more on the Old Sturbridge site if you want eye candy. :-)
Comment by anna Fri Mar 26 11:59:10 2010

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