The Permacultivator - Journal of Cool Climate Permaculture
There are 35-80 species of wild apple (Browning, 76). According to the latest research, all modern cultivars derive from the one species Malus sieversii (Vines). This great mother apple originated in the Tien Shan Mountains of South China and Kyrgyzstan. In the latest theory, we have our mammal brethren to thank for today’s fruit. Originally small, with edible seeds and bird-propagated, it became, over 10 million years, mammal-friendly fruit by being selected for larger, juicier fruit and inedible seeds by generations of deer, pigs and bears. By the time humans arrived in the region, 5-8000 years ago, the apple as we know it had nearly evolved. Humans further selected and propagated the apple and cultivars spread westwards to western Asia and Europe, also helped along in the gut and saddlebags of the newly domesticated horse. A few cultivars still in existence may date from the Roman period (eg Court Pendu Plat).
In the original Central Asian apple forests, apple trees are often found in association with apricots. The latter are found on the drier western slopes and apples on the moister north and eastern slopes (Browning, 34). In a wild apple forest every tree is a different variety, with different ripening times, predator resistance capability, cold/heat hardiness etc. Unlike the original wild apple forests, the European, US and Australian apple trees have not had hundreds of thousands of years of adaptation to predator species like moths, red mites or fungi (scab, bitter rot, fire blight). Thus intense human intervention is necessary and an orchard is a place essentially “out of balance with what we call the natural world” (Browning, 26-27). However, there are degrees of un-balance.
Tally of Cultivars.
10 000 apple cultivars are estimated to have existed globally (Vines). 6000 have been recorded in the UK, and 2000 in Australia; of the latter only 6-700 appear to still exist here and much in excess of 3000 in the world (Winmill, 2-3). From the early twentieth century onwards the market forces of industrial capitalism began decimating this high diversity that had arisen since the Renaissance. Old varieties became a logistical nuisance and choice was reduced. Greater physical resilience and tough transportability, chemical treatability, physical uniformity and profitability were now called for. After 1918 cool storage enabled only one or two cultivars to provide year-round fruit. Glamourised advertising images of the visually ‘perfect’ apple and a standardizing marketing propaganda onslaught of “sweet, crisp and red” did the rest. Now only half a dozen or so varieties dominate the apple markets (Winmill, 3-5)
Although even an organic orchard is an artificial system heavily dependent on human input, we can incorporate many features of wild fruit ecosystems into orchard design, thus making it more diverse and resilient by:
(a) maximizing different varieties of the same fruit,
(b) maximizing different fruit and nut varieties,
(c) introducing native interplants,
(d) introducing insectary plants, (e) surrounding with native windbreaks,
(f) introducing avian predators (poultry, ducks, geese),
(g) minimizing winter pruning (retarding growth, increasing fruiting), (
h) denser planting (retarding growth),
(i) ‘shocking’ tree into fruiting via tying and trellising.
A Few Old and New Apple Varieties To Grow Yourself
An extremely early, low chill dessert variety, developed in Israel. No good if in frosty place. More relevant as climate change hits us. CP (cross pollinates with) Dorsett Golden.
Extremely early, low chill dessert variety from the Bahamas (1953). Frost-sensitive, plant in sheltered site like Anna. CP Anna.
Belle de Boskoop.
Mid-late dual purpose, Netherlands 1856. Great reputation in Europe. Triploid, i.e. needs definite CP Vista Bella, Golden Harvey...
Court Pendu Plat.
Late, dessert, pre-1500, may date from Roman times, thus one of oldest still in cultivation. Frost-proof since very late flowerer. Strange nobbly fruit, good keeper. Worth preserving merely for its antiquity. CP Rome Beauty…
Cox Orange Pippin.
Mid-season, dessert, England 1825. Famous apple, richly flavoured. Very popular in England. Have found powdery mildew issue with it. CP Spartan, Granny, Delicious group, Jonathan, Gala, Fameuse…
Fameuse, syn Snow Apple.
Mid-late, Canada pre-1730. Very white fleshed, favourite with kids. CP Cox Orange Pippin, Spartan, Granny, Delicious group, Gala…
Late, dessert/cider apple, England 1600s. Crisp, sweet. CP Vista Bella
King of the Pippins, syn. Golden Winter Pearmain.
Mid-late, dessert England 1800. Richly flavoured, very popular in Germany. CP Nickajack…
Late-very late, dessert, USA 1800. Good cropper and keeper. CP King of P.
Late, dual purpose, USA 1848. Keeper. No CP needed.
Spartan. Mid-late, dessert, Canada 1926.
A personal favourite of mine, Crisp, juicy. CP as for Cox/Fameuse
Very early apple, dessert, USA, modern. Crisp, juicy and useful because so early in the season, but a little too floury for my taste. CP Golden Harvey…
And don’t forget the ‘common’ varieties like Gala, Golden Delicious, Granny, Jonathan etc. There’s simply no taste comparison between eating these off your own tree and the supermarket versions! They seem like they are altogether different apples.
All the above varieties (and almost 600 others) are available at Badger’s Keep Nursery, Chewton, Vic 3451, tel 03 5472 3338. Speak to the Winmills and get Clive’s great booklet Apples Old & New (1997) for more information.
Other references used: F. Browning 1998, Apples (Allen Lane The Penguin Press); G. Vines, ‘First Fruit’, New Scientist 13/4/2002, pp. 46-47.
J 46 Summer 2004 - Autumn 2005