What’s the name of that apple?!?! A Peasgood Nonsuch?

We love heritage apples and all this simply means is that the apple in question is no longer grown commercially for the mainstream market. There is nothing wrong with these apples … in fact, most heritage apples have superior flavour and texture over the regular apples you find at the grocer. The reason they are not stocked? Because they don’t last as long in the refrigerator!

“Regular” store bought apples.

When you go to a store today, you will always find apples on the shelves. Fresh and sometimes not so crunchy apples are a staple in our society. But in reality, to ensure that there are apples available all year round, they need to be kept in storage for a VERY long time.

As with all natural things, there is a season for apples. Apples flower from early Spring to mid Summer (late August to December here in Sydney regions). So depending on the variety of apple, you can have fresh fruit from as early as mid Summer through to mid Winter (late December to mid July here). So what about the other months?

This is where the genetics of an apple are very important. Early fruiting varieties (such as the Israeli variety ‘Anna’), mature early in the season but in doing so sacrifice their ability to be stored long term. But is their flavour affected? No way!

Generally speaking, if an apple is ripened on a tree before it is harvested, it is capable of developing mind blowing flavour. But to store an apple long term, certain characteristics need to be taken into account. Mainly the acidity of the fruit and its sugar level.

If the sugar level in a fruit is too high, it ripens quickly. When you buy a “floury” apple from a store, this texture is due to the apple being stored with a higher than normal sugar content and then while in storage, the sugars get converted into fibre too quickly … hence the “floury” texture.

But a fruit with too high an acidity, generally produces a tartness which most customers find unpalatable. So there is a fine balance between when to pick and how to store. Actually, there is a real science behind it as apples need to be stored in a climate controlled environment to ensure peak condition.

Heritage apples

In today’s economy where we have grown accustomed to having everything we want when we want it, eating in season foods has fallen by the wayside. This means that anything that cannot be stored and transported long distances falls out of flavour. Most restaurants and food businesses don’t change their menu based on the season, which means that only food which can be sourced all year round are available. But if you are so inclined, there are some small operators (ourselves included) who are dedicated in ensuring that some of the most flavoursome apples are available to farmers markets in season.

At this time of year, some of the larger varieties are ready to harvest. These are the mid season fruits. The likes of Red Delicious, Pink Lady and Granny Smith are no where near being mature enough to harvest in our region; this means that these varieties on shelves are almost 12 months old.

When it comes to flavour, two of our all time favourites ripening now are the Gravenstein and the Peasgood Nonsuch (yes this mouthful is its real name!). The Gravenstein is an old European apple variety which originated in Denmark. It has a beautiful rich red skin with little spots all over it, white flesh and tastes nothing short of divine. It has a slight tartness (indicative of high acidity) but is complemented with a good deal of sweetness when tree ripened. It is great fresh and is excellent for cooking as it keeps it shape well.

Similarly, the Peasgood Nonsuch is a great cooking apple but is better known as a saucing apple, creating a really smooth puree that complements soooo many dishes! This one though is a bit of a giant in the apple world, regularly 50% larger in size than a red delicious, meaning it is around double the weight too! We have included one in the photo above.

So next time you buy an apple, have a think about what it took to get to your table. Visit your local farmers market to find someone nearby who grows fruit in season … you will never regret the flavour. Ask to try something you don’t know. Remember, local farmers (generally) enjoy their job and would love to talk to someone who appreciates the effort they put into providing quality produce.

What is a dwarf apple?

Apples - Jonathan

Apple trees are pretty amazing. They have been part of the diet of nearly every nation since pre-history. Why? Because they are absolutely delicious … well … the one’s we eat that is.

If you grow an apple tree from seed, you might be disappointed. Firstly, it will take around 8-10 years until it fruits and secondly it will probably taste nothing like the apple it came from. This is because nearly every apple needs to be cross pollinated with the pollen of a completely different variety of apple tree. This is why apple trees you buy are grafted.

There are two parts to a grafted tree: the Rootstock (the part that grows in the ground) and the Scion (the variety you want to grow).

When you want to create another apple tree, lets say a Granny Smith, you need to not only find a scion of Granny Smith to use, but you also need to determine what rootstock you want to graft it to.

The choice of rootstock used will determine a number of factors of the resulting tree. Some f these factors are:

  • Overall tree height
  • Tree vigour (how quickly it grows)
  • Disease tolerance or resistance
  • Drought tolerance
  • … etc.

In Australia, there are a number of rootstocks that are better for the home garden. For example, common rootstock names are MM102, MM106, M26, M27, MM111 and B9. One of the best websites for all things apples is www.orangepippin.com

Courtesy of the rootstock we have chosen for our Super Dwarf Apple Trees (M27), each apple tree will:

  • grow to around 2 metres tall and 1 metre wide
  • mature in 2-3 years rather than 4-5 years
  • grow between 3-5 kg of apples per tree when mature
  • can be planted as close as 1 metre apart to create a hedge
  • can be grown in large containers

The main drawback to using this rootstock is that it has a shallow roots system (which is why its good for pots) so needs lots of regular water and a stake to hold it up.

Creating a new apple tree requires that the grafting be done during the Winter using dormant wood or in Summer using budding techniques (more on these in another post later). Here is a series of images we took during last Winters’ grafting session…

Collect your scion wood and store it

Our scion wood is collected once trees are dormant. That is when all the leaves have naturally dropped form the tree. We collect short lengths of around 20-30cm of pencil thickness. These are bundled, labelled, wrapped in moist paper towel and then refrigerated (in plastic bags) until they are needed.

Scion wood

Store your rootstock correctly

When your order of rootstock arrives, unpack it as soon as possible and put it in a medium that keeps the roots moist but not wet. We use moist wood shavings.

Grafting rootstock

 

Graft, tape and label your trees

There are different ways to create a grafting union. You can use a knife or specialised grafting tool. The following images show a grafting tool which uses an Omega cut. You can see how the rootstock and scion meet almost perfectly.

Grafting notch with tool Graft unionGrafted, tied and labelled

Here are two boxes of trees grafted and ready to be planted out.

Newly grafted trees

So the next time you nibble on an apple, think about all the research that has gone into creating the wonderful fruit you are eating.

When is an apple not an apple?

When it’s feral of course!

Apples are nothing short of amazing. To us at Little Field Mice, there is nothing nicer than a freshly picked, tree ripened apple. But did you know that most apples cannot produce fruit on their own? Or that the seed from your favourite apple, when planted, will grow into a tree that produces fruit which is totally different in flavour to its parent? This is because, to produce fruit, nearly all varieties need to cross-pollinate.

Drive down nearly any Australian highway or main road, and unless a new suburb has been recently “installed”, you will find apple trees growing wonderfully on their own. These guys are called “Feral Apple Trees” They won’t look pretty, nor will they necessarily be nice to eat … but they are there and they are all extremely diverse. Sweet, tart, astringent, juicy … there are numerous ways to describe the flavour of apples. But in our heart, feral apples are a hidden gem.

Every year, for the past four years, we have travelled up and down the highways and roads sampling mother natures’ version of an apple. We’ve collected several hundred kilos in our exploits, cataloguing a little over 400 trees and their attributes; some are inedible, others great eaten fresh, some great for cooking while others we have juiced into cider. The humble apple is seriously misunderstood by the average Australian.

This time of year (mid December), there are no fresh apples available commercially. What you are getting in supermarkets are last years’ harvest. The earliest apples will be available on shelves is early January; and only if you are lucky enough to have an orchard nearby that grows heirloom fruit. This is because some apples, while great in flavour, do not store well. Your average store bought apple is mid to late season ripening (March to June) and is picked before being completely ripened on the tree to ensure that it stores better and longer.

We are so impassioned about apples, that we have started a small orchard of heirloom and feral apples. We have reached 126 different varieties this year with some trees surprising us by fruiting earlier than expected! So keep your eyes peeled in the coming months for some special fruit.

Here is one of our Jonathan apple trees in flower a couple months ago. This tree was salvaged from a nursery which was throwing her out along with 11 other apples trees. She has since gone on to produce some excellent offspring (via grafting) and is heavy with fruit ATM. We have had to tighten the orchard trellis to ensure that the branches are secure and don’t break! Bring on apple season!