Archive for August, 2008

Old Apple
August 30, 2008

Someone in Arkansas posted this photo on GardenWeb forum and listed it as “Tull”.  I checked up on it, and was relieved to find that it pre-dates Jethro and his flute by 100 years.  It is listed in the “extinct from cultivation” list in C. Lee Calhoun’s Old Southern Apples, and described thus:

“Originated before 1868 on the farm of Abram Tull, Grant County, Arkansas. Root sprouts were dug from the original tree, and several small orchards were established by neighbors. Apples were sold from these orchards for years in Little Rock before the trees were grafted and sold by nurseries. The Tull is healthy, well adapted to southern growing conditions, blooms late and carries its foilage late into the fall. THe fruit hangs well on the tree, often into November, and is free from rot.

Fruit medium to above, roundish, flattened on the ends, skin greenish with red striped becoming mostly red when ripe, resembling Ralls Janet; dots numerous, white; stem medium length in a greenish cavity; calyx closed; basin gradually sloped; flesh yellow, firm, juicy crisp, subacid. Ripe October-March. Catalog listings; AL, TN, AR (1898-1920) ”

I should add that the poster said this one was very green, and that it develops some red strips after they ripen  a bit more.  This is typical of how apples looked prior to the 1900’s; green, round, and blemished.  This apple would never be found on supermarket shelves today, as no one would buy it, despite its excellent quality. 

From the description it sounds like an excellent apple for Southern California, and I’ll contact him to see if I can get scionwood.


Mollie’s Delicious
August 22, 2008

Developed in 1966 at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, Mollie’s Delicious is just starting to ripen now.  It is a cross between Golden Delicious and Red Gravenstein and is inferior to both, but ripens early in the season and keeps rather well.  The flavor is sweet and juicy but not very acidic or tart, and the flesh is crisp, firm, and very juicy.  It is quite productive and held up well to our heat.  I’m looking forward to more of them and will include them in school orchards, as the kids will enjoy the easy-to-bite-into flesh and mild sweet taste.

Nothing New
August 21, 2008

I’ve come to the determination that we’ve forgotten more about apple culture than we’ve learned over the last 100 years.  The above photo is from “The American Apple Orchard”, a book published in 1907 detailing apple culture in the USA at the time. 

Everything I thought was cutting edge they already knew; the value of mulch, nitrogen-fixing cover crops that are turned under in the spring, soil chemistry, genetics, and backyard orchard culture.  Many more apple varieties were available via mail-order nurseries back then. 

The chapter for the home orchardist stresses the home gardener should not attempt to emulate commercial growers, but should pick many varieties for successive ripening, and these varieties should be based on taste.  They also cover summer pruning for size control, and dwarfing rootstocks (thus the photo above).   It could easily be mistaken for a modern article, except the people are much better dressed (they worked the orchards in a vest and tie).

About the only big difference is in the composition of the sprays; lead and arsenic play major roles.  But our same lime-sulfur bordeaux mixture was already commonplace, and they were just starting to use dormant oil spray with good results.  They were also starting to tout the merits of crates over barrels, stating that consumers were more likely to buy a whole crate instead of just a few apples out of the barrel.  

It makes me long for simpler, more-civilized times.

Dave Wilson Nursery’s Fruit Tasting
August 17, 2008

Last Saturday we were invited to attend the Dave Wilson Nursery’s late summer fruit tasting at Cal Poly Pomona.  The morning session is by invitation only to nursery retailers, and then after lunch it opens up to the public for a couple hours.  This is a chance to taste tree-ripened fruit and see what is available to purchase at your local nursery in the spring.

It was an eye-opener as to why you will never see any good-tasting fruit in the supermarket, especially stone fruit like peaches and nectarines.  The fruit was picked on a Thursday afternoon, trucked down Friday, and consumed on Saturday, but many of the samples were already starting to go mushy.  They have absolutely no shelf life after picking; but these fruits had the most outstanding flavor.  However you could never expect to be able to sell them in the store.

The morning taste test panels were blind, in that we didn’t know the variety we were tasting.  But it was instantly recognizable when we were given a commercial variety; it was beautiful, but tough and tasteless.  Of course they had held up very well to the trip down and were in perfect condition.  These are the qualities a grower will look for, but the taste will never equal the tree-ripened fruit.

But all is not lost, as you can grow your own; many of the wonderful varieties we tested are considered low-chill and do very well in our Southern California climate.  I encourage you to check out Dave Wilson Nurseries’ website at and go to the “Home Gardener” section.  

Special thanks to Tom Spellman and Ed Laivo for the invitation; it was a wonderful day.

Kerr Crabapple
August 8, 2008

These beautiful apples are Kerr Crabapples.  The tree sets a heavy crop of these and they take the heat very well, coloring up like this.  They’re magnificent hanging on the tree, like big clusters of grapes.  The white flesh is crisp, sweet/tart, and very juicy; but once you suck the juice out of it the flesh become rather tasteless and tough; I bet they would make a good cider apple.

Usually a summer apple needs to be picked right away after it ripens or it becomes soft and mealy, but these have a remarkable harvest window, staying crisp for a couple weeks on the tree after ripening.  They hang well too, with not many falling.  Despite its tough flesh I’d determine these tested good for Southern California.

Lamb Abbey Pearmain
August 3, 2008

I picked our first Lamb Abbey Pearmain yesterday.  This is a British apple from 1804, and it is not surprising that it did well here, as it is a seedling of Yellow Newtown Pippin (a Yankee apple), which also does well here.  It ripened about a month earlier than it does in cooler climates, and was very dense, firm, juicy, tart, but balanced with a sweetness and just a hint of pineapple.  I imagine it would make very good pies.  It was still a bit green when I picked it, and I was not able to determine if it improves in storage like it’s parent.

August 2, 2008


Gala did pretty good this year.  Last year it was a fireblight magnet and only set a couple hard, characterless apples.  This year had a bumper crop for a 3-year-old tree, and I’m enjoying the apples.  They’re still a bit green as shown by the white areas still on the seeds (a ripe apple has dark brown seeds), but it is very sweet and juicy.  If there are enough apples on a tree I’ll start sampling before they’re ripe and then check every few days to see when the optimum time is to pick, whether, green, ripe, completely ripe, or after months in storage. 

Gala has a reputation of being a quality apple no matter where it’s grown, and I’m happy to say that applies to Southern California.  Just be wary of wilting branch tips during fireblight season and prune it out agressively, and it should be OK.  It is a nice “filler” apple for the season between Williams’ Pride and Gravenstein, with Hawaii right behind it.