This is apple season! To celebrate the abundance of apples this time of year, the Berkeley Garden Club holds an annual apple tasting at it’s October meeting. The results are in: out of the 26 varieties that were sampled, the two top vote getters were Kanzi and Rave. Coming in a close third and fourth were Mutsu and Smitten. All four were new to me! and wonderfully crisp, with varying balances of sweetness and tartness. Also garnering several votes each were Ambrosia, Cameo, Jazz, Pacific Rose, Pippin, Sommerfield, and Sweetie Crispy.
All of the apples were purchased at either Monterey Market or Berkeley Bowl, both in Berkeley, with the exception of Cox’s Orange Pippin, grown by member Cathy Roha. There are more than 7,500 different varieties of apples, so we made a very small dent in the varieties!
The apple tree originated in Central Asia, where its wild ancestor is still found today. Apples have been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe, and were brought to the Americas in the 1600 and 1700’s.
Apples, for the most part need abundant winter chill hours, hours where the winter temperatures dip below 45 degrees. Unfortunately, or fortunately, our SF Bay Area winter temperatures are rarely below 45 degrees for 100’s of hours, so the best apples for us to grow are Fuji and Gala, which need fewer ‘chill hours’.
Because apples do not breed true when planted as seeds, grafting is generally used to produce new edible apple trees. The rootstock used for the bottom of the graft can be selected to produce trees of different sizes, winter hardiness, insect and disease resistance, and soil preference of the resulting tree.
A generous selection of grafted apple trees is found in local nurseries in January. Additionally, more unique varieties can be found during the scion exchange held by the California Rare Fruit Growers in late winter. See their website for details: https://crfg.org.
If garden space is limited, espaliering apple trees along a vertical/horizontal structure, for instance near a fence would be a solution. Another would be planting a single tree with several varieties grafted onto one trunk. A third solution would be to plant two to three apple varieties in a single hole. A very fine resource, for homeowners, is the Dave Wilson Nursery, http://www.davewilson.com. They have an excellent section on ‘Backyard Orchard Culture’.