Karl Holzknecht, who was the main missionary at Kaiapit, grew up in Germany. While he embraced the tropical fruit that New Guinea had to offer, he greatly missed the apples of his youth.
Imported apples were fairly scarce in New Guinea in those years. Living at Kaiapit, 80 miles inland from Lae, and being dependent on occasional aircraft bringing goods ordered weeks or even months in advance, meant that no apples found their way to Kaiapit. In an attempt to rectify this situation, Holzknecht ordered two Tropical Beauty apple trees from Australia. This apple originated in South Africa and was introduced to Australia in 1953.
When the seedlings arrived, he planted them in the valley behind Kaiapit hill near a small watercourse, called the Ngarogoga. This rill ran as a creek during the wet season, but in the other months dried up though it retained some moisture further down. Both seedlings survived and grew and became full-grown trees, seeming to thrive in that environment. But, alas! There was never an apple, not a single one!
It turns out that despite the name, the Tropical Beauty apple does require some winter chilling hours, possibly as many as the Fuji apple, which needs about 350 hours. Kaiapit, situated less than 500 miles south of the equator in the lowlands of the Markham Valley, had no such hours.Â (Chilling hours are hours with temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0 and 7 degrees Celsius.)
One other apple would have had a better chance, though it originated only in 1954 in the Bahamas and was not available while the Holzknechts lived at Kaiapit. This is the Dorsett Golden, which will grow without any chilling hours. The apple is golden in color, but blushes red where it is exposed to sunlight. Its flesh is crunchy, sweet tart, and has the classic apple flavor. It is also good for culinary purposes. In the right conditions, a Dorsett Golden tree will even produce two crops a year. It may have done so at Kaiapit, since most years Kaiapit mangos produced two crops.
Kaiapit has a distinct climate pattern, a three-month monsoon season, starting in December, followed by a hot dry season (though temperatures rarely exceed the Fahrenheit nineties or the low Celsius thirties). The dry season, of course, is equivalent to the southern hemisphereâ€™s winter; however, since the monsoon season is cooler than the dry, it is not difficult to think of that time as â€œwinterâ€ and the dry as â€œsummerâ€, corresponding to the pattern in the northern hemisphere. Christmas conveniently falls during the cooler season, and growing up at Kaiapit with European parents, it was easy to place Christmas in what passed for â€œwinter.â€
This pattern is similar to what we have here in central California, though our wet winter has only about twenty percent of the Kaiapit rains and more than 800 chilling hours, but our dry summer temperatures are similar. I think the Kaiapit pattern would eminently suit the Dorsett Golden, making it to bloom in February and produce apples sometime in July. What a pity the Dorsett Golden apple was not available, when the Rev. Holzknecht placed his order!
It should be noted that nowadays, apples do flourish in Papua New Guinea, but they are grown in the cooler high country, particularly the Eastern Highlands, not in the Markham Valley.