The amber droplet on the withered blossom stem is fire blight bacterium. Fire blight had been hitting us pretty hard, filling my evenings with cutting and breaking off infected branch tips, tossing cluster after cluster of applets. I even lost some of the trial scionwood grafts that we use for testing new varieties (that’s always hard, as it sets the trial back another year).
But the last two days were over 100 degrees F (38 C) and this evening I saw a marked difference in the trees; a few leaves were singed from the heat, but no new blight strikes. The old strikes I had missed were dry and crispy, instead of limp and gooey. I’m glad for this respite as its supposed to cool down a little for foggy mornings burning off to mid-80 degree afternoons, prime fire blight weather. Hopefully this heat was enough to knock it down for the year.
I’ve been testing a low-chill apple named Shell of Alabama, which hails from (you guessed it) Alabama, a hot, humid part of the USA. I’d swear that it was related to Anna and Dorsett Golden as it is their equal in vigor and early season bearing, but it is about 100 years older than them or their common parent, Golden Delicious. It has not shown quite their fireblight resistance, but for the most part has been trouble-free. The tree in the photo is two years old and I had already thinned 2/3 of the apples off of it, having to use a pair of scissors because they were so thick. I will be anxiously awaiting a taste test, but if anything it is a much superior pollinator for Anna and Dorsett than the detestable Ein Shemer.
Each year I go through about 15-20 new varieties to test them in our climate. To speed this process up I graft them onto a mature Fuji tree where they usually bear fruit the second year, sometimes the first year if the scion has a fruit bud on it. The tree ends up with many tags fluttering in the breeze that marks the different varieties. The varieties that prove “worthy” get grafted the next year onto their own rootstock and planted somewhere to produce more scionwood for grafting. It’s always exciting tasting an apple that has been grown in our climate for the first time; you never know what to expect.
I have high hopes for Pink Pearl here, as so far it has passed some initial tests. It is extremely vigorous but set a nice bunch of fruit buds the third leaf on vigorous M111 rootstock. The branch angles are pretty good and it hails for a hot-summer, low-chill climate. The one I tasted had a pearly, opalescent skin and a pink-stained flesh that had decent apple flavor with a hint of berry overtones. We’ll set how the fruit set is this summer and how it tolerates our late summer heat.
So it’s an apple blossom; whoopee, big deal, we see them all the time. Except this one is in Mumbai (Bombay), India. This really shouldn’t be a surprise, as we’ve seen apples growing all over the tropics, but people just assume that they’re in a cold part of the tropics. OK, for the sake of argument I’d grant that this is in a really cold part of Mumbai (have you ever been to Mumbai?..) but it still never, ever, gets below 56 degrees F. (14 C.) and averages about 100 inches of rain, not exactly what you think of as apple country. This tree is blossoming as they’re starting to get some heat before the monsoons arrive in June. Since it blossoms during the dry season they have a fairly decent chance to set some apples, which we will chronicle later on in July.
We’ve had a very good year, but find ourselves in the position of still having good rootstocks and scionwood. We’ll be able to accept and ship apple tree orders into April, which is typically a good time to ship to the tropics as this is the start of the rainy season for many areas.
Any guesses where the trees in the above photo are growing? Virginia? South Carolina? Maybe even Florida? No, these are in Bangkok, Thailand, and doing very well, thank you. When starting out benchgrafts in soggy climates like this it is important to plant them in either raised beds or pots so that they have good drainage, as without any leaves on the tree there’s not a lot of transpiration going on and the roots end up sitting in water, leading to root rot. A symptom of this is when the bud sprouts a few centimeters and then dies.
We’ve been getting apple tree photos back from Mumbai, India and lowland Uganda also and will be updating the blog with them in the coming days. Lots of other activity in the Caribbean and South America also, so it’s promising to be a banner tropic apple year.
The above photo comes compliments of a grower in Zambia, who obviously has hit a “sweet spot” for growing quality apples there.
I’m happy to announce the release of my new book, Growing Apples in the Tropics, The Complete Guide to Growing Apples Where They’re Not Supposed To. I believe this is the first book of its kind, which gathers information from many parts of the world and brings it all together for rural tropic farmers that enables them to grow quality apples, even if they’ve never seen an apple before. For centuries apples were grown without farm machinery or refrigeration, and the book shows insights on how this was done, but also combines it with the latest university research and methods. Topics covered include:
- Introduction to apples and apple history
- Apple varieties and rootstocks suited to the tropics
- Apple diversity and pollination
- Apple benchgrafts (infant apple trees)
- Planting the trees
- Training for productivity in the tropics
- Tasks through the season
- Grafting and propagation
- Drip irrigation
- Apple pests and diseases
- Post-harvest handling
- Value-added products (dried apples, cider)
- Apple cooking recipes
- Useful apple links
Profusely illustrated with color photographs and drawings, it is in a large format and 88 pages. It is available for purchase ($15 USD) in .pdf download version from our tropic apple website at www.kuffelcreekapplenursery.com
We’ve opened branches in Uganda and Rwanda to better serve the African continent. This will mean we’ll be able to supply clonal virus-indexed rootstock and many apple varieties well-suited to the tropics. You can see the new website at http://www.kuffelcreekapplenursery.com
If you’re in an old orchard and see a relatively young tree like the one on the left, you can be reasonably assured that it is a seedling, a tree sprouted in this case from an apple off the tree on the right.
Apples do not reproduce true to seed, and each seed is a completely new variety. This is because of pollination, which means the apple has two parents. Just as your kids are unique individuals that may have some attributes of each parent, they are still completely different people. In this case the shape was pretty close to that of this Delicious tree (Delicious is the pre-cursor to the inferior tasting but oh-so-much-more-marketable highly colored Red Delicious), but the color was much more yellow. Seedling apples have a tendency to taste either like grass or like cotton, but this apple was decent; much sweeter in fat than the Delicious tree .
This represented a chance to play with food, so I took some cuttings to graft onto new roots at home, which is the only way to get more of this tree; you know this as “cloning”, and it has been done since Biblical times. Since my sister-in-law discovered the tree, I named it “Auntie Debra”. We’ll see how it does in our heat and if it is worthy of further propagation. If nothing else it is cheap fun.