6 Fun Ways to Celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day!
Updated: Mar 23
Johnny Appleseed, whose real name was John Chapman, is famous for planting apple trees in the American “west,” which 250 years ago meant places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and northern parts of West Virginia. You might have an image of Johnny scattering appleseeds around randomly as he walked from town to town, but in reality he took good care of his plantings. He would clear a space for the trees before planting the seeds and build fences to protect them from livestock. He also made sure to leave his small nurseries in the care of someone who could look after them and would return every few years to check on their progress.
You might be wondering why planting apples was so important to Johnny. Well, even though the apples that Johnny’s trees produced were bitter and not good for eating, they were perfect for making apple cider. This drink could be lifesaving in a time when water wasn’t always clean enough to drink on its own. The cider made from Johnny’s apples could also be used to preserve food, which allowed people to save food for the winter.
As his name suggests, Johnny planted apple seeds rather than using a technique called grafting which is normally used to grow apples. What you might not know is that apples produced by trees grown from seeds will not grow the same variety of apples as their “parent.” Because he only planted seeds, and each tree that grew produced a different kind of apple, some historians believe it’s in large part thanks to the thousands of trees from Johnny’s nurseries that we have such a wide variety of apples available to eat today. Johnny believed so strongly in the value of educating all those he encountered about the value of planting these trees that he often didn’t get paid for his work. Instead, he would sometimes accept food for his dinner and a floor on which to sleep before continuing his travels.
We’ve created a list of ways you can celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day in your own home and community this year.
1. Read a book. Check out Johnny Appleseed: the legend and the truth by Jane Yolen. Books are available at libraries across the DMV which are currently providing various levels of service. Check with your local library to see what’s available in your area. Of course, you can also order your own copies.
2. Apple Towers: As a sensory exercise for younger kids, try stacking some apples. How many can you stack on top of each other? Can you stack them on your head? Is it easier to build a pyramid shape than a simple tower? This is a great way for younger children to play with balance and weight distribution.
3. Feed the Birds. Make a DIY bird feeder from an apple that might be going a bit mushy. The birds will appreciate you sharing.
4. Seed Starters: Check out this short video about seed starting and plant your very own apple tree! You might want to plant more than one; the trees will only make fruit if there’s another apple tree close by.
5. Make Applesauce! Kaylin, the Foundation's Museum Interpreter and Volunteer Coordinator, made some applesauce with her family not too long ago, and we thought you might want to make some too. Learn how to do it with this video!
6. I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of: Check out the crab apple trees at Piscataway Park. Using the terms "I notice", "I wonder", and "It reminds me of", see what you notice, wonder, and connect to about these unique apples. Crab apples are not exactly the same as the apples you might see in the grocery store. They’re smaller, taste different, and are much more popular for ciders and jellies. They tend to have bright white or pink flowers in the spring and produce apples in the summer. The American Milking Devon cattle love to snack on the leaves and fresh fruit, so we will move them from the pasture once the trees start to produce. They’ll be blooming in a few weeks, so come and explore the orchard here on the National Colonial Farm.
However you celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day, we want to hear about it. We’d love to see photos of your activities or hear some stories about what you did.