Posts tagged #red fleshed apples

Apple Pollen Available for Breeding


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!

Etter's Blood Apples, Unique, Beautiful and Tasty, Red Flesh, Red Flavor

gren bited.jpg

This year I have three of apple breeder Albert Etter's red fleshed apples fruiting.  They are very unique and interesting apples, though they still represent unfinished work.  Red fleshed apples will be coming more and more into the public eye over the coming years.  They could have arrived much sooner had anyone taken up Etter's work, which was already well started.  With all their faults, these apples are still worth growing.  Also a short video on Gold Rush, which might be the apple I've seen most universally endorsed by home growers for flavor, keeping ability and disease resistance.

Tasting a Couple of New Seedling Apples with Mark Albert

While at Mark's Albert's house shooting the pineapple guava video, we sat down and tasted a couple of my new seedling apples, one of which has red flesh.  I'm a little more positive about the red fleshed apple now than I was at the time.  It developed a bit more sugar after spending a little more time in the fridge.  It's not going to be an outstanding desert apple, but I would think now there's a chance it will outperform Grenadine.  It looks better I think.  It's a very attractive apple.  The flavor is quite nice.  After that we tasted some varietal grapes and Glenora grape juice and chatted about grapes a bit.

April Apple Breeding Update, Seedlings and Blooms!

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.

15 Super Late Winter Apples, Still Hanging on at Winter Solstice

Here are a couple of videos about very late hanging apples, which I'm always excited about.  I broke it into two parts, because, in spite of heavy editing, it's still pretty long.  More below.

I'm not good at a lot of things, like remembering people, where I met them, their names, their faces, why I should care who they are and what they think, book keeping...  But, one thing I am good at is spotting potential.  Years ago when I found out that some apples can hang and ripen late into the winter, I was intrigued.  This was potential.  The potential to have fresh fruit in perfect condition off the tree at a time when most people in temperate climates are eating fruit out of storage and often already of marginal quality.  Imagine a tree that is grafted to many different late varieties ripening through December and January and maybe beyond?  That is an awesome idea- which is why I'm doing it!  I have a new frankentree started just for very late ripening apples.  But, I only know some of what I'll be grafting onto it, and a lot of work has gone into getting this far.

First I started collecting as many very late ripening, late hanging apples as I could find.  I spent hours upon hours researching apples to find more of them.  Some have fruited and some haven't yet.  Now, years later, all that labor is starting to pay off, and not just for me, for you too and anyone else that will listen to me.  Here are about 15 different apples that are still hanging on the tree just around the Winter Solstice/Christmas.  Some would have been better for sure in early Dec. or even back in late Nov., but some are excellent and a couple are not ripe yet.  There is something of a gap between the very latest, Lady Williams, and the ones at their best now, but I'm sure that gap can be filled with apples that are in existence somewhere now, let alone with what could still be bred in the future using the late apple genes that are out there.

Speaking of which, after making this video, I'm even more fired up about breeding for this type of apple.  I would guess that the season can be extended even further past Lady Williams coming in at about Feb 1st.  I have seen wildling apples here hang until March and still be in good condition, but there was not much else to recommend them unfortunately.  I hope to start getting some fruit this year from late variety crosses I made four years ago, like Grenadine x Lady Williams and Grenadine x Gold Rush.

Let me tell you, as soon as I finish this post, I'm going to mosey on out to Frankentree and bite into one of those amazing, crisp, perfect apples that yesterday was covered in snow and last night kissed by a 25 degree freeze, and I'm going to be stoked.  I'm sure you'll hear more from me on this topic in the future, but for now, this is a pretty good start.

I'd like to continue work along these lines, collecting, breeding and sharing information. You can easily support me in this and the other development and educational work at no cost to you simply by using my amazon links. If you bookmark this link and use it every time you shop at amazon and I'll make a small commission for sending you there.  Thanks for your support.  I'm not sure what else to do with myself!  I'm already planning more late apple variety breeding crosses to make this spring... 

Red Coloration in Blood Apple Seedling Leaves, Flowers, Bark and Wood

Red fall leaves on one of my seedling apples

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.

Maypole has strong expression of red genes in general as you can see in this spring photo.  The apples are also strongly red fleshed, a bit crabby, but still very edible, with some of the delicious red flavor found in red fruits like berries.  I've been very impressed by this apple the last couple years and made numerous crosses with it this past spring.  I'd like to plant enough of them to make juice.  The tree is very narrow and short so they could probably be planted only 3 feet apart or so.  I haven't juiced any, because I haven't had enough fruit, but I'm sure it will be very good.

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.

I haven't noticed that Williams' Pride has particularly red anything else, but it does have very red skin (it gets darker than this) and a little bit of red flesh.  Rome Beauty is another very red fleshed apple that can have pink tinges in the flesh, and I've seen small tinges in other apples, including cherry cox.  I'm hoping that simply by combining red fleshed apples with apples like King David that just have dark red skin, I may still reinforce the red fleshed trait.

William's pride showing tendency to red flesh



How I Pick Parent Apples for Breeding New Varieties, My List

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:



Sweet 16

Cherry cox

King David

gold rush


Golden Russet

Lady Williams (parent of cripps pink)

Cripp’s Pink (trademark name Pink Lady)

Granny Smith (probable parent of Lady Williams)

Newtown Pippin

Chestnut Crab

Beautiful, tasty King David

Beautiful, tasty King David

Red Fleshed Apples:

Etter 7/13 (Grenadine)

Etter 8/11 Rubaiyat

Etter 7/9 (Pink Parfait)

(coop 23) Williams' Pride 

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 Video Tour of my Amateur Apple Breeding Project

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!

Apple Breeding part 3: From seed to fruit

lady williams seeds

lady williams seeds header In part one I went over some reasons why I think home breeders have a decent chance of producing some good apples. Part two covered pollinating flowers to make intentional crosses of two different parent apples. In this section, I'll discuss growing the seeds into seedlings, and options for growing those out until they fruit. COLLECTING AND STORING SEEDS:  I like to collect the seed when the apple is ripe for eating, but they seem to be mature before that.  I’ve stored the seeds in little plastic baggies in the refrigerator, but they sometimes mold.  Storing the seeds in slightly damp, but not wet, sand would probably be better, or you can just plant them... PLANTING SEEDS:  I’ve had pretty good luck with germination when planting in February after storage in the refrigerator.  At least some apples are supposed to require stratification, which means that they need to undergo so many hours of low temperatures before they will sprout.  I’ve had fresh seeds sprout without chilling, so I think fresh seeds just sprout easier.  My approach in the next years will probably be to store early seeds in the fridge in damp sand, and then plant them with the latest ripening seeds in February.  If planted outdoors, the seeds should chill enough as long as your climate is not subtropical.  If it is subtropical, then you should select seed parents carefully as many apples do not do well in warm climates with no chill.  The Apples and Oranges blog is a good resource for growing apples in low chill areas. It is possible to dry the seeds before sprouting them, but I don't see any reason to do so when they can be kept in refrigeration, or even in the ground over winter. Plant the seeds in pots or flats, or outdoors in the ground, at about 1/2 inch deep.  Don’t allow them to dry out, but don’t over water either!  Over watering can lead to rotten seeds and fungal attacks.  One strategy I sometimes use is to put a growing mix in the pot or flat, followed by 3/8 inch of sand, followed seeds and finally covering the seeds with 1/2 inch of sand.  This method surrounds the seeds with clean aerated sand to sprout in, which minimizes bacterial and fungal attacks, while still providing them with nutritious flat mix just below.  My germination rate has been pretty mediocre, but since it doesn't take long to produce a couple hundred seeds, maybe that's Ok. apple seeds in flat After they grow a few leaves, you can move the seedlings outdoors into the soil, or into bigger pots.

These are on the young side for transplanting.

These seedlings are a little too big for transplanting.  They would have done Ok regardless if I had taken better care of them, or put them into pots instead of in the ground.  Better to transplant before they are crowded and when they only have a few leaves.

GROWING OUT:  Markus Kobelt at Lubera nursery gave me some tips on apple breeding.  He says that growing the seedlings as tall as possible the first year shortens the time to fruiting.  Seedlings are in what is called a juvenile stage.  Growing the seedlings fast and tall pushes them out of the juvenile stage and into sexual maturity more quickly.  My first batch of seedlings were left in flats for too long, and then planted in an out-of-the-way bed where they received poor care, resulting in some pretty stunted plants.  The seeds that I planted straight into the ground in a garden bed did quite a bit better.  Wherever you plant them, take good care of them with regular feeding and water.  Under ideal conditions you might end up with 4 to 5 foot stems.  Check out Markus Kobelt's cool video series on all stages of apple breeding! It is probably best to cull some of the seedlings, but I'm not entirely sure what to look for in culling, so I'm not culling many of mine.  Nigel Deacon, in breeding for red flesh, selects for red pigmentation in the leaves as well as for vigour.  I'd like to talk to a breeding expert about culling.  At this point, I'm kind of cull shy. TO GRAFT OR NOT TO GRAFT?:  Is that the question?  I think a more relevant question is where to graft, because it is better to graft the seedling stems onto something else.  Putting the scions onto a dwarfing rootstock that encourages early fruiting, or onto a mature fruiting age tree will give you fruit sooner than growing the seedlings out until they begin to bear fruit, in some cases much sooner.  If you don’t know how to graft, or don’t have a mature tree to graft on to, you might want to just plant the seedlings and wait.  However, if you don’t know how to graft, now is a great time to learn!  If you come up with the best apple seedling ever, someone has to propagate it by grafting, so it might as well be you.  There are plenty of apple grafting resources on the internet and I’ll probably add my own before too long.

A basket of red fleshed apple seedling scions headed for dwarfing rootstocks.

GRAFTING OPTIONS:  For the average home breeder, grafting onto a mature bearing tree may be the best option.  It requires a lot less room than growing each seedling on it’s own rootstock, way less care, and it’s cheap.  Rootstocks in small quantities will usually cost you $2.50 and up.  Larger quantities, usually 50 or more can get down into the $1.25 and up range, especially if you buy B grade stocks which have crooked stems.  Still, even at $1.25 each it adds up pretty fast, especially after shipping and handling.  Then you need room for all those stocks.  I’m planning to plant mine at 12 inches apart in rows about 6 feet apart.  All that sounds daunting, but there is one good reason to grow the plants on their own stocks and that is disease.  Apples are host to many diseases, but the concern here is with virus.  Seeds don't carry virus from the parent, so the seedlings are virus free.  Virus are transmitted to a scion that is grafted to an infected tree though.  Most of us don’t have trees that we know are virus free, so keeping your seedlings fresh and unburdened by virus is somewhat compelling. The other side of the coin is that most apple varieties are minimally affected by the common Apple Mosaic Virus and there are millions upon millions of infected trees living and bearing fruit.  It is quite possible also that your mature apple tree is not infected anyway.  It is possible to rid a variety of virus by a process of heating, but that process is probably not accessible to the homescale grower (though I'm curious, maybe it's not that hard!).  If having to graft onto individual rootstocks will keep you from experimenting, I'd say don’t let it.  Go ahead and graft them onto whatever you have. ROOTSTOCKS:  Very dwarfing rootstocks that keep trees under 10 feet will also induce fruiting early in the life of the tree.  I’ve mostly used bud-9, and this year some Geneva-11.  Geneva-11 has weak roots, so I’m not sure I like it yet, but the Bud-9 seems nice enough and it’s cheaper. M-9 is probably also a fine choice, though Bud-9 is generally thought to be an improvement on M-9.  Charts and descriptions of the various apple roostocks can be found online.  Just remember that you want one that induces early fruiting and makes for a small tree.  Trees can be planted close together in rows, I don’t think there is a reason to plant them further than 18 inches apart, and I’m probably going to use 12 inches to save space.  A trellis is necessary to support the trees since the dwarfing rootstocks lack adequate roots to anchor the trees in high winds.  Markus Kobelt says to let them grow without pruning to induce early fruiting.  I guess I’m going to follow his advice.  Don’t think of these dwarf rows as permanent.  They are more like shrubs for testing your new varieties.  If you get something good, it can be grafted and reproduced.  The original dwarf test plant is not important.  I have however saved the original seedlings which are planted about 6 inches apart in rows 12 inches apart... man is that going to be a mess in a few years!  I just wanted to save them at least temporarily in case of graft failures, gophers, accidents, etc...  Ideally I'd like to keep them all with enough space for them to grow and fruit later on, but that is not practical considering the resources I'm working with. I've gotten bulk rootstocks from both Copenhaven and Willamette Nursery, and have been happy with both companies.  Again, ask about B grade stocks to save some money.

Shaded nursery bed of seedlings on bud 9 and Geneva 11 dwarfing stocks.  If all goes well these will be ready for permanent planting in rows on a trellis by next winter/spring.  Note that I grafted the scions long.  Not sure that was a good idea yet, but I suppose I'll find out...

GRAFTING ONTO LARGER TREES:  Most grafting onto larger trees is done by a method called top working, wherein large branches are cut off, the cut is split open, and a couple of scions are wedged into the split.  That is a fast way to change a tree to another variety, but it is also crude and likely to introduce rot and disease into the heart of the branch.  Furthermore, it allows for very few varieties to be grafted onto the tree.  In Frame working by contrast, you work onto smaller wood, usually under an inch.  I avoid working into larger wood whenever possible.  If you use frame working, you are keeping the existing frame work of the tree, which has some advantages. I hope to blog about frame working sometime, and I’ll leave most of that discussion till then but, in the meantime, if you are working onto a larger tree, use scions with 8 to 15 buds.  Use cleft grafts if the branch is larger than the scion, and whip and tongue grafts if they are the same and you have a grafting skill level to do so.  I like to paint the longer scions completely with a thin coat of grafting wax to seal and prevent drying.  Other people use parafilm as a wrap to prevent desiccation of the scion.  See the Frankentree post for grafting photos.  On a large tree you can fit upwards of 200 different grafts, although if we follow Markus Kobelt advice to let the scion grow, that could get pretty messy, so leave plenty of room for each variety.  Albert Etter used frameworking to house the 500 or so varieties he collected for testing, as well as to fruit out and test the new varieties he was breeding. About 3 years ago I grafted 4 different open pollinated Wickson apple seedling scions onto various trees of mine.  They have grown great, but have yet to fruit out at all.  This season there is still no sign of blossoms at all on any of them.  So, this is a proposition that takes some time. My new seedlings have now been grafted onto dwarfing Bud-9 rootstocks and are beginning to grow in a nursery bed for planting out into a longer term growing site next winter/spring.  I grafted them rather long as that is my default any more, and it seems to work well as long as the graft is sealed.  Markus Kobelt says to graft the top of the seedling as it is less juvenile than the bottom.  In most cases I grafted most of the seedling stem, but then my seedlings were mostly well under 3 feet.  I also put 4 open pollinated red fleshed seedlings onto some larger trees to grow out for comparison.  I know I said not to use open pollinated seeds, but I just couldn't throw the cute little things in the ditch!  Who knows what's hiding in those genes. The grafted trees will be planted in rows at least 5 feet apart, probably 6' feet on 12" to 18" inch centers and allowed to grow without pruning.  Allowing them to grow without pruning is supposed to bring them out of the juvenile stage, so that's what I'm gonna do.  A trellis is necessary for support as these rootstocks are weak growers with small roots.  I hope for some fruit to examine and taste in about 3 to 5 years, but evaluating any that are decent enough to continue testing will be a much more lengthly proposition.  By that time I will have considerable investment in these plants, but the potential rewards are very exciting for an applehead like me.  Applehead, that may be the title of my next post... I'm also gearing up to make more crosses this season.  The list of interesting varieties is long but most, if not all, will be red flesh crosses.  I haven't made a complete count lately, but I have over 200 varieties on trial that I can use as parents.  I'm just hoping I can curb my enthusiasm enough to keep my time investment low, since that is part of the plan.  A lot of people growing a few seedlings promotes diversity and keeps power in the hands of the people who eat the fruit.  a few people growing a lot of apples has it's advantages to be sure, but to think that we will always be well served by such a system is naive because power is the primary currency of life, and consolidation opens the door for monopolization.  Breeding new apple varieties may not be the most important activity in reclaiming control of our food supply, but if it is a subject of interest to a person, it's one pretty neat way to keep our food closer to home and to live dynamically with a source of our sustenance. If I can come up with one apple that is really worthy of propagation, something that will make people happy, I'll be stoked.  That would probably be the most useful thing the Turkeysong project ever produces.  But the really great part that will make it all worth it, is that I get to name that apple whatever I want!  I've already spent way too much time dreaming up and listing prospective names.  So many names, so few apples... If anyone does come up with a good seedling apple, I just found this website which aims to promote seedling apples!  How cool is that... Seedlingapples on wordpress

Apple Breeding part 2: Doin' it anyway.

applebreeding header steven The awesome Photos of pollinating in this post are by tonia Chi

In part one I laid out some ideas and a little history toward the end of convincing you to try breeding new apples.  Here I present the nitty gritty of pollinating the flowers and in Part 2 I'll cover growing the seeds out.  Neither process is very difficult, nor particularly time consuming.  Later on, grafting of the trees and growing them to fruition may require some skills that most people don't have, but those can be learned elsewhere, or may be covered in future posts here, so don't let that stop you.

SELECTING PARENTS:  You can of course just plant some apple seeds from any apple you like, but the real fun is in selecting two apples that have something awesome about them and assisting them to procreate.  Albert Etter’s success was based on extensive trials using over 500 varieties to find apples with the most promising characteristics to use as parents.  In his own words....

"In selecting apples one has a double index to go by: he selects his mother variety and his "mother-apple" to take the seeds from. The immediate success, of my work may be attributed to the foundation I laid, and my ability to select the individual fruits that will develop superior progeny." 

“I am sending a collection of some of my new varieties of apples... The whole problem is now as simple as breeding up a herd of good dairy cows when one has a good herd to begin with. “

“Some people wonder where it is possible to make any very decided Improvement over existing varieties of apples now in general cultivation. To my notion we have really only begun to improve the apple systematically. I admit I have opportunity to study first hand that which gives me an insight denied to others who think and work along other lines. Comparison is a wonderful means of discerning faint lines. By this simple mental process what seems as opaque as milk reveals lines of similarity undreamed of before."

Something else that interested Etter was taking chances on more primitive apples like crabs, and the red fleshed Surprise apple, to breed in exciting new characteristics.  I would imagine that such a project can take a greater number of generations than working with more refined apples, but in his case it paid off.  Fortunately, we can build on Etter's work.  Wickson, which is probably destined to be Albert's most famous creation, is a case in point.  It is a very small, and incredibly sweet, apple having unique and intense flavor coming from somewhere other than just the standard large varieties.  Though newer apples seem to be diversifying, much of what has been done in breeding so far has been to try to improve on what people already considered to be a good, or archetypal, apple.  We aren't in great need of any more of those!  Apples with intense and diverse flavors, better textures over a greater range of seasons is something we can definitely use.  I would say that instead of crossing apples that are just good, or even really good, cross apples that are really interesting.  Not only will that give us interesting apples, but it just increases the chances that we will come up with something worth growing.  If you come up with the most bubblegum flavoredest apple ever, then we'll all just have to grow it until a better bubblegum flavored apple comes along.  If you're trying to grow a better Golden Delicious or Macintosh style apple, you're probably not going to compete with the many already released by all the advanced breeding programs out there.

My efforts select primarily for flavor and internal color, with keeping ability nudging in as an important third priority, though I'm also interested in better early apples.  All of my crosses so far have been using Albert Etter’s red fleshed apple varieties as one parent, combined with other apples that I think are awesome.

I would encourage you to work only with apples that really inspire you.  If you don't have any, consider collecting some.  At the simplest, just take two awesome apples and rub their stuff together.  It doesn't have to be that simple though.  Some traits are dominant and some recessive.  Dominant traits will express in the offspring even if only one parent carries that gene.  Recessive traits will only express if both parents carry the gene.  It only gets more complicated from there and I've yet to find and assimilate much of that information.  The truth is that  I'm dragging you with me down the path of apple breeding with very little of that knowledge.  The only thing I know at this point is that the red flesh gene is dominant.  So, I cross red fleshed apples in both directions.  I also read something indicating that a columnar habit of the tree is dominant (columnar trees have few if any side branches, having instead single upright trunks).   If anyone out there knows more about dominant and recessive apple traits, post something in the comments, or email me.  I've looked for a simple list, or short treatment of dominant and recessive traits, but have yet to find one.  For more on plant breeding on an amateur scale, including basic genetics, see Carol Deppe's cool book Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties.  (Carole Deppe is awesome and a huge cut above the average garden writer.  Her book The Resilient Gardener is a must read for homesteader types.)

One thing you can pay attention to is who the parents of apples you like are and consider going back to one of those or using other apples which are the offspring of those same parents.  If the parents are known, that information is not usually difficult to find.  For instance, at least two promising apples here have Northern Spy as a parent.  While I'm likely to use the offspring, I also may end up going back to the source.

(I edited out a section of the original post here misinforming people that patent law extends to pollen.  I'm not totally clear on this, but I don't think it does in the case of vegetatively propagated plants)

A few apples, known as triploids, have sterile pollen.  Although triploids cannot be used as pollen doners, they can be fertilized with pollen from another tree, so look up the apples you want to work with and if one is a sterile triploid, use it as the seed parent and not as the pollen parent.  I can't find a full list of triploids anywhere, but if you google the name of the apple with the word triploid, you'll probably find out if it's a triploid easily enough... that's what I do anyway.  Triploids are uncommon, but some popular and excellent apples are included in the group, such as: Orleans Reinette, Roxbury Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, Suntan, Belle de Boskoop, Arkansas Black, Baldwin, Bramley’s Seedling, , Gravenstein, Holstein, Jonagold, Jupiter, Lady, McIntosh, Reinette du Canada, Rhode Island Greening, Ribston Pippin, Spigold, Stayman Winesap, Suntan and King of Tompkin's County.  I've had some trouble pollinating triploids and getting their seeds to grow, but will continue trying.

NIGEL DEACON:  I first learned how to pollinate apples from Nigel Deacon in the U.K.  Who is also attempting to breed red fleshed apples.  He cuts off the calyx with a special pair of scissors removing the pollen bearing anthers in one snip.  Nigel’s method is very fast, but the apples grown after pollinating are sometimes slightly deformed due to the missing calyx.  I prefer to remove the petals and anthers carefully with fingers and scissors.  My method is slower, but leaves the apple to grow normally.  I’m not sure one way or the other is really better, but I tend to subscribe to the idea that healthy plants make the best seed doners. Genetic coding is one factor in what a plant turns out like, but it is not set in stone and good genes are better expressed in healthy plants from healthy parents, so I err on the side of caution, even though if I had to guess I'd say it's probably not very relevant.

Nigel's special emasculating scissors.  Read about nigels methods on his extensive website.

BALLOON STAGE:  Apple blossoms are pollinated when they are in what is called the balloon stage.  At this stage, the female parts of the flower in the unopened petals are already receptive to pollen, but insects can’t reach them to pollinate.  At the same time, the Anthers, or boy parts, on which the pollen is produced, have not made any pollen yet, so the flower cannot have self pollinated either.  If you open the virginal flower, you can pollinate it manually and remove all the anthers before they bear pollen, thus assuring that it is your chosen parent which fertilizes the flower.  The balloon stage is when the flowers are blown up like a balloon and look like they will open in the next day or so.  Look at a few clusters of flowers.  If some are open and others are not, the best ones to open and pollinate are the ones with the biggest balloons.  You can often pollinate over a couple of weeks, but it is best to pollinate earlier than to wait till later when there are only a few blossoms left.

Balloon stage.

COLLECTING POLLEN:  Pollen must be collected a day or two before pollinating so that the anthers have time to dry and release the pollen.  Open some flowers of the variety that you want to collect pollen from by carefully pinching away the petals.  The pollen is made by the Anthers, which grow around the edge of the flower on little stalks.  The 5 delicate center stalks are the female parts, which you can ignore for now unless you are pollinating the same flower that you gather pollen from.  In fact, it is easier to just clip them off with the anthers when you are gathering pollen than it is to try avoiding them.  The anthers will not have any pollen on them yet, but they will finish making pollen as they dry.  Trim off the anthers into a small container with a sharp pointed pair of small scissors.  Nigel Deacon uses a hair comb to comb them off.  The anthers produce a small amount of pollen only.  You don’t need a lot to do just a few pollinations, but collect anthers from at least 6 to 10 flowers or so.  Allow the anthers to dry in a warm room until the pollen powders out.  Nigel says the pollen can be stored for up to 3 years if kept very dessicated, but I haven’t tried that yet.

collecting pollen.  The anthers are snipped off and allowed to dry in a small jar.

POLLINATING:  The best time to pollinate is on a warm sunny day in mid morning to early afternoon, but just do it whenever you can make time.  To pollinate a flower, pinch off any in the cluster that are open and any that are small leaving just 2 or 3 large balloon stage buds.

Carefully pinch or trim away the petals of the remaining flower buds.

    Carefully pinch away the flower petals.

With sharp pointed scissors, trim away the anthers around the outside edge of the flower, leaving the 5 center female "pistles" untouched.  There are 5 five pistles coming out of the center of the flower and each one communicates to what will be one of the five seed cells in the mature apple.  If any of these is damaged, use a different flower if you can.  You may still get some seeds, but the tree is more likely to reject a partially fertilized apple.

Carefully trim away all the Anthers along the outside edge of the rim, leaving the five "girl parts" in the center.

Once all the anthers are removed, apply some pollen to the female parts.  Use a piece of grass blade, a fine tiny paint brush, a glass rod, or even the tip of a finger.  There is a slightly sticky tip on the pistle called the Stigma.  Pollen will stick to the stigma easily.

Pollen on grass blade ready to do it.

Pollinating the Stigma. Very little pollen is required, and no foreplay.

You can see when the flower is well pollinated, because the stigma will have pollen stuck to it, but your odds will probably increase if you visit the flower again for a second pollinating the next day.  I don't usually do so and seem to do Ok, although it is not uncommon to find only a few seeds in an apple.  Triploids can be troublesome, so it might be well to visit them again.  I've had poor luck with pollinating Suntan, a triploid, and even poorer luck growing out the few seeds I've managed to get from it.

Pollen on stigma

BTW:  I have a TERRIBLE time remembering the names of all these flower parts for some reason and am constantly looking them up again.  It doesn't really matter though, just remember: girl parts in the middle need pollinating and boy parts on the outside need removing.

BAGGING V.S. NOT BAGGING:  To be as sure as possible that the flowers you've chosen to pollinate are not pollinated with undesirable pollen by bees and other insects, you would have to bag the blossoms, or cage the tree.  I choose not to.  My rationale is that since the petals are removed, there is little to draw insects to the flower.  Also, by that time I've already pollinated the blossom and the stigma should be crusted with pollen of my choosing.  At worst a few of the seeds in the apple might receive some random pollen, but it seems unlikely, therefore I choose not to bother bagging because it would just increase the effort spent for a small degree of insurance.

LABELING:  Always label!  tie a marker around the flower cluster so you can identify it later, because all the other apples will look just the same.  Only the genetic information in the seeds is different, while the fruit will look the same as the other fruit on the tree.  I use neon colored plastic strips so they are easy to find later.  Be sure to write what the crosses are on the tag with permanent marker.  When the apples get to be about half grown, I actually write on the apple with a permanent marker so that if it is knocked off  by birds or wind, I can identify that it is an apple which I pollinated, and which cross it is.  The convention for writing crosses is Seed Parent X Pollen Parent.

A Newton Pippin pollinated with Albert Etter's Grenadine®

The next post will be on growing out the seedlings, and someday I'll write about something besides apples again!  promise...

Apple Breeding Part 1: Everyone knows you can't do it, right?

applebreeding header

"...growers, shippers and retailers, who have been giving us food that looks great but often isn’t for over a century, have their own agendas."

When writing about apples and their propagation in both technical and popular literature, it seems almost compulsory for the author to assure us that if we grow an apple from a seed, that it will not be the same as the apple that we took the seed from.  We are usually further assured that the chances of  actually growing a toothsome new apple variety bursting with juice and flavor from those little seeds are extremely dismal.  One might imagine, and sometimes we are even subject to descriptions of, the small, hard, green, sour, bitter and worm eaten result of such an experiment!  In the past, I have been discouraged from making the experiment of growing apples from seed by this common knowledge, especially upon learning that modern apple breeding programs cull thousands of seedlings to find one gem worthy of propagation.

I will concede that under many circumstances growing apples from seed may not be the wisest course of action or the most likely to yield the greatest reward.  Who wants to invest in the time and patience required for the growing of an entire tree only to find the secret unlocked from it’s genes by our roll of the dice is some hard green apples for the kids to throw at each other?   Not I, not ye, not no one!  I only know of one apple that is supposed to grow fairly true to seed and that is the Snow Apple A.K.A. Fameuse.  Otherwise the chances are that a seedling will be at least somewhat unlike it’s parents.  But then, this genetic variability is what really makes the apple able to give us the great variety that it offers.

The genes of the apple hold many secrets.  Combinations and mutations of it’s genes have already yielded a remarkable array of attributes.  Resistance can be found to many diseases.  Northern Spy is nearly immune to the wooly aphid and breeders used it to bring us resistant rootstocks.  Some trees do well in wet soil, some in drier soil.  Some require a long chill in winter while others can bask in tropic heat with virtually no chill and not only grow and fruit, but also produce a delicious apple.  And we all know that apples come in a great variety of shapes, colors, and sizes.  Some will ripen in early summer and others can hang on the tree well into winter and even into the spring.  Some must be eaten post haste before they begin to deteriorate while still others have kept in a common cellar for two years.  What most do not know however, is the flavor potential locked within the gene pool of the apple.

Apples encompass an amazingly diverse range of flavors which most people never even have a chance to explore.  banana, mango, fennel, berry, pineapple, citrus, cherry, rose, vanilla, spices, pear, wine, “apple”, jolly rancher’s candy and more all lurk in those genes.  Probably the greatest variety of flavors contained within any fruit.  While most post Red Delicious era consumers are obsessed only with the crunch of an apple, it is primarily the world of flavors contained in domestic Apples which drive the obsession of amateur grower/collectors like me and which makes the roll of the dice when growing out apples from seed seem not only worth the risk, but downright compelling!

I am no expert in the matter, but I have come to think that we have a better chance of ending up with something good from that seed than we are often told.  Maybe the idea that seedling apples are a one-in-a-gajillion chance is one of those ideas that is repeated by one author after another becoming common knowledge with a life of it’s own... just minus the knowledge part.  If the idea interests you, please read on, because previous to the turn of the century the vast majority of apples the world over were grown from random seeds, and we can do better than that.

In the 19th century, Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) ran around planting apple seeds.  Being a folk hero, he gets all the credit, but lots of people planted seedlings and seedling orchards, or collected seeds from fortuitous trees that bore good fruit.  As a result, American Apple diversity absolutely exploded over a relatively short period.  Most of them, even the named and propagated varieties were just not that great when held up against the best apples out there, old and new, but there is also no doubt that many valuable new varieties came into being from this upswelling of apple culture.

Keep in mind, that Apple breeding is a progressive process in which we build on the foundations laid before, so progress in the field should be continual, and our chances of breeding good apples should increase with each generation.  I am all for preserving diversity, but I’m inclined to preserve diversity worth preserving.  I’m sure it’s uncool to say this, but I don’t think it is worth our while to catalogue and preserve every single heirloom plant out there, Apple or otherwise.  It is at once too daunting and too narrow minded.  Gajillions of varieties have already come and gone before us to get us where we are now.  we need a certain amount of diversity to work with in breeding up new stuff, but we just don’t need it all, and some varieties are simply not worth the effort.  The point is really to move forward in a holistic sort of way.

What I am actually more interested in than mindlessly conserving everything that has gone before is increasing, or at least maintaining diversity.  Sadly, the industrial food supply line is antithetical to the idea of diversity.  If we leave it up to them, we will lose any apple that is not what apple breeders, growers and marketers think we want and is easiest to get to us.  Thus would we lose our lovely russets and our lumpy, bumpy and otherwise unfashionable or uncomely, but delicious, apples.  In order to preserve crop diversity in a way that is relevant, we have to live a culture of food in which those plants are important to our lives.  Apples can still use improving and diversification, and I think that the layperson and fruit hobbyists can have a place in that process.

Here is an interesting piece of history.  At the Geneva agricultural research station in 1898 and 1899 an experiment in the growing of new apples from intentional crosses was made.  The experimenters claimed that up until this time, theirs was an altogether novel idea.  The selecting of seeds from good apples was commonly practiced, but hand pollinating the flowers to cross two specific apples was, if we are to believe the authors, nearly unheard of.  The operators grew what by modern breeding standards was a measly 148 seedlings of intentional cross pollinations using 10 different varieties of apples as the parents.  Of those 148 seedlings, 125 survived and at the publication of  their report “An Experiment in Apple Breeding” in 1911,  just 106 of those seedlings had fruited. After which they proclaimed....

“all will be interested it is certain, in knowing how many of the progeny of these crosses seem to the writers to have sufficient value to name or test further.”

Well yeah! way to work the suspense... drum rollllllllllllllllll-  out of the 106 seedlings, 13 varieties were deemed worthy of propagation and naming, those being Clinton, Cortland, Herkimer, Nassau, Onondaga, Otsego, Oswego, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Tioga, Westchester,  and 14 deemed worthy of further testing, but not worth naming. Wow!, they must have been stoked! At the time apple breeding was in its infancy and few apples had known parents although one parent was often known, claimed or at least suspected.  The report, is detailed and I’m sure much was learned from the experiment regarding the breeding of apples... but times have indeed changed.

Most of those first apples selected at Geneva in their probably overly generous enthusiasm are basically unknown today, with cortland having notably stood the test of time.  It is encouraging though that the apples they came up with in such a small lot were not just plain bad, but about 1/4 of them considered worth naming or at least considering.  From there out, apple breeding became increasingly complex and the goals ever more narrow.

Cortland.  The only apple I know of from the Geneva experiment that has stood the test of time.

The Geneva station remains a full time apple breeding operation using traditional breeding as well as unnatural marriages of bacteria, insects and fungi with apple genes to create GMO apples.  Something I read recently claimed a 1 in 10,000 ratio for seedling selection, meaning that out of 10,000 seedlings only one will be chosen to become a new marketed cultivar. The results of these programs will no doubt be more disease resistant apples that look really “good” on the shelf 6 months after picking. Many of them taste good as well and one can’t really argue with those results.  There is a place for these apples (minus the GMO's in my considerable opinion) and these programs, but the selections are skewed by the intentions of the researchers.

Susan Brown, the head of apple breeding at Geneva breeds to make growers money.  Like most research anymore, these programs are married to industry. While the products are sometimes great, I don’t see the soul of the apple in these efforts.  Some of the most famously flavored apples relished and praised by millions throughout history would never be selected in this paradigm because they don’t look “good” enough or they lack disease resistance.  It pains me to think of all the amazingly flavored apples that must be culled from these programs every year because they don’t meet the very long list of criteria that a modern cultivar has to live up to in order to make the grade in a commercial paradigm. There can be no doubt that out of 10,000 seedlings the one that tastes the most amazing and the one that looks the "best" are not going to be the same apple!  But growers, shippers and retailers, who have been giving us food that looks great but often isn’t for over a century, have their own agendas.  Their criteria are not only flavor, but good looks, storage ability, productivity, and lower labor and chemical inputs.  Oh yeah, and Canadians have been laboring away quietly on a genetically engineered apple which doesn’t brown when it’s cut and is on the fast track to store shelves in the U.S.  Now that's progress!?

So, my objection to modern apple breeding programs is that, while their results may often be very useful to us, their goals are in line with a culture based around supermarket consumers.  What’s wrong with that?  All kinds of things.  First of all, the supermarket consumer paradigm discourages diversity.  Brands are built up as recognizable entities, ideally (but rarely so) with uniform quality.  In a way, that has always been the case, but on a local basis.  These days shippers and marketers cover large areas, global actually, and global diversity is becoming lower as a result.  Another issue is that, cosmetics are a goal that is placed above eating quality.  Sure, breeders are making great strides in growing up apples that look good and taste good, but appearance is and always has been more important.  Thirdly, another important goal is to make money.  Growers have provided us with crappy apples for decades at least, because in the grocery store paradigm they have a dependent and basically captive customer base.  I won’t go on, but let’s just say that, in short, the goals of consumers v.s. producers, packers, retailers, and ultimately the breeders that cater to them, are just not the same, and that we can’t predict the many ways in which that might affect us.  One way though is that the majority of modern cultivars are bred from one of six cultivars deemed desirable by the industry, leading to a lack of diversity and inbreeding as this article points out.

"The author’s analysis of five hundred commercial varieties developed since 1920, mainly Central European and American types, shows that most are descended from Golden Delicious, Cox's Orange Pippin, Jonathan, McIntosh, Red Delicious or James Grieve. This means they have at least one of these apples in their family tree, as a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent.

Six apples as "ancestors" of the 500 examined varieties In 274 species (55% of those investigated) the six "ancestor varieties" are represented twice or more in the family tree, in 140 varieties (28%) at least three times, in 87 varieties (17%) at least 4 times and in 55 varieties (11%) 5 times or more."

H.-J. Bannier, Pomologen-Verein,

I’d like to expand for a moment on the cosmetic issue, because I think it is key.  I love a beautiful apple as much as the next person, but what is a beautiful apple anyway?  In the supermarket consumer paradigm our chances for comparison are limited.  A couple of the apples I’ve seen that I would call most beautiful would be passed over without a thought in a modern breeding program because they are covered with a map of cracked russet (russeting, for those who don’t know is a sort of rough skin layer that covers more or less of some apples).  There is a class of Apples called russets, which are heavily russeted.  While many people might consider them to be less than attractive, I think the vast majority of people in America today have never even tasted one, even though they have been prized in the past as a group for containing varieties of exceptional quality of a specific type.  We perceive our world with expectations and standards that are built up from many sources, judging, accepting and rejecting based on those ideas.  While the uninitiated may view a rough yellow russet apple with suspicion, I think that the russet eating veteran sees these apples very differently indeed.  Besides, heavy russeting is thought by some to contribute to the style of flavor this group of apples possesses.

Egremont Russet Apple

JUST ASK ALBERT! One of my heroes is an apple breeder named Albert Etter.  Albert is the source of some of the apples I’m using in my breeding efforts.  He grew a lot of seedlings but, like the early geneva experiments, he was very encouraged with the results of intentional crosses.  So, without further ado, in the interest of supporting my theory that it is worthwhile for amateurs to try growing a few apples from seeds, here is Albert’s experience as reported in the Pacific Rural Press 101 years ago, roughly contemporary with the Geneva breeding experiments.

”Mr. Etter's Work with Apples. To the Editor: Making good my promise, I am sending you another bunch of my new varieties of apples grown from selected seed. l am not saying much about these varieties yet, because they are too new and untried. Still, it might be as well for those interested to prepare for many new varieties of new and striking characters. I see that the publication of my personal note to you, in your issue of October 7, has aroused an interest in this branch of my plant-breeding work. This work has been under way for many years in a preliminary way, and now all is ready to try out thousands of seedlings. I will not say just how many, because I do not know. But, if facts uncovered as the work progresses justify it, there is ample room and facilities to try out several hundred thousand varieties in the next twenty years. Results obtained so far more than justify my plans for the future, which are to make haste slowly, and sell guaranteed stock under a registered or copyright label."..... “When I had figured out the lines of desirable variation in the dahlia species', as a boy of eighteen, I dreamed of taking up the apple trail. The best horticulturist I knew in that day, an old gray-bearded man, After listening to my dream frankly told me to forget it. The idea of trying to do that which trained men, with all the recorded knowledge of the world on the subject, could not do, or they would have done it long ago!  But I could not forget it.  As I remember, I kept thinking of it until I reached the conclusion that the apple varieties we have at this late day are a harum-scarum lot, to make the most of it, to represent possibly 4000 years of human endeavor. What Is more and worse, as apple breeders, we are making little progress.”  [Mr. Etter's seedlings which we have examined with much interest and have kept on exhibition in our office since their arrival, certainly justify much more than he claims to have attained in his sketch of his preparatory work. They have very striking and novel characters, external and internal. In our judgment he has already attained things which generations of apple-growing have not developed. We are glad to put on record this early record of his work which will some day be looked upon as of great historic interest. — IMs.]

Apple Breeding. —A few seedling apples have already been fruited and there are also 1000 seedling grafts approaching fruiting age on the place and 1000 ungrafted seedlings, which it will take longer to try out. In this connection, Mr. Etter states in a recent letter: "My new apples are looking better every day. One is a Wagener that looks a great deal better than the Wagener and is better flavored, too. The other is a seedling of the Rome Beauty, and is a beauty beside its parent now, and as near as I can judge at this date is going to be considerably better flavored, too. "This apple breeding proposition now looks as though I am on the right idea, and, if such is the case, I will be able to do what I prophesied I was going to do over 20 years ago—produce more and better varieties of apples than the world possesses today. That is a big task, but if I am right, it will be comparatively easy. If I were not right, how could I get seedlings of the Wagener that outclass its parent the first time?" Such success with only a few seedlings indicates that better success will follow work on a more extensive scale, especially as the experience obtained will furnish a guide to future operations. Just here a few words on the origin of apple varieties is not unfitting. Without doubt practically all of our old standard commercial varieties, like the Bellefleur, Spitzenberg and Newtown Pippin, are the result of chance, not design. Seedlings came up by chance, fruited and their merit was recognized. Crossing of varieties for seedlings of merit was hardly done, if at all, and if done was not based on scientific principles. The seedlings of great merit have been carefully preserved and propagated, but the unknown possibilities of new varieties have not been explored. Then also, the joy of discovery of new varieties evidently warped the judgment of many discoverers, and an astounding proportion of the 500 named varieties grown are of as little merit as apples well could be. In fact the average of the seedlings grown purposely on the Ettersburg ranch is fully equal to the average of the 500, and the best of the seedlings is in the class with the best of the 500.  In other words, the new apple breeding is being conducted along careful and systematic lines as compared with the raising of seedlings by chance and then finding which of the seedlings were good by chance also. Of the two methods, theory and results, both indicate that the systematic and scientific one is sure to produce in a short time varieties surpassing those obtained in a haphazard way through many generations.”

Note here several things about Etter’s experiments and comments.

One is that he thought most named varieties were not that great.  My experiments here in growing out and fruiting many varieties confirm this idea.  Apples could stand to be improved.

Secondly, the crossing of apples intentionally using quality parents is much more likely to yield good results.  The explosion of variety in American apples was due to the growing and finding of random seedlings, and that worked tolerably well.  We have a world population of 7 billion now.  If .00001 percent of those grew a dozen apple seeds from selected parents, that would be 840,000 seedlings to pick some great apple varieties from! Exactly what the scientific lines Etter refers to I don't know, but I'm inclined to think that most of his success was due to his strong vision, a willingness to take chances, and taking the effort to collect and compare over 500 varieties before choosing the parents he would work with.

Thirdly, some old learned guy told him not to bother, but he did it anyway!

Albert came up with some excellent apples that are finally attracting the interest of small scale growers and collectors.  The Wickson apple in particular is going viral in the last few years, and deservedly so.

grenadine apple on tree

Having an interest in apple breeding on a small home scale, I have always marveled at the numbers you hear regarding seedling to cultivar ratio like the 1 in 10,000 mentioned above. I'm undaunted though, because when you read older stuff like the Geneva report and Albert Etter’s reports, it is clear that they were not dealing in the thousands to one ratio to produce a fruit very suitable for eating, and they were not uncommonly an improvement on what was already available. That of course was a different time and goals were different, but those goals were more in line with those of homesteaders and foodies of today than most modern breeding efforts.  We already know that increasing commercialization of the industry along with the requisite shift to home economies based on consumerism killed apple diversity which apple-collectors and enthusiasts around the world are now scrambling to save from extinction.  In reading research material on apples from the 19th century, the trend toward commercialization to supply a society moving further and further from the farm is very apparent.  Discussions among growers increasingly placed productivity, looks and keeping abilities above eating quality.  The modern programs can help with that problem and they have by providing apples which will keep well and look good while flavors are steadily improving.  However, taken as a whole, from the breeder to the farmer to the table the industrial food system is a fundamentally flawed one which never has, and never will have, the best interest of consumers and communities in the forefront.  That's not so bad, if we don't neglect our responsibility to maintain diversity, and one way we can do that is to breed new apples building on the work of modern breeders, as well as by using heirloom varieties with special qualities.

And in the meantime, we would do well not to let our apple diversity pass into oblivion.  Stephen Hayes, who is AWESOME, makes the argument that we should not spend our time trying to grow new apples from seed when there are so many heirlooms to be saved from extinction.  But I respectfully disagree.  I think all homesteader types who grow fruit trees should be growing heirlooms, but there is room for experimentation for the geekier among us, and I think we can have our apples and breed them too!  a few apples grown from seed can be grafted onto existing apple trees to bear with very little time investment or, for the more committed, a small growing plot can be kept to grow the new apples out on dwarfing rootstock.

King David.  I great example of good genes waiting to be built upon.

I guess to sum it up, apples could still use improvement, but if we leave apples to the hands of the big outfits with lots of resources they will continue to produce results that cater to the source of those resources.  It is up to no one, except everyone, to preserve apple diversity and move the creation of new and exciting apples forward.  Small scale breeding efforts such as anyone with a tree or two can do in their back yards, are where that battle can be fought.  However, we should not let the apple industry set the standard, because their goals are different.  I guess what I'm saying is that if we don't pursue unmarketable lines of apple improvement, apples will only develop along certain restricted lines.

I would encourage you not to think just in terms of your accomplishments, or lack of in a backyard breeding endeavor, but rather view your efforts as a part of a larger effort.  Any of us may or may not breed apples that are really amazing and worthy of widespread fame and replication.  However, taken together as a whole, we most certainly will!

Two springs ago, I spent maybe two or three hours hand pollinating flowers and produced a couple hundred seeds.  Of those, over 100 sprouted in the greenhouse and were grown out in a small nursery bed.  Last spring I pollinated a few more, and have further plans this spring.  This month, the one year old seedlings were grafted onto dwarfing root stocks and planted in a nursery row.  Next year they go into a trial plot planted close together, and in 4 or more years I may have some results to report.  The total time devoted to this project has not been very great.  In the next installment, I’ll show you how easy it is to pollinate a few apples and grow the seeds out.  I have hopes that I can help nudge over the cliff others equally seduced by the chance to taste brand new apples that have never existed before.  Pollinating a few flowers is the first step.  Yes.... jump.... just do it.

Further reading on Albert Etter and his apples:

Albert Etter's red fleshed apples article by Ram Fishman foremost expert on Etter and his apples.

Informative Greenmantle Nursery page on Albert Etter's apples