THE value attached to apples as a food is evidenced by the number of varieties listed in fruit-growers’ catalogues. These offer extensive scope for indulging in one’s own particular fancies, and make it possible to select varieties that ripen in succession.
Selection should be made with an eye to definite purposes. Some varieties excel as cookers, others as dessert. Some will not keep – they need to be eaten off the tree, or within a week or two; these are the earliest kinds to ripen. Others are not at their best until late in the year and will keep for many weeks. Ready for Use. Earliest ripe apples are available in July. Some varieties will keep until April.
Cooking varieties include: Arthur Turner, July to October;
Early Victoria, July to August; Pott’s Seedling, August to September; Stirling Castle and Rev. W. Wilks, October to November; Bramley’s Seedling, October to March; Crawley Beauty and Edward VII, October to April; Lord Derby, November to December; Lane’s Prince Albert, November to February.
Dessert varieties include Beauty of Bath and Irish Peach, early August; Laxton’s Epicure and James Grieve, September; Ellison’s Orange, September to October; Lord Lambourne, October to November; Cox’s Orange Pippin, October to December; Ribston Pippin, November to December; Rival, December; Laxton’s Superb and Orleans Reinette, December to February.
Certain varieties of apple are not self-fertile; they are incapable of bearing fruit, or they produce but a very poor crop, unless the flowers are pollinated by a different variety; this is explained under ‘Choosing Varieties’ in the section A PLAN FOR FRUIT.
A dozen good varieties of apple without this obstinate peculiarity comprise Stirling Castle, Pott’s Seedling, Rev. W. Wilks, Bram-ley’s Seedling, Lord Derby, Early Victoria, Lord Lambourne, Lax-ton’s Epicure, Ribston Pippin, Laxton’s Superb, Irish Peach, Rival. Each one of these is capable of cropping well even though there be no other apple tree in the garden. They are included in the lists given under ‘Ready for Use’.
An apple tree that is persistently non-fruitful, in spite of producing abundance of blossom, should have planted near to it a different variety that is known definitely to flower at exactly the same time; bees or other insects will effect the necessary transference of pollen. If there is any doubt the fruit grower from whom trees are purchased should be consulted.
Forms of Tree. In a small garden apples can be grown most profitably as cordon trees, or as small bush trees or pyramids, or as espaliers. Where consideration of space is not so pressing, trees trained as standards or half-standards can be planted. These terms are explained in the section A PLAN FOR FRUIT.
The length of time the planter must wait for fruit depends on the form of tree and its age. It is advisable to purchase, at a small extra cost, trees of fruiting or near-fruiting size, to reduce this wait.
Choice varieties of fruiting size, trained as pyramids and dwarf bushes, for fruiting in pots in an unheated greenhouse or conservatory, can be purchased, and dealt with as explained in the section FRUIT IN THE GREENHOUSE.
When and How to Plant.
As soon as possible after the leaves have fallen is the most suitable time to plant. The season extends from late October until late March, but it is not advisable to plant in wet or very cold ground or when frost or snow is about. Should trees arrive from the nursery when conditions are unfavourable they should be placed under cover, with sacks or other dry material over and around the roots.
Trees should be spaced so that later growth does not lead to overcrowding. Standards should be planted at least 18 ft. apart, half-standards about 15 ft., bush trees and pyramids about 10 ft. apart, espaliers about 10 ft. apart in line, and single-stem cordons 2 ft. apart.
For each tree a hole should be taken out of such a size that roots can be spread horizontally, and the soil mark on the stem should coincide with the soil level when the hole is filled in.
A strong stake should be driven in before the roots are covered with soil, unless it is a fiat-trained tree – espalier or cordon – with a fence, wall or strained wires as support. The tree should be tied only loosely to the support at first, to allow of settlement of the disturbed soil. If a stake is used, a cushion of sacking or other material should be so placed between stake and tree that friction from the action of the wind is not possible.
These and other points, including the preparation of planting sites, are fully explained in the section THE ABC OF PLANTING.
Watering and Feeding.
The first spring and summer after planting, trees will be in especial need of watering unless the season is a wet one. The soil must not be allowed to dry out or crack. At least a bucketful of water should be given to a tree at each watering, and so that it shall run in and not run away holes should be made in the surface with a garden fork. Or a basin may be formed around the stem by building up a 3-in. deep ridge of soil, this to extend 18 in. or so outward and encircle the tree. The ridge should be wide enough and solid enough to hold water until it has soaked down to the roots.
Wall and fence trees are generally the worst sufferers from drought, the soil at the foot of a wall or fence drying out more rapidly than open ground. In this case a water-containing ridge is invaluable, though here it will be not circular but shaped as a half-circle.
A surface covering or mulch of lawn mowings, weeds, or strawy manure placed over the area occupied by a tree’s roots slows down the drying out process. The covering should be 2 in. to 3 in. thick, and if considered unsightly it can be covered with a thin layer of soil. Where a ridge has been built up the mulch can be placed in the basin, subsequent waterings being given through the mulch – that is, without removing the material.
Established apple trees benefit just as much from these attentions.
Commercial growers on a large scale may not be able to fuss to such an extent, but the small grower gets more and bigger and better fruit when he adopts these methods.
Until trees have developed the fruiting habit they should not be fed. Then liquid farmyard or stable manure, or one of the special fruit tree fertilizers sold under trade names, may be given at any time. A surface dressing of lime every three to four years does good – hydrated lime at the rate of about ½ lb. per square yard being effective. It should be scattered on the soil during winter.
Too Rampant Growth. Overproduction of unfruitful wood may result from too severe pruning in the case of older trees. Where it affects a young tree this can be brought into bearing by giving the wood growth a check. This is done by lifting the young tree completely, cutting back the long, thong-like roots to where thin fibrous roots branch out and replanting it very firmly.
Trees too large for this treatment have their roots pruned without the tree being lifted. A trench is dug completely around it, 2 ft. or more out from the stem and 2 ft. deep, at which depth it is undermined. All thick roots encountered, including the central tap root, are severed with the spade, saw or sharp knife. The excavated soil is then rammed back into the trench.
This is explained fully under ‘Root Pruning’ in the section THE HOW AND WHY OF PRUNING.
Windfalls, and Other Troubles.
Drought is sometimes responsible for the wholesale dropping of small apples. A high wind may rip many from the branches when the tree is carrying more than it should. When the windfalls are maggoty, grubs of the codlin moth or of the apple sawfly are responsible. These pests cause immense fruit losses and they should be dealt with as explained in the section How TO DEAL WITH FRUIT PESTS AND DISEASES. Other common apple tree troubles are included in the chart accompanying that section.
Thinning the Fruits.
In a disastrous year the phrase ‘thinning the fruits’ may have a sardonic sound. A cold spring keeps bees in the hive when otherwise they would be effecting the distribution from tree to tree of the essential fertilizing pollen. A dry late spring and early summer brings young apples tumbling to the ground. Pests are accountable for still more. A too bounteous year is nearly always followed by a lean one.
A cold spring must be accepted with a resigned shrug. Drought, however, can be fought with bucket or hose and mulch. Pests can be reduced by spraying and trapping and soil cleaning, so that for all practical purposes they cease to amount to anything. And the off year that follows the too bountiful apple harvest can be prevented – by the grower refusing to allow such a thing as a too bountiful harvest.
This is done by removing some of the crowded fruit – after winds, early drought, and those pests which have chanced to escape annihilation, have taken their toll of the crop.
When young apples are seen to be pushing each other off a spur it can be taken for granted that the grower who holds his hand instead of extending it and thinning out the fruit is piling up for himself, this year and almost certainly next, no small trouble.
Good removed ones need not be wasted; the kitchen department will know what to do with them. Those finally left on the tree will develop into full-sized specimens of first-rate quality; none will be undersized or misshapen. And because the tree has not been allowed to overtax its strength, the chances of an equally good crop next year are much increased.
First to be removed are any showing a maggot bole in the skin. In any case these would fall later and be wasted. Taken from the tree, and the maggot removed, they can be put to use. Next to go are misshapen apples, then any showing signs of disease. The final thinning should see not more than two good fruits left to each spur. Apart from increase in size, shapeliness and quality, ripening of these will be thorough and complete.
Big standard trees and half-standards present a problem, and in their case thinning of the fruit may not be practicable. No such trouble occurs where bush trees and pyramids, espaliers and cordons are concerned.
Anxiety to get a big crop from a young tree during its first year of fruiting must be checked. It must be given time to establish itself completely. A few more apples can be left to ripen the second year, and thereafter in increasing quantity.
About mid-July is the time to begin fruit thinning, when Nature has taken its course in the matter of windfalls.
Summer and Winter Pruning.
Most varieties of apple produce their fruit on short spurs, which are stumpy side shoots occurring at intervals along the main branches. One of the objects of pruning is to increase the number of these, keep them short, and keep them evenly disposed about the tree. A few varieties, including Mr. Gladstone, Irish Peach, Lady Sudeley, carry their fruit at the tips of growths which were made the previous year; these must not be shortened – only kept thinned out – or there will be no fruit.
Summer pruning consists in shortening side shoots back to within five or six leaves of then-base, in July. In winter these are cut back to their lowest bud or two buds. Leaders – the extending ends of branches – should be cut back in winter by about a third of their current season’s growth.
The pruning of all forms of apple trees is explained in detail in the sections THE HOW AND WHY OF PRUNING and How TO PROPAGATE FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES.
Apple trees are easily raised from seed sown outdoors in March, 3 in. deep. But trees thus produced cannot be expected to bear fruit for several years; and then the chances that their fruit will in any way resemble that of the parent tree are remote. It may be of very inferior quality, not worth the space it occupies.
The metiiod is by budding a selected variety on to a specially chosen stock, in July; or by grafting in March. Operations are fully explained in the section How TO PROPAGATE FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES.
When and How to Gather Apples. Not all the fruits on one tree will ripen at the same time. When a few ripe ones are picked, or some full-size ones fall, it does not mean that all the others on the tree are fit for gathering.
An apple is ripe if it comes away readily when gently raised on the palm of the hand. This test cannot be applied to all the fruit on a standard tree, but where dwarf bush trees5 espaliers or cordons are concerned the trouble of applying the test is handsomely repaid.
Varieties which naturally ripen late should be the last to be gathered. But picking should not be so long delayed that the ripe apples fall off or are wind-blown off; that is, if the fruit is wanted for storing. Apples that are bruised will not keep in store; and in decaying they are likely to spread trouble among the sound ones.
Shaking fruit from a tree is permissible if it is to be used at once. But otherwise hand-picking is essential. Grabbing or tugging the fruit results in loss of fruit the following year – the tugged apple generally bringing away with it the spur (or part of the spur) which produced it. The apple may come away with its own full length of stem, but nothing else.
Clambering among branches to gather the fruit is too destructive of spurs and bark. Steps or a ladder should be used to get at all apples out of reach from the ground. The top of the ladder should be padded with old carpet, sacking – anything that will allow the ladder to be lodged against branches without bruising the bark.
Apples gathered from a ladder should not be thrown down to a catcher. He sometimes misses; even if he does not, such treatment may result in bruising. If a bucket is hung by a hook from a rung of the ladder it can be filled by the picker and never a fruit spoiled. But the bucket should not be emptied into a clothes basket or wheelbarrow or sack. The idea is to handle the fruit from first to last asfew times and as gently as possible, and if the apples are to be stored it is essential that they be picked when dry.
Storing for Winter.
Only per-fectly sound fruit, free of blemish, should go into store; the others should be put aside for current consumption.
The store may be a cupboard, pantry, attic, shed, garage or an outdoor clamp. A very dry place, such as a cupboard, is not altogether favourable; apples there are apt to shrivel. To prevent this it is worth while wrapping the best of them, separately, in clean dry greaseproof or tissue paper.
They may be stored in barrels or boxes so long as the apples are placed in one by one and not roughly tumbled in. A much better plan is to use shallow boxes that take ho more than two layers of fruit, each box to have a piece of wood nailed at each of the four corners so that the boxes can be piled one on the other. The corner pieces of wood should be long enough to give an inch or so of clearance between the top of the apples in a lower box and the bottom of the box immediately above. The filled boxes should be placed away from artificial heat and beyond the reach of frost and damp.
Stored apples that are in danger from frost can be safeguarded by covering them with a thick layer of dry straw, heather or bracken; sheets of dry newspaper are better than nothing. This precaution is likely to be necessary when apples are heaped in a shed, cellar or garage; in either of these cases the floor space which the heap is to occupy should first be covered with straw, heather or dried bracken, and the heap should be as shallow as possible.
A current of air passing through the store is all to the good, so long as it does not bring biting frost with it. It is essential that the storage place should be as airy as possible for at least the first fortnight, in order that the moisture sweated out by the newly stored apples shall be carried away.
If no under cover storage can be found for a surplus of apples they can be clamped, outdoors, exactly in the manner explained in the vegetable section under POTATO.
Where stored apples are easy of inspection – as in piled shallow boxes – they should be looked over when opportunity offers, those that have developed bruise patches or other blemishes being picked out for prompt use.
The greater the trouble taken over this apple storing business the greater the profit that accrues to the home food producer.
Other methods of carrying apples far beyond the season of gathering are explained in the section EASY HOME PRESERVATION OF FRUITS.
Preparing for Table. Apples to appear at table raw should be polished with a dry, clean cloth.
Their carbohydrate content gives apples a definite food value; also present is the vitamin which prevents scurvy. And they not only cure but also prevent constipation.
Excellent jelly can be made from the fruit of the crab apple. Garden varieties include Dartmouth (crimson fruit), John Downie (orange and scarlet), Yellow Siberian (orange).
The trees are very decorative with ripening fruit in autumn, and for that reason alone are often planted among ordinary trees and bushes in a shrubbery.
They can be obtained as standards, half-standards and bushes, and should be planted in autumn. Littie pruning is needed after the head of the tree has been formed, apart from the removal of weak shoots, dead wood, growths working inwards and the prevention of overcrowding generally.