Posts tagged #seedling apples

Tasting New Red Fleshed Seedling Apples, From Apple Breeding Trials

I have over 50 seedling apples fruiting this year, most for the first time. The best way for me to do content on tasting these is to do it how I normally do it, which is go out there and taste my way through the rows.

There are some interesting and potentially promising ones and certainly some stuff to use in making a next generation of crosses. I’ve also observed though that I have probably been right all along that there is a group of undesirable traits for a dessert apple, which follow the red fleshed trait around. I am assuming that some of these traits can be teased out and eliminated while retaining a deep red flesh. The classic red fleshed apple is acidic, soft, and low-ish in sugar. I’m pretty sure there is a trend where the redder the flesh, the more those are likely to be present.

The only thing to do is take these new fruits and make second generation crosses. some will be with other red fleshed apples or crosses and some possibly with other dessert apples. I’ll be thinking about which crosses to make once I taste these all and get an idea of what they are like.

As for the average apple in the row, they are generally edible, if not always good. Spitters are uncommon, but there are a few. Many are as good or better than the average apple I have growing here, about 80% of which I will probably end up culling out for low quality. A lot of them have just a hint of pink in the flesh and others have none, even though the great majority have one red fleshed parent. I’m hoping that when crossing apples that both have red flesh, I can increase the percentage of seedlings that show the trait. Many are very sweet, but the more red flesh, the less sweet they tend to be I think.

Scab is very bad on some and common in general, but I have some nice apples that look scab resistant if not practically immune. Even apples with two very scab prone parents can turn out scab free I learned. That is encouraging. I have not made crosses with two scab free parents yet, but I’m suspecting that they won’t always be scab free. But I’ve really been trying to use more scab resistant genes, because it is a problem for me and others, and it must help to add it to the mix more. Also, many red fleshed apples, including I believe all the Albert Etter red fleshed apples I have grown, seem very scab prone on a scale of 1 to 5 I’d a say

Pink Parftait 4 to 5

Rubaiyat 5

Grenadine 3 to 4

I do have some not very scabby or scab immune seedlings that are quite red inside, so I don’t think scab susceptibility travels with the rest of that package of undesirable traits I mentioned earlier. If I’m even right about that trend but I think I probably am.

As the season progresses. I’ve been very busy with winter preparations and homestead life in general. I’ve also had to take some time to do other stuff for money, so that takes time away from making content and working on real stuff that matters.

Test Tasting 12 New Apple Seedlings

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.

Spoiler Alert, BITE ME Delivers the Goods! Early Oct 2018 Apple Variety Taste Testing, With New Seedling Apples

In my latest apple tasting, Sunrise and my own seedling BITE ME! rose to the top of the heap out of 18 tested. I also taste tested 3 new seedlings, out of which one is decidedly mediocre, one pretty good and one incredibly sweet, even though it is still ripening. Some others were bad others I am ambivalent about.

Rubinette: Intense anise flavor this year with high flavor, sugar and good acid balance. I am still not a big fan of this one for whatever reasons, but it’s very popular. If I approached apple tasting analytically for the most part, I might like it more, but I don’t, and I don’t.

Norcross Red Flesh: Got this from apple collector Nick Botners some years back. It is not very good. Light, juicy, tender, barely any red flesh, low sugar, low flavor.

Sunrise: This was one of the stars of the show in this tasting. Everything comes together really well in this apple. Very juicy, very crisp, good sugar levels, good acid/sugar balance, unoffensive skin and mild, but tasty flavors. More of a modern crisp type of apple than anything else in this tasting. It’s downfall may be a lack of distinctive flavor, but I want to eat them and that’s the best acid test.

Reinette Thounin: I got this from the USDA I believe. It is a true spitter. Totally inedible, bitter, tannic, low sugar. Honestly doesn’t even seem suited to cider, maybe just for the tannins.

Zabergau Reinette: Pretty good, always kind of tart, dry flesh, interesting but not sensational flavor. Could take it or leave it. Alleged to improve in storage.

St. Edmund Pippin: This one was no good when tasted a couple of weeks ago off of another branch on another tree. This time, some small stunted apples off of another tree were quite good, juicy and crunchy enough, with nice flavor and no discernible pear taste like the last ones had.

Tydeman’s Red: Or so it’s labelled, unconfirmed. Large lopsided apple. Open texture, juicy, crisp, tasty enough, more like a cooker and seems like it’s probably great for sauce.

Sweet 16: This year has none of the beloved cherry and almond flavors, but it has anise flavor that is seriously all up in your face. Not my favorite flavor. This apple can really vary drastically from year to year.

Mannington Pearmain: This apple has always cracked badly, but this year it didn’t too much. It’s not very good though and I still won’t keep it. It’s not bad, just not anything I’d recommend for any use.

Saltcote Pippin: the presentation is a little thin, lowish sugar and fairly acid. Good flavor though. probably would be a good sauce apple.

Coe’s Golden Drop: Intense candy flavor, said by some to be “pear drop”. Definitely does have a pear taste, but with more going on too, making it a very singular apple. It is small, dry, hard fleshed, tannic, thick rough skin, and still very intriguing. I think better specimens are coming down the pipe as it ripens more.

Peace Garden: small, stripped red apple. Outstandingly boring in every way.

Seedling, Grenadine x ? (proably Goldrush) 11/4: Kind of boring, a bit tannic, nothing really very wrong with it, just a generic yellow apple. Probably will not make the grade

Seedling, Grenadine x Goldrush, 11/17: A very healthy looking seedling that stood out for scab free, healthy green foliage early in the season. Apples are small for the most part, fairly round, often with flesh protruding out of the stem well, like an outy belly button. Small speckles, yellow skin. Flesh is fine grained and a little chewy. Flavor unremarkable yellow apple flavor. Sugar seems very high! As it is chewed, the fine chewy flesh gradually releases a rising flood of sugar. It also still had a bit of starchiness to it, so the sugar will probably continue to rise even further. Thanks to Mike of Walla Walla’s contributions to my apple breeding project fund, I just purchased a brix refractometer. That measures dissolved solids, which in fruit juice is more or less indicative of the sugar content. So, I’ll get to test this apple next week.

Seedling, BITE ME!: This was the first apple I ever fruited. Read more about BITE ME! here. In this tasting it is probably tied with Sunrise for me, though Bite me has the more interesting flavor for sure, Sunrise is a very pleasant eating experience and has outstanding texture. I’m thinking a Wickson Sunrise cross could be good. Mild flavors as always, with the special crab flavor component inherited from it’s mother Wickson. Any specific analysis and description aside, I want to stuff them in my face and chew them up to get that awesome flavor out. Sugary and low acid, thin skin. Flesh texture can tend toward what is called melting in fruit tasting terminology, or kind of chewy and tender. At least this one was. The downside to BITE ME! is probably going to be apple scab, which is had very bad last year.

Seedling, Wickson, OP, 2010: Red skin, very pretty, with crazing, like the surface of an old cracked oil painting. It has watercore this year, which makes it hard to test. The bits I found without watercore were not super remarkable, though perfectly good. As a small apple, it kind of needs to perform very well as a dessert apple to justify it’s existence, unless it’s some kind of amazing cider apple. Not as promising as I thought earlier in the season. I’ll give it a couple more years and hopefully it will outgrow the watercore.

I hope to have scions of some of my best apples available in the web-store this winter.

Apple Breeding, Promising Lines and Possibilities, What I'm Crossing and Pursuing

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.

Anthers, dried to release their cargo of pollen, ready to do the deed.

Anthers, dried to release their cargo of pollen, ready to do the deed.

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.

Busy morning at the apple sperm bank

Busy morning at the apple sperm bank

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.

Encouragingly, BITE ME!, has some of it's seed parent Wickson's flavor, though it is not strong.

Encouragingly, BITE ME!, has some of it's seed parent Wickson's flavor, though it is not strong.


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.

The diminutive and delicious chestnut crab is favored by many who are fortunate enough to taste it.  The phenomenon is very similar to the favoring of Wickson, both of which are commonly cited as favorite apples.  A perfect Chestnut crab is remarkably rich and delicious.  I've crossed it with Wickson, Maypole Crab, and others.  I'm excited now to cross it with high quality russet types, especially Golden Russet, but my chestnut tree died, so I have to wait for a new branch to start flowering next year.

The diminutive and delicious chestnut crab is favored by many who are fortunate enough to taste it.  The phenomenon is very similar to the favoring of Wickson, both of which are commonly cited as favorite apples.  A perfect Chestnut crab is remarkably rich and delicious.  I've crossed it with Wickson, Maypole Crab, and others.  I'm excited now to cross it with high quality russet types, especially Golden Russet, but my chestnut tree died, so I have to wait for a new branch to start flowering next year.

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.

Muscat De Venus, another probable Etter variety, small with high sugar and the unique taste that comes from crab genetics.  it is not great out of hand eating to me, lacking balancing acidity, but I consider it a very promising breeding parent, thus the orange tags on these hand pollinated apples.

Muscat De Venus, another probable Etter variety, small with high sugar and the unique taste that comes from crab genetics.  it is not great out of hand eating to me, lacking balancing acidity, but I consider it a very promising breeding parent, thus the orange tags on these hand pollinated apples.

More Chestnut crab.

More Chestnut crab.

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?

The apple I acquired from my friend Becca and refer to as Becca's Crab.  About the size of a cherry, crisp, juicy and tasty, if a bit tannic.

The apple I acquired from my friend Becca and refer to as Becca's Crab.  About the size of a cherry, crisp, juicy and tasty, if a bit tannic.

The beautiful cherry-like clusters of Becca's Crab inspired the concept of a "cherry apple".  I've got apples with all the characteristics I'd want in my cherry apple, but getting them all together in one variety could take many crosses and crosses of crosses and crosses of crosses of crosses, if it's possible at all.

The beautiful cherry-like clusters of Becca's Crab inspired the concept of a "cherry apple".  I've got apples with all the characteristics I'd want in my cherry apple, but getting them all together in one variety could take many crosses and crosses of crosses and crosses of crosses of crosses, if it's possible at all.


BLOOD APPLES

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.

Grenadine left, with a grenadine seedling, right, that fruited last year and which very much resembles it's parent.  While it will not be the amazing dessert apple I'm hoping to get eventually, it won't surprise me if it's an improvement on the problematic grenadine.  More importantly, the excellent grenadine flavor is present in force and that is the reason I used Grenadine as a parent in the first place.

Grenadine left, with a grenadine seedling, right, that fruited last year and which very much resembles it's parent.  While it will not be the amazing dessert apple I'm hoping to get eventually, it won't surprise me if it's an improvement on the problematic grenadine.  More importantly, the excellent grenadine flavor is present in force and that is the reason I used Grenadine as a parent in the first place.

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.

The velvety fleshed Rubaiyat.  Great potential, but still represents a project that was far from finished by Albert Etter.

The velvety fleshed Rubaiyat.  Great potential, but still represents a project that was far from finished by Albert Etter.

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.

William's Pride x Pink Parfait ?  Could these two excellent eaters yield a redder apple that retains the fine qualities of it's parents?  Or will reinforcing the red genes reinforce less desirable traits lurking in their genes at the same time?  I'm going to find out.

William's Pride x Pink Parfait ?  Could these two excellent eaters yield a redder apple that retains the fine qualities of it's parents?  Or will reinforcing the red genes reinforce less desirable traits lurking in their genes at the same time?  I'm going to find out.


RUSSETS

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.

Not particularly attractive russets.  This trait has been long selected against in breeding.  Unfortunately it is often accompanied by a unique and excellent type of quality and flavor that probably cannot be gotten in a non russet apple.

Not particularly attractive russets.  This trait has been long selected against in breeding.  Unfortunately it is often accompanied by a unique and excellent type of quality and flavor that probably cannot be gotten in a non russet apple.

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.

A more attractive russet, probably Egremont's Russet.  It's easy to learn to appreciate the rustic, antiqued beauty of some russets once you taste them.  One bite of an excellent russet will put a big dent in the facade built up thru decades of glossy, polished apple marketing.

A more attractive russet, probably Egremont's Russet.  It's easy to learn to appreciate the rustic, antiqued beauty of some russets once you taste them.  One bite of an excellent russet will put a big dent in the facade built up thru decades of glossy, polished apple marketing.

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

Pink Parfait hanging on the tree around christmas.  This apple was crisp, juicy and delicious!

Pink Parfait hanging on the tree around christmas.  This apple was crisp, juicy and delicious!

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).

Cripp's Pink (aka pink lady) at New Years with ice frozen in the stem-well.  Not only still edible, but better than what you're used to, though this is about the end of it's season.

Cripp's Pink (aka pink lady) at New Years with ice frozen in the stem-well.  Not only still edible, but better than what you're used to, though this is about the end of it's season.

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.

Apples hanging on Frankentree at christmas.  A video still pulled from the videos below.

Apples hanging on Frankentree at christmas.  A video still pulled from the videos below.

 

#APPLERENAISANCE !

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

Official BITE ME! Apple Release, and Two Week Hiatus

BITE ME!, my new public domain (and open source for apple breeders ha ha) is officially out.  I have scions in the webstore and a page dedicated to the apple here: www.skillcult.com/biteme  Scions are available in the webstore till they run out.  I may re-sort the short and thin ones in my fridge and relist after that to get as many out there as possible.  I should also hopefully have them available for some years to come.

I'm also taking a two week break from making youtube content and probably any other content, in order to get life on the homestead back on track a little bit.  Some stuff needs doing around the place.  Here is a quick review of the Snow and Neally boy's axe.  The short version is that the head looks pretty nice, but the handle was so, so and the hafting was pretty bad.  The Council Tool Boy's axe seems like a much better at 31.00 shipped, currently less than half the price of the S&N.  The council has a less pollished head, but I think has a much better designed handle and the wood on my counicl is much superior v.s. this S&N.  Too bad I was hoping it would be better.

Tasting 17 Apples in November and Looking at New Seedling Apples

I went out and picked what apples were available to taste this past week.  There were a few good'ns in there.  More exciting is a couple of my seedlings that are looking rather nice.  You can tell some things about an apple by just feeling it and looking at it.  A couple just look like they are going to be hard dry fleshed and bitter.  The one I taste in this video obviously looks more like something you'd expect to be eating.  The most exciting though is a very red and beautiful apple which colored up amazingly even in nearly complete shade covered with stocking material to protect it from birds.  Typically fruit colors up better with light.  It is a cross between Grenadine and Lady Williams.  Both are late apples and this may be a very late apple, though I'm inclined to think it is approaching ripeness fairly soon.  

You can't judge an apple by it's cover.  We certainly learned that from the red delicious era when strains of it were selected for better and better looking apples with worse and worse flavor and texture.  But I'm hopeful for something tasty out of this with red flesh.  The odds are against it of course.  Most of my apple seedlings will be between mediocre, such as the one I taste in this video, and just plain bad.  But even with the primitive, unrefined apples carrying undesirable characteristics that I'm using in many of my crosses, more will be edible than not and I'm expecting at least a smattering of apples worthy of further propagation by someone.  This apple bears so much resemblance to Grenadine, that I'm hoping it has inherited it's beautiful and flavorful red flesh.  Check it out.

There is more than a passing resemblance between this seedling and it's seed parent grenadine.

There is more than a passing resemblance between this seedling and it's seed parent grenadine.

The thing is that the red skin of grenadine is actually from the color of the flesh showing through the translucent skin.  My hope beyond hope is that this is the case with the seedling.  It seems unlikely though.  We'll find out soon enough.

In the video I taste wickson, amberoso, crabby lady, king wickson, muscat de venus, something that may be katherine, something that may be ashmead's kernel, bedford pippin,high cross pippin, claygate pearmain, one of my seedlings, pink parfait, gold rush and others.

BITE ME! revisited, Checking in With My First Seedling Apple and a Few Others

I only had a few specimens of my seedling apple this year.  The first couple were unripe, but the last one seemed better than any I had last year.  That is not surprising since fruits either grafted or from seed can take a few years to start bearing exemplary fruit.  BITE ME! is from an open pollinated Wickson seed, which means that I don't know whos spread powdery pollen was spread over Wickson's sticky stigma.  This year BITE ME! seems to have more of the Wickson flavor that motivated me to use wickson as a parent in breeding.  That flavor and the high sugar content (up to 25%) have encouraged me to make a lot of intentional Wickson crosses with other apples.  It's encouraging that the flavor came through in the this case, although the sugar content of BITE ME! seems average.  I will definitely be sending out scions of bite me to whomever wants to try it.  It has potential and I'd like to see what others think of it in the long run and how it does in other regions.  I will probably start selling scions in the webstore here about FEB 1st.  That is the plan at this point.

Also in this video we taste a few other apples, one that is probably Northern Spy, Zabergau Reinette, Vanilla Pippin and Suntan.

Sweet Subversion, The First Fruit From My Cross Pollinated Apple Seedlings Finally Arrives!

Somewhere back over five years ago I began to cross pollinate apples with the goal to breed new varieties.  This year 12 seedlings out of about 120 bloomed, some of those grew apples, and I now begin tasting the fruits of my labors.  In the video below, I taste what appears to be the earliest ripening of those fruiting this year and am looking forward to tasting a few more as the season progresses, though the set is sparse, the growing conditions harsh, and many of the fruits look pretty stunted and tortured.

This particular apple goes now by it’s tag name GN x GRT 11/12, which means, A Grenadine blossom was pollinated with Golden Russet pollen in 2011.  12 is a random identifier, but it is the important number that distinguishes this apple from the other seventeen GN x GRT crosses I made in 2011.  Grenadine is a red fleshed apple with fruit punch and berry type flavors and the Golden ‘Russet is a super sweet, complexly flavored gem of an old American apple. If one apple was the top inspiration to collect and work with apples in the first place it was Golden Russet.

The Venerable Golden Russet possesses remarkable depth of character and should be grown more.

The new, wild, untammed and Gaudy Grenadine.  The red color of the skin is actually the red flesh showing through it's yellow translucence.

This offspring of those very different, but both very interesting, parents is yellow, smooth, takes a high polish and has a strong aroma, even though it was picked under ripe.  The texture is crisp now, but a damaged one that I ate a couple of weeks ago had a rubbery texture, which if I recall correctly is a trait of the Golden Russet.  The rubbery texture that some russets acquire as they age and shrivel is far preferable to the mealy texture of most over ripening apples.  This new apple is very sweet, and I’m sure the sugar would rise further if it were allowed to ripen more.  Golden Russet has very high sugar levels, allegedly up to 20% and even more, while grenadine is lacking in the sugar department.  GN x GRT 11/12 has an angularity to it, like grenadine, but not nearly as pronounced as Grenadines “roman nose” ridge.  Though perfectly edible, it is fairly astringent like Grenadine, although that may mellow if it ripens more or is grown under better conditions.  These trees are not getting enough food and water, which I hope to fix this next season.

Like my first open pollinated seedling, Bite Me, there is nothing in particularly that is remarkable about this apple, even though it may end up being quite good.  But it is quite edible and certainly not a spitter.  As many of you already have gathered, I’m somewhat miffed about the urban (rural?) myth that you can’t grow apples from seed or you’ll get nearly 100% spitters.  I’ve eaten two of my seedling apples now and they were both good.  A third which I tested while very under ripe was astringent, so we’ll see how that one progresses.  This myth is a misunderstanding blown out of proportion by overstatement and repetition in Michael Pollan’s book Botany of Desire, which was also adapted into a widely viewed PBS special.  Many millions of people must have consumed that information.  Since many people don't distinguish well between information and knowledge, we have the current state of things where any discussion of growing apples from seed is likely to be peppered with un-factoids stated as unassailable truths presented by a guy who probably never grew an apple, let alone from seed.  If the truth were addressed, much of the apple chapter in that book would probably have to be consigned to the scrap heap and re-written since it seems largely woven around that misunderstanding.  If you want to know more about that stuff, watch my apple breeding introduction video below.

For people who view and consume information primarily as entertainment the erroneous content of Pollan's book may be a minor issue, but for me it’s obviously more personal.  I would like to see a frenzy of apple breeding and selection take place over the coming decades.  A chaos of people planting seeds all over the place and doing back yard breeding and selection of apples and all other fruits and edible things.  This is one of the ways we can reclaim responsibility for our lives and sustenance instead of standing by watching ever more gigantic corporations execute almost unbelievably Machiavellian long game plots to control the worlds food supplies while our seed and scion heritage go extinct in front of us.  When I say things like that, many will think of saving existing heirloom varieties, but the breeding and selection of new varieties is also part of that heritage.  After all, that is how varieties were developed in the first place.  When seed is saved, even without intending too, we are selecting and adapting varieties.  But amateur breeding and intentional improvement go back a good way as well and are easier than ever now with wider access to both germplasm and information. 

With apples in particular, I think that we need to continue improvement because they could still be much more improved, they are remarkably useful and they have huge potential for diversification and general improvement in various areas.  Major improvements are being made, but for the most part it is being left to professional breeders who are constrained by market forces into a narrow band of acceptable results.  Things like shipping, storage, size, particular looks and shapes, and disease resistance are also likely to be prioritized before flavor or niche uses.  By way of example, one of the greatest of our apple heritages is the russet group.  Many russets are apples of outstanding beauty, utility and flavor.  But the breeding and improvement of these rough skinned apples (the rough skin of which may actually contribute to their unique eating characteristics) will probably never be pursued by commercial breeders unless things change a whole lot, which lets hope they do, but it won't be without our involvement on some level.  I think Russets are one of the areas that amateur breeders should pursue along with small high sugar apples containing crab genes which have unique flavor characteristics.  I’m using russet genes and have my sights set on a red fleshed russet, which has already been achieved by another amateur breeder using my same favorite russet parent, Golden Russet.  I’d tell you who it is, but I don’t know that he wants his door beaten down by people asking for red fleshed Russet scions!

 I actually believe that the market can be trained or just adapt to love both small intensely sweet and uniquely flavored tiny apples and russets, but markets tend to be conservative.  If russets make it into large commercial track breeding programs, it will be because we the people take an interest in them to the point that they eventually find favor and end up in grocery stores.  For a large breeding program to invest resources into the gamble of breeding up russet apples for many years, then convincing growers to plant them, and finally seeing if the market will buy them, really makes no sense and it is hard to imagine that happening.  You see what I'm saying.  They either think they know what we want or are just conservative in their goals for perfectly rational, though not necessarily correct reasons.  Narrow goals equal narrow results.  Not necessarily bad results, but there is a world of possibility outside of what commercial breeding programs are likely to pursue.

Let me tell you something cool though.  I think that we can probably outbreed the professionals, because their criteria are so limiting that they release apples at a slow pace of one in many thousands of seedlings grown.  The market also only has so much room.  Apples are like brands now that people recognize.  New apples have to be tested, planted marketed and then maybe it will be the next Honeycrisp or Pink Lady and maybe it won’t.  It probably won’t.  But there isn’t the room in that type of market for 25 new apples a year.  We on the other hand, citizen breeder/scienceishists gone mad, can plant seeds of apples we just like, make intentional cross pollinations with whatever we please, trade and proliferate the resulting fruits all over the place and just exist outside of the apple industry.  We can even take advantage of the good work they are doing and back cross some refined, shiny, disease resistant, high quality apple genes from the big guys with whatever rough and ready, five o'clock shadow sporting lad of a russet we damn well feel like!  I mean does she really want to keep doing it with the same pretty boy-band apples over and over anyway when the Sean Penns and Lemmy Kilmisters of the world surely perform far better?

I have been pleasantly surprised at the interest shown in this project.  I hear from people who sound as if they have never grown much of anything that suddenly want to make some pollinations and breed a few apples in their suburban lot.  That would be so cool!  Like I’ve said before, I don’t see this as my effort alone here in my isolated world breeding for success or fame or my own satisfaction.  To me this, and efforts like it by people scattered all over the place, is a group effort.  I don’t breed apples for me to eat as much as I breed them for you to eat, and even more to inspire a rebellion as just described to take responsibility for ourselves instead of whining along as Monsanto and their ilk spread their diversity killing shadow across the globe gobbling up our potential to be free lumen by lumen.  Think about it that way for a second.  What is our potential for true human freedom without personal control of suitable and diverse germplasm for growing our own food?

Sure if I hit the jackpot and get something that happens to meet enough criteria to market I could see patenting and selling a variety, maybe to the home market, but I don’t think that will happen and it's not something I think about.  I may sell scions for a while of something good that I come up with, but I’ll expect to be put out of business by scion trading and will welcome it.  If I get something really good, I would like to see it propagated as widely as possible.  On a motivation scale of one to ten money hovers around zero.  I’m breeding for the public domain and to assess what is likely required to be successful in the endeavor.

I've invested heavily in this project at a personal cost, but it has been out of great interest an passion.  Now we'll start to see what comes of it in the short term (meaning the next 10 to 20 years).  I’m using a lot of primitive genes which will probably lower my success rate quite a bit and I may be pretty picky about what I name and release, except for my first apple Bite Me, which I released immediately for other reasons.  Then again, I may not.  I used to be more of the conservative ilk that wanted to know what every variety was “properly” called and that only the best improvements on existing apples should be released.  Now I’m more for the chaos club.  Let it all hang out, propagate, pollinate, trade and breed promiscuously.  That approach creates life and engagement.  If someone somewhere proudly names and sends out scions of something not so great, big deal.  More life is more better and engagement, proliferation, diversity and passion are what is needed to subvert the tightening grasp on our food supply and our freedom to be responsible for ourselves.

Go forth and propagate!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grape Tasting Notes 2015, and a sneak peek at my New Apple!

Grapes are a miracle.  They often produce enormous quantities of fruit packed with precious sugar and flavor with very little input.  I recently attended a grape tasting at local fruit enthusiast Richard Jeske’s house.  He and his wife host this tasting almost every year, where he collects other peoples opinions on his collection of grape varieties.  I can relate.  I’m always curious about what people think of the apples I grow.  I hold impromptu tastings and hand them out when I go places.  Richard has other fruit trees, vines and bushes, but his main interest and efforts have been among grapes.  He generously prints up a list with descriptions and brings cuttings to the Boonville scion exchange each winter to give away.  He is the reason I have any good grapes here.  He's been doing with grapes for a long time, what I've been doing with apples here for a shorter time.  He also sells rooted vines.

There were 30 grape varieties on the main tables.  I went through systematically and wrote down my favorites.  I plan to put in more grapes here, and have been meaning to go back to this tasting and then get cuttings for everything I like so I can further test them.  I have 4 varieties here now all of which are pretty good to excellent. and two of which I’ve already reviewed in youtube videos, linked below.  Here are my favorites from this tasting.

 

Blue/Purple Grapes

 

Enormous fantasy grape and raisin.  This guy had a big hand!

Fantasy:  This grape is huge and seedless.  It has a crunchy texture, which I like.  The flavors are mild, but very pleasant.  It makes gigantic grapes, which is cool, but they take a long time to dry.

Saturn:  This is similar to Fantasy right down to the shape, except that it is smaller.  It probably had just a little bit more flavor.  I will probably grow both of them.

Mars:  This is a big, seeded grape.  It is flavorful, but I’m not sure I can describe it. There were other similar large round blue grapes, but this was just the one I liked the best, though not by a large margin.  I think the juice would be excellent.

New York Muscat:  A very flavorful muscat cross.  It has good muscat flavor, but without the harsh dusty flavored, or coarse unrefined animal like musk that some of them have.  One of them, St. Vallier, tasted like laundry soap, but the woman next to me though that was the best grape ever.  Different strokes.  I’m not a huge muscat fan and most of them didn’t appeal to me.  I’m sure this one would make amazing juice.

Summer Royal:  Large round and crunchy.  I don’t remember much else, just that I liked it.  Like many of the large crunchy seedless grapes, it's not overflowing with sensational flavor.

Glenora:  This is a small crunchy blueberry shaped grape.  I really enjoy it, though it is finicky to eat because many of the fruits are very small.  It also tends to fall off with the stem attached, which makes it harder to process.  I will keep a vine though for sure.  I wouldn’t plant more than one though.  Video review here.

 

Green Grapes

 

Interlaken:  I already have this one.  It is similar to Himrod, which I also have, but I like the Interlaken better.  It is a soft textured seedless green grape.  My friend, local fruit expert and keeper of Feijoas Mark Albert also grows this in the hotter valley and swears it is the best thing going for reliability but also being of high quality.  It is a very good grape.  It’s not exciting, but my vine is also vigorous and productive and good eating.

Golden Muscat:  This is another muscat on the mild side.  Extremely sweet, soft, seeded.  Again, no doubt would make an amazing juice.  This is a crowd favorite.

Delight:  Delightful crunchy seedless grape.  Richard says it makes a small compact vine.

 

Red Grapes

 

Reliance:  This is my favorite of the four grapes that I already grow here, and Richard says it is very popular at tastings.  So, I’m already a big fan and did a video review last year.  It has some muscat flavor, but uniquely so.  I highly recommend it.

Beautiful, delicious Reliance

Swenson Red:  This one was stashed away in the limited quantity stash for fruit geeks like me to taste.  It may have been my favorite in the whole tasting. I’m definitely picking that one up if I can get a cutting or plant this winter.  It is had a sweet candy like flavor.  I think it was seedless, but don’t remember for sure.  The grapes are small.


I regret not spending more time picking Richard’s brain about the growth habits, disease resistance and any other relevant bits of info on all of these selections.  He did say that he has almost no problem with anything except the pure European vines.  He seemed to be saying that the hybrids and muscats are basically disease free.

The blurry woman in the blue shirt is my mother.

I hope to do some sizeable grape plantings here in the future, but I haven’t yet located where I want them in relation to other infrastructure and plantings.  I also have vague plans for a self supporting grape arbor, but again, haven’t settled on a location.  In the mean time.  I’d really like to get cuttings for all of these and plant them somewhere for further observation over the coming years.  It is one thing to taste a grape a couple times and decide it is probably worth growing, and another to live with it a few years and see how it fares.  How productive is it?  How vigorous?  What color and shape are the leaves (some go bright red in the fall)?  And will the fruit grow on me or become boring?  And then there is raisin making, grape syrup making and juice.  I think I’ll forgo wine making for the most part.

With the quantities of sugars and juice I currently consume, growing a ton of grapes sounds like a good idea.  I’ve done my own hot packed grape juice in the past and it is truly amazing.  The grapes have to compete with kiwi vines for arbor space, but I’ll find someplace to put them.  I’ve got some cool ideas for soil modification etc..

yum, fresh grape juice!

I also took a bunch of apples and put them out for people to taste.  They didn’t get a ton of play competing with all those grapes, but some of the results were interesting.  Wickson as always was a winner.  Not surprisingly King David too.  Margil was also popular.  Most gratifying though was that my first seedling apple was well received.  Yes, five years into my apple breeding efforts, I have a fruit.  It is actually an open pollinated seedling though, not one that I crossed intentionally..  More on that soon.  I’m going to have so much fun making that video!  For now, lets just say it has had a lot of fans and not much in the way of detractors.

My new apple!  In at least the top 25% of the 150 or so apples that have fruited here so far, as pleasant eating as any apple in season here right now, and not too bad lookin'!  Stay tuned for a full report and what may very well be a snarky, gloating video :D


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