I have about 50 orders of apple seeds, scions and pollen ready to ship out! It’s pretty neat to send all that interesting genetic material out into the world to proliferate. Here are a few notes on using and storing them. If you dont’ want to watch the whole thing, here is a video index to each and other useful videos and series’ are embedded below:
I had quite a few new apple seedlings fruit this year. Some were still not ripe as of December 10th, while others were over ripe. The overview is that none of them seem super promising, though there are about 4 I’ll be keeping my eye on for the next few years. One had pretty strongly red flesh, several had very light blushing and one was approaching 50% pink mottling. The percentage of apples that come up with some red flesh, may be approaching 30%, but most of those just have a light blush here and there. Many of those that fruited this year are Lady Williams offspring, as those seem to be more inclined toward early fruiting. Some of those are definitely not ripe yet, because Lady Williams is super late ripening and most of them seem to have inherited that trait.
The most interesting are:
Grenadine x Goldrush cross measuring at 25% sugar
Grenadine x Goldrush cross, which has the deepest red flesh, medium sized and very attractive it measures at 21% sugar.
A small Rubaiyat x Wickson cross, also 25% sugar.
And a Grenadine x Golden Russet cross, which picked up a little of Golden Russet’s rusetty flavors, but not a lot.
of those, only the first was probably picked the best time, the rest being picked late as I had some dental trouble right about when they should have been picked and tested. As a result they were about 3 weeks over-ripened on the tree.
While I didn’t find any of these super compelling (more like potentially interesting) it has to be kept in mind that they could improve going forward. For one, the conditions they are growing under are awful. They are very crowded, often shaded and with very little food or water. It’s like a disaster camp in there! As I start to cull some of the trees, it will make room for the remaining ones. Any apples that seem very promising, I will probably eventually graft out onto an established tree, to give them more of a chance to grow and produce fruit that could be closer to reaching their full potential. Another factor is that as grafts or new trees mature, they seem to often start producing better fruit. Hopefully next year I’ll get to taste these again, and better samples of them, along with more new varieties that have not come into fruit yet.
I collected apple pollen this year, which is now available in the store here. This is pollen from select varieties that I use in breeding or consider interesting enough to use. The quantities are small as it is rather time consuming and many are in limited quantity, especially since I'm also pollinating a lot of blossoms this year in that hopes that I will have apple seeds to sell in the fall that are specific hybrids between carefully chosen parents. Fingers crossed on that, but for now we have pollen. If used carefully, this small amount of pollen can go a long way. Very little needs to be applied to the female parts to achieve pollination. You can read about the varieties on the store page.
I have stored pollen for a year and used it the following spring successfully, but at other times it has not seemed to work as well. But that is in a room with very large temperature swings and extremely hot in the summer. If you were to freeze the dried pollen I think it would probably keep well enough until the following spring. The pollen must be absolutely dry for any kind of storage and a desiccant of some kind would probably help with that. Some use rice, or those little desiccant capsules that come in jars of vitamins. Just remember that whatever you use, your small amount of precious pollen will probably stick to it.
Here is a short video on how I pollinate apple blossoms for breeding now. Good luck to anyone trying to do cross pollinations this year!
About 5 years ago, a friend gave me some tree collard seeds from Montenegro. Some years since planting those seeds, I’ve selected one seedling that stands out from the rest to name, propagate and distribute. I have ostentatiously and awesomely dubbed it Peasant King.
Tree collards are a perennial vegetable also variously known by other names like Tree Kale, Palm Cabbage, Walking Stick Kale, Tree Cabbage and no doubt more. They are something like collard greens or Broccoli leaves, except that they grow all year for multiple years without flowering eventually becoming very tall. They could be compared to regular collards, but generally are heavier in texture and maybe stronger flavored. I also suspect they might be more nutritious, but who knows without an analysis, and I don't know that it's been done. Tree Collards are a member of the species Brassica Oleracea, which includes, Broccoli, most Kales (not siberian or red russian, which are Brassica napus species), Cauliflower, Kohlrabi, Brussel's Sprouts, Cabbage and Collards. Many people are surprised to find out that these are all the same species of plant and and as such can inter-pollinate. The only reason that lets say a cauliflower and a kale plant look and act so different is that they have been bred for different characteristics for a very long time.
"In Jersey, the Palm Cabbage is much cultivated, and reaches a considerable height. In La Vendée, the Cæsarean Cow Cabbage grows sixteen feet high." PLANT LORE, LEGENDS, and LYRICS, RICHARD FOLKARD, JUN. 1884 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/44638/44638-h/44638-h.htm
Tree Collards are traditionally grown in various parts of the world as fodder for both humans and animals. They probably originated in the British Isles. A variety referred to locally as Purple Tree Collard has been grown in my area by both old and young back to the land types for a long time, but they are generally propagated by cuttings, not seeds. That is because the particular purple tree collard that is grown around here rarely sets any seed. Flowering is not very common to start with and they flower only weakly when they flower at all. Also, they don’t seem to pollinate themselves and I suspect they may only set seed when pollinated by another genetically unique variety of tree collard or other member of the Brassica Oleracea group.
When I got these rare and unique seeds, I saw it as a chance to find out if the trait of resistance to flowering was transferable, with an eye to selecting out some new perennial varieties worthy of propagation by cuttings. I grew out around 35 new plants in some out-of-the-way long term test beds. I was impressed early in their growth that many of the plants seemed more vigorous than the standard tree collard I had been growing for years. I wondered if our tree collards had picked up virus or genetic damage that caused them to grow more weakly. I won’t be 100% sure if the average plant is more vigorous unless I grow multiple varieties side by side with the old type. What I'll probably do instead is yank out all of my old Purple Tree Collards so that they don’t infect my new varieties if they are carrying something infectious.
Out of those 35-ish plants, I have selected just one so far that is clearly superior by a combination of leaf size, color, shape, vigor, uprightness and resistance to bolting. It has beautiful, large, dark purple leaves. While most of the seedlings more or less resemble the purple tree collard grown here, they vary in color, with a few being more or less purple. The old cuttings everyone grows here are partially purple, but probably average 50% or more green. My new selection is among the most completely purple of this seed population, though, like all of them, there are green patches. Keep in mind that the color trait will vary somewhat with weather, soil and culture. The leaf shape is a little more frilly and rounded as well. All in all, it stands out from the crowd in it's physical attributes, and if random leaves are picked from all of the plants, it's leaves are easily distinguishable from the rest
The original plant is now about 7 feet tall at 4 years old. it is not the tallest, but that may be just as well. I think a combination of tall and short types might be best scenario in terms of design options for gardens. It has resisted flowering through at least two hot California summers with no water, and two of the worst drought years in living memory. Those trial beds have also gotten very little fertilizer past the initial establishment. The conditions I’ve grown these in shows out just how tough these plants are. We have no significant rain for usually about 5 or 6 months of the year, depending on the year, yet the percentage of plant loss to drouth was not all that high. Heavy environmental stress often causes plants to flower, probably as a reproductive imperative- as in, "I might die, I better make babies to pass no my genes". Growing these under these challenging conditions creates heavy selection pressure to weed out the weak plants.
I named the variety Peasant King because it is tall, with a beautiful crown of royal purple leaves, and tree collards are the epitome of healthy old school peasant food. My home girl Sophia Bates acquired these seeds, which were gifted to her by the Matron of the farm she was staying at in Montenegro. She said that they are a regular staple among the farming folks of that region and are grown in every nook and cranny of the homestead that is not used for anything else. They are pretty neat. A tough resilient plant that is easy to propagate from cuttings, is very nutritious and grows with little care in out of the way spots. To boot, it looks cool. I think further trial will show Peasant King to be more upright and handsome than the usual collards. Only further trial will tell us for sure, or whether it will show out some other problems such as susceptibility to pests or disease.
So what’s the down side? Some people don’t like them for one. They are also not very hardy. John Jeavons of Ecololgy action, a long time promoter of tree collard growing, says the usual purple tree collard can freeze out below 18 degrees Fahrenheit for extended periods I do not recommend trying to grow them in areas where they don’t really want to grow, but see below for possibly more hardy options. Being perennial, they can be host to long term pests, like aphids. I have gotten aphids and if I recall, maybe some fungal disease on my Purple Tree Collards in the past, but they always seem to outgrow everything eventually. Once I can grow more of them and get them to some other people, we will find out how they fare in the long run. I hope to have cuttings of Peasant King to offer in the next year or two. I should be rooting cuttings within a couple of months to grow more plants, to make yet more cuttings to distribute. The first available cuttings will go to a combination of influencer types and content creators and as usual my patreon supporters. Sometime after that I’ll probably distribute cuttings for at least a year or two as long as it keeps performing well here.
In doing research I ran across a blog comment somewhere by Chris Hommanics saying that he has been working with tree collard hybrids for some time. He had actually contacted me last year about getting me some apple scions, which I unfortunately wasn't able to take advantage of. Anyway, small world. It turns out he is offering a population of hybrid Tree Collard seed that he’s been working on. It is a randomly mixed hybrid pool of tree collards mixed with Kales and other oleracea types. The seeds are available for experimentation and can be acquired here. This seed offers a much more diverse genetic range, with improved texture and varying form. This looks like a really promising project. I also ran across a video by Plant Abundance on YouTube, showing a kale, tree collard hybrid which he grew from chance pollinations with Kale in his garden. I think the future of tree collards is likely more along these lines than the more traditional inbred line I’m working with. Only the future will tell if that is all good, but I’d say expect to see an explosion of tree Brassica diversity over the next two decades. The internet makes spreading knowledge and plant material so much easier than it used to be and new people are inspired every day to do backyard breeding and selection. Even a few years ago when I started this project, there wasn’t all the much about tree collards out there on the web. Now there are lots of videos and blog post. The internet has been good to the humble tree collard.
My plan from here is to germinate a bunch more of this Montenegran tree collard seed. This time, I’m going to do a pre-selection in the flats, choosing only the healthiest looking vigorous seedlings. Then I’ll plant those in trial beds on a close spacing, of maybe 6 or 8 inches to do a second selection. The winners will be transplanted to trial beds and once established, I’ll neglect them, just like I neglected the current trial beds and see what survives and thrives. In the name of diversity and resilience, I would eventually like to select out three or more plants worthy of naming and propagating from cuttings. The seed stock I have here would also ideally be crossed with the common local purple tree collard as well, for some genetic refreshment, diversity and invigoration to the line, but I may leave that up to someone else. After that, if I continue working with them, it will probably be to hybridize in some other Oleracea varieties, like kales and maybe purple cabbage, and start growing those out. I think Chris Homanics said that about 25% of hybrids inherit the perennial trait of resistance to flowering, and I think my seedlings might show a pretty similar rate of inheritance of that characteristic. Transference of perenniality was my biggest question going into this project. Now that we know that the trait is transferable, even when crossed with other B. oleracea types that tend to seed quickly, it opens up a huge window of opportunity to work with perennial tree Kales and Collards.
If you want to experiment with breeding and or selection, tree collards should cross with other members of the Brassica oleracea group, including many kales, broccoli, cauliflower, collards and Brussel’s sprouts. There are hybrids of Brassica napus with Brassica oleracea, but I'm not sure how easy that is to achieve. The idea of a cross with the napus Russian or Siberian Kale is very intriguing though. Read more about those inter-species hybrids here.
Please don't contact me about cuttings unless maybe you are a collector or breeder that will in some way ultimately benefit others by distribution, education, research or breeding. If I have cuttings, they will be offered in the web store as they become available. Since the variety is named, it should get into circulation from other sources eventually, as long as it proves it's merit over time. I still have to look into options for release to the public. I'm going to check out the open source seed initiative, an organization which one of my gardening heroes Carol Deppe is involved in, but I still need to think about whether I think their whole concept is a good idea or not. My intuition tells me there is something wrong with the framework of the project, and that is usually the start of something lol. I'm also not sure if they do vegetatively propagated varieties. I have my own ideas about what the future of seeds and perennials, plant breeding, legal issues, the plant breeding community, and the broader gardening and orcharding culture could look like, but that's another bag of worms.
The fable I heard is that someone discovered a late ripening apple on a local homestead, took cuttings, named it Pomo Sanel and it shows up occasionally at scion exchanges. Like any such apple, it may be an older named variety, but I don't know that anyone has identified it as such. Although I'm not crazy about the Banana overtones, it's late hanging and richness of flavor have impressed me, and I think it would be found worthy of propagation by some. If nothing else, the genes that allow it to hang late into the winter are worth preserving.
Very late hanging apples are one of my great apple interests. Walking out to my trees crunching through the frost to munch on a sugary, juicy, flavorful apple is something I've become attached to. I recall in previous years that Pomo Sanel is usually my second latest apple, ripening in January, between a group of Christmas apples like pink parfait and Katherine and Lady Williams ripening February 1st. This year it is earlier. Apples from storage can be quite good at times, but they can also be less than optimal and may pick up off flavors. Besides, letting apples hang does not preclude storing them as well, even the same variety. I think this apple may be better if picked at some point and then stored. By that I mean that it may be more reliable and I might have fewer losses to rot in the stem wells or the occasional cracked apple, and that ultimately the apples would last later. Even for a durable apple, hanging through rain and freezing weather an take it's toll. But I would still let a few hang, because I like having them off the tree. Another thing to consider is storage space. I have no root cellar. I have unheated rooms and a small fridge. Storage of apples is not convenient for me. And I was just last night trying to stuff things in the fridge because the crisper drawers are mostly full of apples. In the end, I think a combination of both hanging late apples and storage, will prove the best strategy to carry fresh eating apples through. Some varieties will keep long, but will not hang late. I suspect that most long hangers will store well if picked at the right time.
Pomo Sanel is well above average for winter durability. It will show cracking on some fruits though. It also frequently shows separation of the skin from the stem down in the stem well. It also seems to dehydrate naturally on the tree a little bit.
As long storing apples go, I suspect that many others may do better than this one. Dehydration and resultant shriveling are commonly considered a fault of storage apples and Pomo Sanel is already showing signs of shriveling on the tree. It is not always a deal killer though. Sometimes they will retain an acceptable texture as they lose water. A good example is that some Russet apples will wrinkle up and become rubbery in storage. Given the tough flesh and somewhat rubbery tooth of some of the specimens on the tree now, I suspect it will have a partial tendency toward that effect. Other apples will soften in their own ways. Some become what might be called tender, but without being at all mushy or mealy. I personally enjoy coarse grained tender apples. This one also seems to have a tendency in that direction. Although they were clearly picked too late for best storage life and quality, I do have some put away in the fridge now, and am interested to see how they do. I must have stored a few in the past, but I don't recall.
My general impression of Pomo Sanel is that it's a gem in the rough. It is not a highly bred apple, like modern specimens of perfection being created now. It has some character with it's freckles and somewhat uneven matte colored skin. The dense flesh requires a little jaw work, something modern people don't get enough of anyway, so that could be a plus.
The flavor is pretty complex, with maybe something like a fruit smoothie effect. The most prominent flavor is banana. It's not a sickly sweet banana flavor, but it's definitely there on top, like it or not. The sugar is not overly high, but very adequate and compliments the level of acidity well. Intensity of flavor is definitely above average. It's no Suntan, but it asserts itself for sure.
Pomo Sanel's very late hanging characteristics got my attention. I've been meaning to make some crosses with it, but this is the first year I did. I crossed it with the queen of late hanging apples (in my orchard), the sleek, durable, beautiful, highly flavored, well behaved Lady Williams. She impressed someone, because she is one of the parents of Pink Lady, an excellent late hanging apple in it's own right that I've eaten off the tree here at the new year. Another potential cross would be Gold Rush and Pomo Sanel. Gold Rush is by all accounts an outstanding storage apple and has disease resistance genes. The ones I'm eating out of storage now are quite good around Christmas. They both have Banana as a prominent flavor when ripe, but other flavors differ a little. Gold Rush has more spice in it. Gold rush is not durable on the tree though, where it cracks and declines in quality. Both seem productive. Gold rush has Golden Delicious and given the characteristics and appearance of this apple, it wouldn't surprise me if it comes from the Grime's Golden/Golden Delicious line. Other late hanging apples that come to mind as possible candidates for crossing are Whitwick Pippin, Allen's Everlasting, Pink Parfait, Grenadine, Granny Smith, Katherine (of Etter) and Pink Lady. Since I've made crosses using some of those late apples already I also hope to have seedlings that could potentially provide breeding material. Who knows what the limits of quality, hanging and storage apples might be if we keep crossing these late lines.
I'm saving some seeds from this interesting apple to distribute this winter, but I can't send out scions of Pomo Sanel, or anything else, due to disease issues in the orchard. I may at some point try to sleuth out a new source of scions to distribute to people that might grow it and share it out. I have no idea what level and duration of cold it can stand. Even if picking it for storage, it has to ripen into at least late November here. It's okay to pick apples early for storage, but they should be fully sized up. The picture below shows Pomo Sanel in mid November still looking a little lean and green. Your mileage may vary of course.
One thing I feel sure of is that this variety is worth saving, and it is certainly not remotely safe at this point. Maybe the longest standing, most knowledgeable and well connected local fruit collector/experimenter I know asked me for some mosaic virus infected scions a couple of years ago. I'm sure there are more copies out there among the local fruit collectors somewhere, but if it's not distributed much by any of us, it will fizzle out like so many others have. That is assuming that it is a unique variety and just an unidentified more common named variety.
It’s bloom season and time to be out pollinating apple blossoms during sunny late mornings and early afternoons. Since it’s raining, I’m going to write down some thoughts today on promising directions in apple breeding. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere before, the interests and goals of large scale commercial breeders who have bred most of the apples now available in stores, are to an important extent different than the goals that benefit home growers and home breeders, and even to some extent, consumers. While the apple is capable of much further development, entire genetic areas are ignored or even intentionally bred out. Some of these genetics may actually be desirable to us for various reasons. Not only do I think they are worthy of pursuit, I feel we have almost a responsibility to pursue and improve some of them if we are to begin to re-take partial responsibility for our own food supply and not simply hand it over to a system who’s first priority is profit.
The big breeders mostly breed for commercial production now. That means apples have to meet a lot of criteria and be acceptable to growers, shippers, wholesalers and grocers. Of course they have to be acceptable to consumers too, but with a limited number of choices the consumer by extension has a limited education in their selection and critical estimation of the apples widely available. Most Americans will have a preference for which apple they like, or what style of apple, but they are familiar with the available options only, and may not even know, for instance, what a russet apple is. The market has ideas about what we want and will buy as consumers. Whether those perceptions are accurate or not, I can't say for sure, but even if they are accurate now, I think the market can be trained, or retrained, to want and like other options. For instance, Cuyama a large organic orchard in California took a chance on Crimson Gold, a very small apple bred by Albert Etter in the first half of the 20th century. As far as I can tell, they are doing quite well with it. The apples are no more than a few bites worth, but bags of them appear in the market here every fall and I’ve heard that they are also available on the East coast from the same grower. It’s no wonder. It’s an excellent apple, with more flavor than a typical large apple. Once someone bites into one, they are likely to become a fan. More on Crimson Gold below.
FLAVORS, AND OTHER EATING QUALITIES v.s. DISEASE RESISTANCE
While growth characteristics and disease resistance can be important when it comes to actually getting apples into our hands, we eat them for texture, flavor, sugar and to a lesser extent appearance and size. And it is those things that are inspiring to me. It seems as though we should be able to take any type of apple that we can come up with by mixing crazy flavors and extending seasons etc. and eventually have something like it in a disease resistant apple with long enough effort and intention. But if we pursue disease resistance first, then our options for parents are much more limited. So for me, the pursuit of apple breeding is largely a feeling out process to see what can be created in terms of the things that make us want to eat apples in the first place.
I don’t talk about disease resistance much, because I don’t think about it much. Disease pressure is fairly light here in our dry summer climate. I’ve noticed some increase over the years and it will likely become more of a problem as I build up a reservoir of disease pathogens and pests. No doubt they’ll entrench themselves along with my establishing trees. I understand that folks in less favorable circumstances would naturally look toward disease resistance as a primary goal and I think it’s an important long term goal and a great endeavor. There are still plenty of good apples to work with that are disease resistant, including heirlooms. In fact, I’m sure there are more than ever due to the efforts of large scale breeding programs. While I choose to keep it simple and not avail myself of much information related to plant breeding, there is no doubt much to be gained from studying how the various disease resistant traits are passed or reinforced. No doubt much has been learned on the subject, which might be found out by reading scientific papers or communicating with breeders at universities.
But for me now, I cross whatever I’m moved to cross and let the cards fall where they will. I’ve already seen horrid scab on a couple of seedlings, but the information I want is what the apple turns out like as far as other characteristics go and I’ll worry about the rest later, or let someone else worry about it. I’m particularly interested in the idea of introducing new exotic flavors into the lines I want to work with. The most intriguing are the cherry and fruit candy flavors and whatever psychotic combination of flavors are contained in sweet 16. Fortunately, one of the other flavor groups I’m fascinated with, the berry flavors, are found most strongly, in red fleshed apples, one of my other great interests. Combining the former and the latter to find out what happens is high on my list and well underway already. I’m also interested in pineapple flavor, but it is not super common in any apples I have fruited, at least not strongly, except in Suntan, which is a triploid and very hard to pollinate. I think I’ve gotten one viable seed from suntan over the years for all my efforts, and it died. And then there are the crab apples with the unique flavor they bring to the table and which Etter showed in Vixen and Amberoso, can be brought into larger apples. My seedling, BITE ME!, a small to medium sized apple, but certainly not a crab, has enough of that special taste to be it’s star flavor component. I’m hoping that crossing larger tending apples with that flavor component, like BITE ME! and Vixen, with other larger Wickson offspring will reinforce that flavor trait in normal sized apples. Vixen is the most promising large parent I’ve tasted in this line.
SMALL APPLES AND CRABAPPLE GENES
Once I realized that the remarkable flavor characteristics and high sugar content of Albert Etter’s Wickson was due in large part to the crab apple genetics used by Etter in breeding, my gears started turning. Later I was able to taste some of the other Etter crab derived apples, which have similar flavors, including Crimson Gold, Vixen and Muscat de Venus. I feel quite sure that small apples with concentrated flavor and high sugar could be a class of popular apple. You may have noticed as I have that large size often comes with diluted flavor. Breeding large apples with concentrated flavor and high sugar is a worthy goal as well, and it is possible to do, at least to some extent, but there is no good reason to neglect small apples. If someone bites into a truly remarkable miniature apple, there will be no turning back. Is it just coincidence that both Wickson and Chestnut Crab show up so often on favorite lists? Nope, not a coincidence.
I’m fairly well convinced that the small, intense apple endeavor alone would be a worthy pursuit for an amateur breeder. Collect all the very best crabs, along with other interesting apples to breed in other traits such as flavors and keeping ability, and start mixing it all up. The crab derived apples Chestnut, Trailman and Wickson are all already excellent out of hand eating, and a great base to work from. There are also a lot of red fleshed crabs, though I don’t know of any that are dessert quality out of hand. I have made a lot of crab on crab crosses and have crossed wickson with many larger apples. My own thoughts are to continue crab on crab crosses, but also continue to breed crabs with remarkably flavored apples like cherry cox, sweet 16 and golden russet to shake it up a bit. I’m also mixing in a red fleshed crab called maypole and the red fleshed grenadine.
And why not go even smaller. My friend Becca sent me an unknown tiny crab that hangs in clusters like cherries and has yellow flesh. It was allegedly acquired out of an orchard at a North Carolina college. They are truly one bite apples, the size of a cherry. Most people would probably find them too tannic for munching, but they are sweet and delicious along with the pucker, and I love munching them down, seeds and all. The flesh is crisp and juicy and they hang on the tree well. I’m definitely working with Becca’s crab this year. Imagine the possibility of a one bite apple that grows in clusters like cherries, and has very red flesh. The red pigment would bring berry flavors to the mix. Add some of the cherry flavors of Cherry Cox or Sweet Sixteen and that apple could be something else! It’s a project that’s not going to come to fruition overnight, if it's even possible, so I’ll not likely see it in my lifetime, but I can damn well start the ball rolling and see what happens. I also think such an apple could be marketable if it was good enough. It could be sold on the antioxidant angle since they will contain a lot of antioxidant system stimulants. It will certainly inherit more natural polyphenol content than the average apple, because of the tannic nature of crabs. There is also the red flesh, which contains anthocyanins, widely promoted as healthy. Even further, there are the seeds, which contain cyanic compounds shown to have health benefits as well. The flavor of the seeds also reinforce the cherry aspect. Give it a great name and sell them as cherry apples in clusters. Who would not at least try them?
I have not sampled all that many red fleshed apples considering the number that seem to be out there, with more surfacing all the time, but my general impression is that they are badly in need of improvement all around. My suspicion is that being mostly from primitive genes and receiving very little attention in the past from breeders, the red fleshed trait likely comes with a package of other less desirable genes equating to high acidity, low sugar and not so great texture. Teasing those genes apart and refining selections to get the traits we want from other apples, while retaining the red flesh may be something of an undertaking. Albert Etter started the process, and while I haven’t tried all of his red fleshed creations, my impression so far is they could use improving. Greenmantle nursery has put trademark names on some apples that they allege to have salvaged from Etter's experimental orchards, but aside from Pink Parfait, I can see why Etter would not have released any of them. Pink Parfait, which has only pink mottling in the flesh and very mild berry flavors, is the only significantly red fleshed apple I've tasted that has very high desert quality. The others would never stand on their own merits without the red flesh, as interesting as that makes them. The others I’m most familiar with are as follows:
Grenadine: dark pink to reddish with excellent fruit punch/berry flavor. Variable quality on the same tree in the same year, lots of early drops and some of the apples go mealy early. Variable size. In a very good year it is grainy when ripe enough for good eating and high flavor, but more often it is mealy by that time. Sugar is not particularly high. Tannin content fairly high. But that flavor! The juice is excellent and it's a heavy and reliable producer for me.
Rubaiyat: Very dark pink to almost velvety light red, strong berry flavor, but maybe not as complex or punch like as grenadine. Seems to be very Scab prone, drops from tree, Often mealy by the time it is really ripe, but it can have a nice texture and it is a somewhat more refined apple than Grenadine. Not all that sweet. At it's very best it makes decent eating and has excellent "red" flavor. It is a very nice looking apple when it escapes the scab.
Pink Pearl: Not particularly rich or flavorful or sugary. A good cooking apple. Better texture than the above apples. Light pink flesh.
There are a bunch of commercial breeders and university programs now working on red fleshed apples. I don’t know what took them so long. Albert Etter knew 80 years or more ago that they would be popular, but he just didn’t quite have time to get them off the ground before he died and no one took up his important work. Any red fleshed apple breeding program should be assessing his apples as possible breeding stock. I have successfully passed the remarkable Grenadine flavor on to a seedling that I’m already hopeful will best it’s parent (even though I’ve only fruited two apples of it, and one was stolen by a raccoon!) I’m hoping to get a few more this year. It isn’t going to be an outstanding dessert apple, I can tell that already, but if it’s better than Grenadine that’s a start.
I haven’t talked to him in a while, but I seem to remember my friend Freddy Menge saying that about 25% of the red fleshed apple seeds he’s planted yield apples with red flesh. Once crosses with non red fleshed apples are made though, I'm hoping those apples can be crossed with each other to reinforce the trait and bring it out since both parents will carry the gene. That is the experiment anyway. I make crosses of non-red fleshed apples with multiple red fleshed apples with just that plan in mind. I’m also hopeful about crossing the resulting red fleshed x non-redflesh crosses with Pink Parfait and William’s Pride, both only slightly red fleshed, but both excellent desert apples in every other way. You see where I’m headed I hope. Take the best apples with red flesh, even if it’s not very much, and cross those to reinforce the red and hopefully also retain the desirable dessert qualities. That is why I’m crossing William’s Pride and Pink Parfait this year, both great apples with some pink in the flesh. Check back in about 6 or 8 years, lol.
Russets are another neglected but very promising line of genetics. The phenomenon of russeting has been selected against in apple breeding for a long time now, so it’s not likely that large scale breeders will be pursuing a true russet apple, or even using them in the mix at all. When I had good russets for sale at farmer’s market, people bought them. They are somewhat wary at first, but once bitten, they almost always buy some. Heirlooms are big, flavor is becoming more and more important to people, food is huge, foodie-ism is huge, and because of all that, and their inherent value, russets should become popular again. There is nothing like them. They have their own character and uses. Not only should we not let them die out or languish in the background neglected by the monetary interests that drive our food systems now, but they should be taken in hand and improved, which has probably rarely been attempted due to appearance alone.
The best russet I’ve tasted, and still one of the very best apples I’ve ever tasted for that matter, is the Golden Russet, a classic American apple. At it’s best it has a well balanced symphony of flavor. The flavor is concentrated and lasting. It also has an extremely high sugar content and was once widely employed in cider making. So, what’s not to like? Well, culturally, it’s a pain in the ass. It grows lanky and tippy with long bare interstems. It’s hard to know how to prune it and I’m inclined to just let it grow and then hack off some bigger branches once in a while. I’ve never seen it to be particularly productive either and I hear the same from others in the area. Perhaps low productivity is the cost for all that flavor and goodness, but it if it doesn’t have to be so then I want more! Compare that to another American classic The Roxbury Russet, which is better behaved and more productive. But alas, though very good and very similar, Roxbury Russet is not the apple that Golden Russet is when it comes to flavor. If I had Roxbury here, I’d probably cross the two of them this year with a view toward an all around better russet. I may cross Golden Russet with Ashmeads Kernel this season for similar reasons. Another very high sugar russet I’ve been trying to acquire and fruit for possible breeding purposes is the Golden Harvey. I’ve run into a couple of other breeders online working with Golden Harvey.
To anyone well versed in heirloom apples and apple types, the thought of discarding russets from the world of apples would be absolutely horrifying. Some of the best English, French and American apples are russets. A person could stay pretty busy just collecting, archiving, researching, testing, tasting, photographing, documenting, making available and breeding russet apples and they’d be doing the world a great favor. Another of many things I’d love to do, but that someone else will just have to do.
VERY LATE HANGING APPLES
Extremely late hanging apples represent another whole area of possibility waiting to be expanded and improved. Though my latest hanging apple, Lady Williams, is ripe February first, I’m inclined to think the season could be pushed later. Some apples store really well, but to have fresh apples straight off the tree on a frozen February morning is another thing. Also, the same apples could probably be harvested in January and store all the better for being picked so late. I’ve found sound seedling apples hanging in a hedgerow here in March. They were the pretty sour and useless, but that’s beside the point. They were not a mushy mess. We just need those kind of genes in a better eating apple. Granny Smith, Lady Williams and Pink Lady are all promising apples for this line and all related, Granny smith coming from the very late, long keeping French Crab, Lady Williams from Granny and Pink Lady from Lady Williams. Other Late hangers that I will probably use, or have used, are Pink Parfait (December), Grenadine (December), Pomo Sanel a selection from a local homestead (January) and Whitwick Pippin (December at least).
I’ve looked for other late hangers, but not concertedly enough to find much. I’m sure there are many more out there, but it will take some effort to find them. Others will not have been noticed, either because the owners always pick them early, or because they are growing in cold regions where the fruit can’t hang so long. I can hang any of these in temps down to and possibly a little below 20 degrees f, though some will be partly damaged by cracking near the stem well, probably due to ice forming there, and may then start to rot. Others varieties would probably hang that long in good condition, if they didn’t crack so easily. Many apples will hang late, but there is a clear difference between something like Lady Williams or Pink Lady not even ripening well until very late, or improving in storage if picked and held for a while, and some apple that looks well enough hanging there, but is declining in eating quality all along instead of improving. My most promising acquisition aside from the two Ladies and Granny Smith, is Pomo Sanel. I don’t know much about it, just that it came from a local homestead. It has some similarity to Grime’s Golden and Golden Delicious in form and color. The apples hang very late. They have a coarse flesh and fairly rich flavor, though not quite equal in quality to some of the others. Pomo Sanel is a little more prone to cracking and not as late as the Granny line, but it is still promising and I’ll probably use it to make some crosses this year.
Onward we go into the adventure of apple seeding, breeding and selection. Those who prefer instant gratification and sure things are probably better off messing about with peaches, which will usually yield decent fruit with less variation from the parents. But, peaches don’t come in a jillion sizes, shapes, colors and flavors. You either get it or you don’t. If someone can read this article and not become excited about playing mad scientist mixing apple genes to see the results, they should go do whatever moves them. I’ve run into people that are doing the same thing I am. The apple renaissance is afoot! Not just the apple revival, but the renaissance. A new era in which the diversity and awesomeness possible in apples will be realized more than ever.
If I had to do it over, I’d do even more research than I did. I’d collect potential breeding parents more carefully, collecting and testing everything I could get with very intense flavor, especially fruit, pineapple, berry, cherry and almond. I’d collect as many allegedly great or super long keeping old school russets as possible and as many out-of-hand edible crabs as possible. I would also try to acquire more good red fleshed apples to work with. Albert Etter said something to the effect that breeding up new apples was as simple as breeding up good dairy stock, just start with the best herd you can. That means either trying out apples that someone else grew, or more likely growing them out yourself for assessment, a several year process, even when using dwarf stock or grafting onto established trees. Etter trialed about 500 apple varieties and thought most of them were not worth growing. By choosing the best of those to breed with, he said that he improved on the average of those 500 in the first generation.
I'm very interested in high quality crabs with high sugar or unique taste, truly amazing russets, better red fleshed dessert apples and extremely late hanging apples that are still crisp and solid on the tree after new years as well as being good eating. If they hang till March and are just okay eating, I'm still interested. Please contact me if you can help with any of those that are not already listed here.
I've been making tons of crosses this year. Below are some of the crosses and parents I've been using, though not necessarily in the order presented. I make up others as I go, like Coes Golden Drop x Muscat De Venus.
Becca’s crab w/ wickson, maypole, sweet 16, cherry cox, trailman, grenadine
Golden Russet w/ Ashmead’s, Egremont, Chestnut (most exciting, but can't make this one till next year), pendragon (red flesh, Welsh), Coe’s Golden Drop, Suntan, St. Edmund's Russet, Muscat de Venus, Roxbury russet (if I had it. I REALLY want to make this cross!)
Chestnut crab (if I had any blooms or pollen this year) w/ Golden Russet, , Muscat de Venus, St. Edmund’s Russet, Coe’s Golden Drop, Ashmead’s Kernel
Williams' Pride w/ Pink Parfait, Rubaiyat, Pendragon, Sunrise (early), Sweet 16
Cherry Cox w/ N. Spy, Vixen, Muscat de Venus, Sweet 16, Pink Lady, Becca's Crab, Pendragon, Maypole
Pink Parfait w/ Pendragon, Lady Williams, Williams' Pride, Pink Lady, My own seedling Grenadine x Lady Williams #11/12, and Pomo Sanel
Lady Williams w/ Pomo Sanel, Whitwick pippin, Allen’s Everlasting, Newtown Pippin
Sweet 16 w/ Vixen, William’s Pride, Cherry Cox, King David, etc...
Trailman w/ Becca’s, St. Edmund’s, Chestnut Crab, Maypole
Pomo Sanel w/ Goldrush, Lady Williams, Whitwick Pippin
THE FULL APPLE BREEDING PLAYLIST
Below is todays video, the latest installment in the now year and a half long homescale apple breeding project. We started at pollinating some blossoms in Spring of 2015, and now the trees are waiting another couple of months to be grafted out. Labeling is important because it is what allows me to keep track of each tree and to take notes on the apples as they begin to grow and fruit. The identifier code also tells me what the parents are and what year the pollination was made.
The fall colors on some of these seedlings is remarkable. All of the extremely red leaved seedlings have maypole as one parent. It is the most red fleshed apple I've used, but it also has very red leaves, flowers, bark and even some red in the wood. The downside is that, it is a very primitive apple with a lot of puckery tannins. The flavor is excellent, but it is pretty rough around the edges, and low in sugar on top of it.
One neat thing about Maypole is that it is a columnar style tree. That means it grows very upright and narrow. Not a single stem, but it has a very small footprint. It is also dwarfed, so it will never grow very tall. If I recall correctly, I think the columnar trait is dominant. So that will be interesting to watch for as these guys grow out.
One of the apples I crossed Maypole with is Wickson, which can get up to 25% sugar, the most I've ever heard of for an apple, so hopefully one of those 14 crosses might yield something sweeter. If nothing really eminently edible comes of those, they might still make good puckery cider apples if the sugar is raised, or something to use in further breeding. Because, remember, each new seedling is a product of both of it's parents, and carries a large compliment of Genes hiding within. If the high sugar trait does not express in the first generation, it may in a second generation, especially if it is back crossed to Wickson, or another Wickson seedling. Stay tuned for 5 or 6 years to find out!
and here is the entire series on this project...
A short video update showing some red fleshed traits in seedlings and the new blossoms in the trial rows. I'm finally going to get some fruit out of these guys! More below...
The seedlings are mostly up now and ready to plant out, though there are still a few stragglers. Many of the crosses I made with Maypole, an intensely red fleshed apple that shows pigmentation throughout the plant, are showing obvious red pigmentation. Not all of them though, some seem to be taking after the other parent, whatever that might be.
One of the seedlings is showing pinker blossoms than the others. I'm hoping that means it will have redder flesh. We'll see in a few months, or maybe many months since it is a Lady Williams cross and Lady Williams won't be ripe for over 10 months! Wow.
Since several people have asked about getting pollen from me. I decided to add it to the store to see if that is a service people might use. Here is the link. I only have a few varieties this year, but If it seems like people will buy it, I'll have more next year of all the varieties that I like and use in breeding.
I’ve been interested in how much my blood apple seedlings show red pigmentation in the bark, flowers, wood and leaves. My impression is that the apples with the most red flesh also tend to have more of this coloration in other parts of the tree as well. Bud 9 rootstock is a good example, with very red flesh and bright orange to red coloration in the fall leaves. It also has dark red bark and even red in the wood. Most of my seedlings show only minimal red coloration in the spring and fall and very few have really reddish bark, with none close to the deep purple/red of bud 9. This video shows one seedling that has stronger red traits than the rest. I suppose this trait may be affected somewhat by it’s age and where it’s growing, but I’m pretty sure this seedling is exceptional.
I suppose one could select seedlings by coloration in the new leaves, or in the fall leaves, or in the bark even. I know that Nigel Deacon does that in selecting his seedlings. I’ve decided not to for the time being. I may later when I have gathered information from the fruit of seedlings I have in the ground right now. For the time being, I want to see what happens with all of them. Not all of the best blood apples that I grow have strong pigmentation in places other than the flesh, so by culling most of the seedlings and keeping only the reddest leaved ones, I could end up tossing out something really good and I’d never know. Another reason to keep everything for now is that I have speculated that the expression of the red flesh tends to come with some other traits that may not always be desirable. Blood apples, are still being developed from primitive breeding stock. They have not been refined by long breeding, so there are issues with bitterness, poor cultural traits and texture. I’m not sure, but again I suspect that those traits may tag along somehow with the red fleshed gene expression. So, by culling out the less red seedlings, I may also be culling out some of the best dessert traits. What would you do? Risk growing out everything to see what happens? or select only the seedlings showing the most red? Hopefully this spring will see blossoms in my seedling rows with apples to follow.
Here is a video I put together on Apples that I have used as parents for my breeding project. I show and discuess a few apples that I am using which were in season at the time, and talk about some others I’ve used. My approach is not very sophisticated, but I’m trying to keep it fun. Poring over scientific papers and reading about genetics is not my idea of a good time. Perhaps my approach will become more sophisticated in the future, but I’m also just curious to see what an average person could do without learning too much new stuff beyond the basics of pollinating, growing seeds and grafting, which are all pretty accessible. Below is a list of parents I’ve used, though I may have forgotten a couple. I will probably do more full reviews of some of these in the future. They were generally chosen for flavor, texture and overall desert quality, flesh color, season and keeping ability. Those are the main things I think about with flavors and desert quality toping the list.
White and yellow fleshed apples:
Lady Williams (parent of cripps pink)
Cripp’s Pink (trademark name Pink Lady)
Granny Smith (probable parent of Lady Williams)
Red Fleshed Apples:
Etter 7/13 (Grenadine)
Etter 8/11 Rubaiyat
Etter 7/9 (Pink Parfait)
Maypole Crab (dwarf columnar growth habit and intense red flesh that is an odd combination of very edible and barely edible. I like eating it and am excited about breeding with it.)
This year’s crosses (if I do any. I have to stop at some point. Hell, who am I kidding! ;) This year’s crosses will probably involve William’s pride, Trailman Crab, Centennial crab, Chestnut Crab, William’s Pride, Sweet 16, Katherine, Etter 7/9, Maypole, Red Pippin (fiesta), Golden Russet, Cherry Cox, and Lady Williams, and possibly some other russets. We need more russets! St. Edmund’s Pippin is very intriguing. It is a dyed in the wool russet that ripens in summer. I just haven’t fruited it enough to be ready to jump in yet. I will continue to do red fleshed crosses, but also some that aren't. I'm pretty sure that using just red fleshed crosses is seriously diminishing the percentage of seedlings that will be successful, because of some of the unrefined genes in red fleshed apples. Also, I'm just intrigued about other lines of dessert apples too. I should be getting some fruit out of my trials this coming year, so stay tuned for actual results!
For more on apple breeding see the plant breeding pages:
A walk around looking at various parts of my apple breeding project. It doesn't look like much, but I think it's getting the job done. I spotted my first blossom while filming this. Way cool, that means I'll probably have some bloom next year, hopefully followed by fruit!
Yay! The apple breeding video series is off the ground! I really wanted to get it launched this year because I made a lot of pollinations this time around, and I'm not sure how many more years I'll be doing it.
The first two videos are published . They are basically the same video in two parts, of me talking about why I'm breeding apples and basically why I think more people should breed plants, apple breeding history, along with some gentle ranting (only had to bleep out one %$#*& word! Pat me on the head). The next videos will be thoughts on selecting parents and then onto the fun part, the first how to segment which is on pollination. The pollination segment is mostly done, and I think it really turned out beautifully with my new drastically improved video capabilities.
The concept of this series is to follow the entire breeding process starting from pollination, for many years onward, until those specific crosses bear fruit, and likely beyond that as the fruit is assessed over a number of years to see if it is worth naming and propagating. Also, we'll be following my progress with the whole project which is around 4 years in right now. I made my first pollinations in spring 2011, so I may get lucky and have some fruit as early as next year. One of my first seedlings is actually fruiting now, but it is just an open pollinated seedling of Wickson from my friends at The Apple Farm near here, so the pollen parent of that one is unknown.
My main goal with this video series to is to continue to incite creativity and deeper participation in what we are growing and eating, so please share so I can corrupt more people! mwaahhhahahahhhaaa...