Archive for September, 2009

September 30, 2009

HoneycrispYou would think I would have learned by now about assumptions, especially when it comes to apples.

I always assumed that since Honeycrisp was developed by the University of Minnesota to be very hardy in frigid conditioins, and because the texture is so crisp, that it would get fried down in our heat and have terrible quality. 

But last fall I bought a bag of Honeycrisp from Oak Glen, which has cold winters but gets a good bit of heat in the summer, and they were the best I’ve had.  So I decided to take a chance and try it down here at our Riverside nursery. 

September here has been stinking hot- well over 100 degrees since Labor Day, peaking out around 109 degrees.  The Queen Cox tree next to the Honeycrisp got fried.  But we tried our first Honeycrisp off the tree yesterday, and IT WAS GOOD!  A little bit denser than in the supermarket, but VERY crisp, VERY juicy, VERY sweet, even when picked quite a bit green (the seeds were still pale).  The color wasn’t anything like the supermarket example shown in the above photo, but the flavor was better, as the above apple was a bit sour. 

This matches reports I’ve received from Northern California, where they have cooler winters but stinking hot summers as well.  The tree definately has vigor issues in our heat (the professor at U of M says it has vigor issues everywhere), and so I’m grafting it onto more robust rootstocks like M111 and even seedling, as I want more of these!  I’m happy to add it to our “Favorites” list, and will try not to be so prejudiced in the future; who knows what treasure I would have overlooked.

By the way, the patent on Honeycrisp ran out this year, and so it may be freely propagated.  We’re going to be sending it to Africa to see how it does in Rwanda.


September 24, 2009


I received a nice email from Schulyer Korban at the PRI (Purdue, Rutgers, University of Illinois) breeding program inviting me to test their latest release, WineCrisp.  For some reason all the PRI varieties I’ve tried have done very well here in our hot climate, and I have high hopes for this one.

Licensing on new varieties like this are very strict, and even for testing it was prohibitive on the small scale I do; however, all is not lost as Schulyer told me the orchards that have been licensed to propagate, and so I ordered some benchgrafts from Kickapoo Orchard in Wisconsin.  If you’re wanting to try it send an email to Bill Meyer at  The benchgrafts are $5 each plus shipping; there may be a minimum quantity.

The WineCrisp Description  can be seen at the PRI website by clicking here

Red Boskoop
September 22, 2009

Red Boskoop 9.22.09Today at 2:00 PM the weather station at the Riverside Municipal Airport (RAL) read 104 degrees F and 3% relative humidity (that’s 3%, not 30%) and 20 mph winds; not exactly ideal fall weather for crisp, juicy apples.  On days like today if you see big, billowy clouds over the mountains they’re not thunderstorms, but firestorms from the wildfire in the mountains.  One consolation is that it will get down to 56 degrees tonight, cool enough to need a few blankets. 

Another consolation is this little tree pictured above, Red Boskoop.  If you count carefully you’ll see 9 apples on it, besides the one I picked.  Despite the name the apples are not red, and actually are really ugly.  But when I bit into one, all that was forgotten; as soon as my teeth sank in for the first time I knew this was a great apple; crisp, very juicy, sweet, very tart, tingly.  After swallowing your mouth still tingles a while.

The description off our updated Apple List is as follows;

Boskoop, Red A modern redder strain of Belle de Boskoop, which originated in the Netherlands in 1850.  The whitish-green flesh is firm and dense.  Belle de Boskoop is essentially a dual-purpose apple, suitable for both dessert and culinary uses. It works equally well in a savory salad, or can be used sliced in apple pie.  It keeps its shape when baked into a pie, and can be used as the “sharp” ingredient for cider.  We harvested our first ones this year, and they were wonderful in our climate; juicy, tart, sweet, crisp, and extremely productive (9 full-sized apples on a tiny little 2′ tall M27 tree).  It supposedly improves in storage, which we may never find out as I can tell we’ll be eating these.  I bet it would make a killer pie.  Ripens mid-October; tested excellent for Southern California.

I’m going to give it a few more weeks to ripen to see if it improves, and then will try to store one a while to see if they do indeed improve in storage.  Either way this fall I’m going to graft it onto a more vigorous rootstock, as we’ll be wanting more of these gems.

Stop Me Before I Video Again!
September 20, 2009

The next video is on grafting small-diameter seedling rootstocks.

We’re on YouTube!
September 14, 2009

Kuffel Creek Label

Watch out Hollywood, we’re on YouTube!  I posted our first video on Bud Grafting and you can watch it by clicking

It is our intention to produce a line of videos like this to teach apple culture to novices in Africa who are starting new orchards.

Let us know what you think.

Glen Seedling
September 13, 2009

Glen Seedling

Today’s apple trial is Glen Seedling, developed in Oak Glen at the Wilshire Ranch.  The trees appear to be planted in the 1950’s, and so it was some time before then.  Grown in the mountains is is sweet/tart and crispy, proportedly making way better pies than Granny Smith.  Grown down here in the heat it was still crisp and juicy, but a bit on the chewy side and not very tart, kind of boring.  It was very productive and bore the second year on M111 rootstock, an accomplishment for any apple.  But I would stick with going up to Oak Glen for these as we can grow much better pie apples with other varieties.

St. Edmund’s Pippin
September 10, 2009

St. Edmund's RussetWe had such high hopes for this russeted apple.  Joan Morgan in her book “The New Book of Apples” describes it as “ambrosial, like pear flavoured vanilla ice cream”.  We found it like mashed potatoes with sand and cotton mixed in. 

This was disappointing, as the young tree bore three flawless apples that looked just like the ones in the photos I’ve seen, and the heat didn’t seem to burn them.  But at all stages of ripeness it was terrible, our September heat sapping any crispness of flavor out of it.  Since space is such a premium here it will be shipped up to higher altitudes this winter to live out its days in peace in Oak Glen.  Back to the drawing board.

Through the Fire
September 6, 2009

Rileys 9.1.09Photo KTLA.comOak Glen Fire

Last Monday our hearts were in our throats as we saw the first photo above on the news; Riley’s Farm in Oak Glen with a wildfire bearing down on it from the hillside above.  The U-pick apple orchard and Living History Farm has won the hearts of Southern Californians and we feared the worst.

But by the Grace of God and His brave firefighters and bomber pilots, not a single flower on the roadside of the ranch was singed, despite the utter devastation across the highway.   Riley’s Farm remains a little patch of Eden.

Just Say No to Dwarfing Rootstocks
September 3, 2009

Tall Spindle Apples

The day has come when I’ve given up on more dwarfing apple rootstocks like M9, Bud. 9, and P22. This is partly because I have found that semi-dwarf like M7 and M111 will do everything I need to do.

I’ve found that a warm climate itself has a dwarfing effect on apples, especially high-chill varieties (which we grow just fine in a low-chill climate). The photo above shows four-year-old semi-dwarf M7 trees trained as a tall spindle, bearing heavily; the varieties in front are Rome Beauty, Gala, and Terry Winter. They require almost no pruning, summer or winter, other than housekeeping like crossed or broken branches. I can easily reach the top branches on these and also the free-standing M7 trees I space 5′ apart from each other. I’m going to try training some M7 as Belgian Fence espalier this spring to see how it adapts to a 6′ high trellis, but I imagine it will be no problem.

On the other hand, more dwarfing rootstocks like M9, Bud. 9, P22, and M27 have proven just too wussy for our hot climate. They grow like a rocket the first year (probably because they were refrigerated and received sufficient chill) but just peter off after that, and cannot recover from any damage such as borers or broken limbs. They must be permantly staked against our Santa Ana winds, and heaven help it if the irrigation putts out during one of our frequent heat waves!

In the tropics apples are commonly planted on seedling rootstocks spaced 6′ apart in rows 9′ apart, and they easily are kept short enough to harvest without ladders. The only exceptions to the above I’ve found is with very low-chill varieties like Anna and Dorsett Golden, which grow like rockets and will get very big if not spanked severly in the summer with corrective pruning. This reinforces my theory that the warm climate is what stunts the tree’s growth, as in colder climates M7 easily reaches 15′ tall, something mine never seem destined to do.

By the way, precociousness (fruiting early in the tree’s lifetime) has not been an issue, with both M7 and M111 often fruiting the second year- perhaps the stress of a hot climate has something to do with this. This takes away one of the final arguments for using a very dwarfing rootstock.

Bramley Seedling
September 3, 2009


It’s been over 104 degrees here in Southern California all week (109 on Monday) and there’s a fine snow of ashes raining down from the wildfires burning in the foothills. I’m walking down my apple tree row sampling failures; Lord Lamborne- cracked and split. Ashmead’s Kernel- wrinkled and rubbery. Pitmaston Pineapple- sweet, dense, a bit dry, pretty bland. I picked up a Bramley that had been sitting on the ground all day in the brutal sun, and WOW! Crisp, juicy, very tart and very sweet, with citrus overtones- definately something going on here.

Bramley is the National Cooking Apple of England and no self-respecting Brit would have anything else but Bramley in his pie.  Grown in their climate it is extremely tart, but I suspect our climate mellows it out a bit, making it a wonderful fresh-eating apple also, with way more character than Granny Smith. 

The seeds on the one I sampled were still white with the edges just starting to turn brown, so obviously it’s not ripe yet, but I’m not going to wait; time to make some Mama Josie’s ¡Ay Carumba! Jalapeno Apple Pie!  I chuckled because some growers in the UK are all a-twitter with fears of a couple degrees of warming wiping out their Bramley apple-growing industry.  I can assure them that this venerable apple can take more than just a couple degrees of warming!

This year happens to be the bi-centennial celebration of Bramley, and the original 200-year-old tree is still growing in a cottage garden in Nottingham.  A bit of hoopla is going on there, with decidedly British festivities that Joan Morgan chronicles in her wonderful Fruit Forum blog. 

Bramley bears heavily in our climate, and if planted on seedling rootstock can get absolutly humongous as it is very vigorous.  If you’re looking for a nice specimin tree for the front yard, Bramley may be it.

9/3/09 Update; we made applesauce from our Bramley crop this evening, and YOWSA!  Americans aren’t used to it being that tart, but we decided we like it (with appropriate amounts of sugar and cinnamon).  You’ll never be able to stomach the bland Motts stuff again!