Learning Landscapes: Apples and Their Many By-Product Uses

Inspiring Your Little Johnny Appleseed: Produce No Waste

With passing of the recent equinox we are entering into the cooler weather of autumn in the northern hemisphere – a time for many that is fondly thought of as apple picking season. What are some natural, play-based experiential education ideas for our young Johnny Appleseeds that can take the joy of going apple picking to a whole (systems thinking) new level?

Permaculture is a whole systems design methodology that works with nature that my family and I use to help us navigate our learning landscapes. The idea of working with nature values and honors the nature of our children as well as that of the natural world in which we are a part of. To do this, we will explore the sixth of twelve whole systems thinking tools – “Produce No Waste.”

Waste Not, Want Not

Let’s cultivate playful curiosity and work with our children to “produce no waste” with over 20 ideas for what to do with your surplus of those juicy, crunchy apples, particularly the parts of apples and apple trees that often just get discarded or disregarded. Use creative and divergent thinking based in permaculture to become more mindful, observant and creative about how those things that are often overlooked.

Waste, ultimately, is nothing more than an unused output or yield. Waste is not inherently worthless, an association often made when people think of waste. It is simply something unused and often discarded. By being thoughtful and innovative about waste, we can turn a “problem” into an opportunity that nourishes life.

 “What you do with your resources in this life is your autobiography.”
– Randy Alcorn

Ok, time to cultivate playful curiosity and see if we can’t work with our children to “produce no waste” when it comes to the parts of apples and apple trees that often just get discarded or disregarded with these ideas shared with me by one of the PERMIE KIDs community members, Joanna McCluskey. Interestingly, take note how the other thinking tools discussed in previous Learning Landscapes articles are naturally integrated into these activities when we think of going full circle with whole systems thinking to produce no waste.

If you have a lot of apples that you are trying to use up and say you want to:

  • Juice them (Obtain a Yield), and you have extra juice, you can then boil extra juice into shelf stable apple syrup or (one step further into) apple molasses (Catch & Store Energy). While gently boiling down you can sift your juice and separate out the seeds from your apple pulp to make seed mandalas and now you have leftover pulp with which you can make table top apple cider vinegar (Produce No Waste). (Note: The ground up pulp can also be fed to chickens or worms, or returned back to the apple tree as fertilizer to cycle back the nutrients.  It makes very good compost being so finely pulped, the large amount of surface area exposed leads to very quick decomposition.)

Or, let’s try this again.

  • Say we make this thousand layer apple cake (I love this cake and do it with various fruit, I also halve the sugar and essentially slowly cook/dehydrate it, chill before eating). Now, we have our peels leftover. While we bake our cake, we dry the apple peels in the oven as well to make our own tea/tisane mix with apple peels. Consider adding dried elderflower, or mint, or lemon balm, or ginger, or a spice mix. (Note: The apple mix can be sent home with instructions for brewing mulled apple tea or making an infused kefir or other cultured homemade soda. We use tea mixes to make our cultured sodas instead of juices, and it works splendidly. This can be as simple as water, sliced apples, and a cinnamon stick.) Then we can use our seeds to make necklaces and our cores to make star prints on paper or dry them as well for potpourri. Equally fun, you can mince up the cores with seeds to be used in your scrap paper making.

Wait, what about this…

  • Let’s say we make a very simple cooked apple sauce for either freezing or canning. We partially cover our whole apples with water. (Note: If you don’t want the skins, you can peel and dry for potpourri or tea or paper making.) Bring to a gentle boil and cook through. During this time, it is good to prepare jars if canning or other packaging and labels. This step can be done in advance. Let cool and process through a sieve or food mill, saving the seeds. Rinse and spread seeds to dry while boiling sieved apple sauce again with any added sugar or spices. You can take it to an apple butter or apple cheese state as well depending on what you desire. Funnel apple sauce into jars while still hot and prepare the hot water bath. Process jars using the hot water bath method. You can then take your saved seeds, using an oil seed press, and make apple seed oil (a healing cosmetic oil).  Now you can even extend the activity by making a cream, salve, or lotion.

To encapsulate:

Apple (or Pear) Fruit: 

  • Juice for Cider
  • Cider can be turned into Apple Syrup or Molasses
  • Make a variety of baked goods, the simple Apple Cake being a great one
  • Apple or Pear Sauce, which can also be turned into butter, if cooked long enough, or a cheese if enough under ripe fruit is used for pectin, or dried on sheets for fruit leather
  • Under ripe fruit or crab apples are great to make concentrated liquid pectin for jam making endeavors
  • Under ripe fruit or crab apples are also great to use in chutneys, relishes, or pickled


  • Use to make easy table top vinegar
  • Use in paper making
  • Animal feed, including worms
  • Great for compost
  • Can be incorporated into baked goods or porridge for extra fiber
  • Use as a face mask or body scrub, fresh or dried.  (Warning: Can be messy!)


  • Cut in attractive shapes and dry for use in potpourri
  • Use in paper making or as a circle star print stamp
  • Compost


  • Dry to use in tea/tisane mixes or potpourri
  • Candy and eat as a chewy treat or decorative desserts
  • Can use to infuse sugar, honey, or white vinegar


  • Use in seed mandalas
  • Make seed jewelry for children (seeds strung into necklaces, bracelets or anklets, or place apple seeds in a vial and tie pretty string around vial for Johnny Appleseed necklace)
  • Press for cosmetic oil to use in soap making, candles, and cosmetic moisturizers

Wood (leftover from pruning):  Don’t throw it out or burn!

  • Mulch into chips for smoking and barbecuing
  • Use in hugelkultur beds
  • Use to make wands, staffs, and rods

Apple Blossoms (just to tease you into thinking about what you might do next year):

  • Dry for tea
  • Distill for Apple Blossom Water/Hydrosol for culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic use
  • Infuse in oil or vinegar for cosmetics or perfumery

Oh my, what about saving, stratifying, planting and caring for apple seeds with the goal of growing your own apple tree? Check out some directions – How to Grow an Apple Tree from Seed. Keep in mind, apple seeds are cross pollinated so the apple tree that grows will not have apples that are a replica of the apple the seeds were taken from.

However, if the root stock is well-established, it can be used for grafting.

… Whoa, let’s stop there. That’s a rabbit hole for another article!


Extension Resources for Learning about Apples

[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield; (cc) Larry Wfu]


Jen MendezJen Mendez

Jen is a wife, mother of two joyous children, experiential education mentor, and founder of PERMIE KIDs. She has a M. Ed. in International Education and has worked with children in the U.S. and overseas from early childhood through the primary years, as well as parent-educators. She integrates an ethical, design science methodology with her love for education to help others learn to design a customized education with their children that honors themselves, others, and the earth.

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