(Genus: Malus spp - Family: Rosaceae)
The apple tree and its origins
Small and deciduous, the apple tree is notorious throughout history; it was prized by the Romans and mentioned in Greek scripts dating from the 6th century BC. The forbidden fruit, it is believed to be the fruit that Eve shared with Adam and is mentioned in the bible.
Apples symbolize knowledge and immortality, in the Middle Ages, Christians believed the fruit represented the original sin.
This fruit tree originates in the Transcaucasian region and it is believed to have been first cultivated in the Palaeolithic age.
How to Plant Apple Trees
For best results, plant the apple tree during autumn or spring. A hardy tree and relatively easy to grow, it thrives in all types of soil providing it is neither water-logged nor a heavy clay.
Prepare the soil well in advance using plenty of organic matter. When planting, apply a xxg dose xxxxxxx for plants aged 1 year, or xxxg dose per plant aged 2 years and over, mixing it well with the soil surrounding the tree. Each year, fertilise with xx0 g/m of XXXX before flowering, a month before harvest and the end of winter.
Each plant should be spaced 3-4m apart to give the tree plenty of space to grow. However, apples do not bear fruit easily on their own and require at least two varieties that produce flowers at the same time to produce an excellent crop. Cross-pollination via insects, most commonly bees will occur and aid the fruits’ growth.
The tree will grow in a variety of conditions but prefers exposure to full sun, in a cool climate. It will struggle to grow in extreme cold weather that drops below -20oC. An ideal location is a mountainous region that is 600-1000m above sea level.
Irrigation is important for a successful crop; the apple tree does not enjoy spells of drought and should receive frequent watering until it is growing well, reducing about 1 month before harvesting.
Prune the plants in June and again in August if necessary to remove suckers and thin out and weak or malformed fruit in order to provide all the nutrients to healthy growing crop. Apple tress require regular pruning, particularly when dormant as they grow vigorously and can easily become weak.
Seasonality - When to harvest Apples
The apple tree is a vigorous grower that can reach 10 m in height. Its bark is smooth and the leaves are oval, pointed, dark green in colour and have a serrated edge. It blooms in April with beautiful apple blossoms; hermaphrodite flowers that have 5 petals and are pinkish-white in colour.
The fruit is a globular shape that is elongated and its dimensions vary considerably depending on the variety. They feature a yellow, dark red or green outer skin and inside have a white or yellow flesh.
The best known is the subspecies pumila Malus communis, from which most apple varieties on the market were obtained.
Apples are harvested from June to October, depending on the variety. As a deciduous tree, they reach maturity as the fruit begins to fall off. However, to ensure the nutrients are focused on the growing fruits, pick out any weaker ones as early as possible.
Once harvested, keep an apple cool and you can store it for longer period.
Propagation of apple trees
In the wild, apple trees grow from seed, however, this is not advisable if you want to produce and strong crop. Most modern cultivars are grown from rootstocks and grafts, where one plant is chosen for its roots and another for its leaves and stem. The tissues are then grafted together.
Currently, most widely used rootstock is lM9, selected in 1914 from a population of "Yellow Paradise of Metz." This variety of apple tree has a reduced vigour and high productivity, allowing for an excellent crop.
Did you know: Use of apples and Interesting apple tree facts
Apples are widely used in cooking, featuring in a wealth of both sweet and savoury dishes. Particularly popular in baking, many countries have created their own interpretation of the traditional apple pie from the French Tarte Tatin, to the German Apple Strudel, the American Apple Pie and the British Apple Crumble or Tart, to name a few.
A versatile ingredient, it can be distilled for cider, juiced, stewed, baked, created into a sauce and added to chutneys or jams.
The City of New York, which is symbolised by an apple, is nicknamed the "Big Apple". The fruit is noted for its nutritional value, hence the proverb "Eat an apple a day keeps the doctor away". Apples are recommended for diets because they contain pectin that has a satiating effect.
Variety of apples
There are thousands of apple cultivars, the best known are:
- Annurca, ancient variety bell with small and medium-crushed fruits, wine red in colour and crunchy, dry and fragrant. It is harvested in mid-October.
- Red Delicious (group) – Fruits have a deep red colour with creamy white flesh that is sweet and aromatic. It is harvested in September and matures in 15-20 days.
- Fuji - Japanese cultivar with orange-yellow medium sized fruits streaked with red flesh. It is firm, crisp and sweet. Late ripening in late October.
- Gala (group) - New Zealand variety with medium sized fruits that are streaked with a red-orange colour on the surface. The flesh is firm, crisp and juicy. It is harvested in late August.
- Golden Delicious (group) - Adaptable to many different environments, these varieties have very large fruit that are a beautiful yellow colour.
- Gold Pink - New Italian variety with medium-large fruits that have a characteristic yellow-pink colour and a juicy, good flavour which improves if stored in the refrigerator.
- Granny Smith - Old Australian variety with lush green fruits and a crunchy texture with a slightly sour taste. It is harvested in late October, after a couple months and can be stored until the following summer.
- Emperor (group) - Variety found in Ohio in the middle of last century, it has large fruit, that have a slightly crushed flesh that is a greenish yellow colour and is extensively covered in a bright red skin. This apple is very fragrant. It is harvested in October, ripens in November and you can keep it until April.
- Rennet - probably of French origin, is characterised by a greenish yellow fruit that is almost rusty in colour. Harvest between late September and mid October.
- Stark Delicious - Featuring bright red fruit and a fragrant juicy flesh.
- Stayman (group) - the American variety with medium-large fruits and asymmetrical, pale yellowish-green streaked with red flesh which is very juicy and very sweet. It is harvested in late September and mid October and mature in November.
Diseases and insect affecting apple trees:
- Scale insects
- Codling moth
- Leafminer larvae
- Red spider
- Powdery mildew
- Scab - is a very dangerous pathogen that requires constant fungicide treatments. Some varieties are resistant to its attacks for which they are suited to the vegetable garden, among them one can mention the Gold Rush, Summerfree, Primera and Crimson Crips.