Disappointment and Promise

For the second year in a row I’m disappointed with Whitney Crab apple.  It bears a nice crop of beautiful apples, but it ripens too early in our heat and is mushy and flavorless.  I’ve tried picking it at all stages, really green, ripe, and over ripe, and it just has no character.  It is in my tall spindle orchard which is meant for heavy production, and I have deemed it unworthy of the space.  I bud-grafted a Rubinette bud onto the trunk and will lop the rest of the tree off this winter.

On the other hand, American Golden Russet is showing all the hallmarks of a hot-climate champion.  It has been really late to leaf out, but is now leafing out fully and setting a lot of fruit, blossoming over a couple months.  Every leaf bud is opening up with very little blind wood, meaning it will be quite productive.

This goes to show what may be desirable in a cold-climate commercial setting may be opposite from what is best for the home gardener in a hot climate.  A commercial grower wants the tree to blossom all at once so he can time the sprays properly, and ripen all at once so he can send the pickers through one time.  He wants the tree to ripen by late October, or it may get too cold to ever ripen properly.

But we have waves of pests that move through that could damage the trees at different stages; in April the aphids are thick, in may something eats the blossoms (I still haven’t figured out what), in June the codling moths start to attach, and in July the grasshoppers attack the tender bark.  A tree that blossoms over a long time has a much better chance of surviving these attacks as different insects attack different stages of growth.  For example, if the tree hasn’t leafed out yet, the aphids can’t bother it. 

Since American Golden Russet  is just now setting fruit, that means it will ripen in December, perfect weather here in Southern California for making top-quality apples.  It will go through our worst heat in September as a juvilile, where it is able to take a great amount of blazing sun with no damage.  The fact that it is a tough-skinned russet only helps it to survive.   Having the harvest spread out over several weeks also means a steady supply of tree-ripened fruit.  Our season is never-ending and we can pick fruit in February if need be.

I’m already putting together my order for budwood of different varieties to graft into the orchard, and am leaning heavily on russets.  They have shown good success here and the flavor holds up well to the heat.  I can’t wait until they really start bearing, as I’m anxious to try making cider from them.

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