Picking apples from your own tree is one of life’s simple pleasures and choosing the right varieties can prolong the pleasure says Tom Nancarrow from Honiton based Adam’s Apples.
The home-grown British apple season can be a long one if a few judicious choices are made when choosing your varieties. We can categorise the seasons into roughly three periods; early, mid and late and this allows you to plan your orchard in a sensible manner for harvesting.
The ‘early’ apples will come ripe in late July and early August and it is a treat to be eating fresh apples at this time of year. A well-known early dessert apple is Beauty of Bath, a Victorian variety once harvested in the orchards of Somerset and transported for sale in London. It evokes fond memories for many people and it has one of the best fruity aromas. A bowl full of Beauty of Bath apples will fill a room with a heady apple scent. One of its misgivings however, is that Beauty of Bath apples, like most early-season apples, will not store for any length of time. In fact, most of the very earliest have to be eaten straight off the tree.
It is worth remembering this fact when planning an orchard. If you have large numbers of early-season varieties there will be a short window of ripening and picking before they all ‘go over’. And as there are only so many apples one can eat in a day (a boundary I have been know to push to its limits) you best have a plan for all those apples!
One sensible way to grow some of the early varieties is to train them as cordons. This allows you to have just the right amount of apples you can eat fresh (well-grown cordons can yield up to 10kg on an MM106 rootstock) without wasting the large amounts of fruit you might get from a free-standing tree. Do check that any trees chosen for cordons are spur-bearers.
Juicing is obviously an efficient way to process large quantities of apples that will not store for long. The variety Discovery, usually ready for eating by mid/late August in the South West, makes a beautiful pink juice and is perhaps the best-known of the early dessert apples.
As the summer holidays come to an end we enter the ‘second-early’ phase of ripening. Most of these varieties will store for a week or so if kept in a polythene bag in the fridge, but for the most part they are still at their very best when eaten straight from the tree.
As we go in to late September/October we enter the ‘mid-season’ period. There are some fantastic varieties ready for harvesting at this time of year and these will happily store for several weeks in the right conditions. Head to a local apple day and hopefully you can taste something new.
In terms of planning your orchard, it makes sense to have a good selection of mid-season varieties, and again juicing is an excellent way to process surpluses.
Finally it is time for the late-season apples. Late season apples really come in to their own if picked late October/early November and stored in a cool, dry place for a few weeks. This allows their aromatic flavours to develop complexities that eclipse the cheap thrills of the early-season varieties!
If you have the space, it is certainly worth growing several trees of late-season varieties as these will keep you in apples right through until the spring. Again, a fridge is ideal but failing that some large polythene bags with a few holes in, kept in a cool and shady room or outbuilding is the best way to keep your apples in to the new year.
If you need more help or advice get in touch with Tom Nancarrow at Adam’s Apples who will be able to advise on varieties and how you could plan your orchard.
Adam’s Apples, Egremont Barn, Payhembury, Honiton, Devon EX14 3JA. Tel: 01404 841166 Mobile: 07870576330 www.adamsappletrees.co.uk
Apples for the Epicurean:
Baker’s Delicious - A little-known early season dessert apple, originating from Wales, it is ready for eating by mid/late August. It is a fantastic variety. Being of Welsh heritage it is more than happy growing in the wetter climes of the west country - it bears lovely crisp, sweet/sharp apples, similar in type to a Braeburn. If kept in a fridge they will store for a couple of weeks.
Laxton’s Epicure - A personal favourite, this early season eating apple is a winner. It is a lovely sweet apple with notes of pear. It crops abundantly and makes a good choice for the garden.
Grenadier - An early season cooking apple, widely grown in the 19th century and a superb choice for those that want apple pies in August. It cooks down to a lovely sweet puree with no need for added sugar. An easy tree to grow and gives good regular crops.
Ribston Pippin - A fantastic eating apple, much like a Cox’s Orange Pippin in taste, it is widely agreed to be a parent of Cox, but is far more disease-resistant and will grow happily in the west country.
English Codling - A great cooking apple that makes a delicious sweet puree. It makes a good alternative to Bramley, which of course holds the crown for the most popular cooking apple, and with good reason, but if you are looking for something different, then this very old English cooking apple is an excellent and regular cropper and makes a great spreading orchard tree.
Ashmead’s Kernel - The old adage of saving the best ‘til last is certainly appropriate for Ashmead’s Kernel. Whilst perhaps not winning any beauty contests, this russeted eating apple reigns supreme in terms of flavour. It will keep for several months if kept at low temperatures, when its sweet aromatic pear drop flavour continues to develop. Added to this , it’s natural disease-resistance makes it a must for any discerning orchard owner.
Cornish Aromatic - Another late eating apple, this variety has a delicious spiciness and rich sweetness when ripe in late autumn. It keeps well and is an unusual but handsome apple. It has dry, rough skin so might not appeal to everyone - one for the apple connoisseur.