Consider growing some heirloom apple trees this year in your edible landscape. You'll delight in the range of colors, textures and flavors of these heritage fruits.
January is a great time to plan out the introduction or expansion of some fruit trees in your edible landscape. While I think modern, disease-resistant, semi-dwarf varieties are the way to go for many edible landscapers, don't forget heirloom varieties. If you have the room and inclination, try growing some unusual heirlooms in your yard. One fruit with a rich history and diversity is the heirloom apple.
Presently, there are eleven varieties of apples that make up 90% of the commercial apple crop in the U.S. 'Red Delicious' alone makes up 41% of the apple crop. A century ago there were more than 15,000 apple varieties grown commercially in the U.S. We have a rich cultural history with apples. Just ask any child about Johnny Appleseed. Often heirloom varieties are regionally adapted, making them uniquely suited to a particular with unique adaptations to climate, soil or geography. The sizes, shapes, colors, and tastes of these heirloom varieties are diverse. Some, such as 'Newton Pippin', feature striped or spotted skins. I liken the popularity of apple varieties to where tomato varieties were 20 years ago. Hardly anyone talked about heirloom tomatoes back then, but now they're all the rage. Hopefully, heirloom apples will make a similar comeback.
At local farmers’ markets, CSAs and farm stands across the country, growers are rediscovering heirloom varieties of apples not only for fresh eating, but for cider making. By mixing and matching old varieties, the cider takes on different tastes. Apple cider may become as popular as wine someday.
If you want to try out some of these traditional varieties, check out the Slow Food USA organization's free PDF booklet on heirloom apple varieties, Noble Fruits- A Guide to Conserving Heirloom Apples. The booklet, which contains information on the best varieties for specific regions and how to grow them, is a good resource to help you get started growing heirlooms. Plant a few trees in your yard to help conserve these varieties and broaden your own apple flavor palette.