An Apple A Day...
Updated: Jan 8, 2021
There is something to be said for planting a vegetable garden every year. It can be a lot of work though: the sowing, the weeding, the thinning and the harvesting. What if you could plant just once and harvest food every single year after, with no additional work besides a bit of pruning? Well, you can! Say hello to growing sweet, juicy, full of sunshine fruit!
There are actually a remarkable number of fruits that will grow here in the Calgary Chinook region. So many, in fact, that we are going to cover them individually. In later articles we will cover additional fruit trees, shrub fruit, ground fruit, brambles and vines.
We are going to start off by looking at apples (including crabapples and apple crabs). There are an amazing number of varieties to choose from. I know there is at least one that is perfect for you! Let's get started then...
Everyone is familiar with apples, and usually crab apples too, but what the heck are apple crabs? Well, apple crabs are a cross between apples and crabapples. If you have ever eaten a decently sized, fairly tasty crabapple, you were most likely really eating an apple crab. The tiny, bright red and very tart apples are the true crabapples. Far less appetizing for fresh eating, but still good for jelly.
Apples are a pome fruit, just like pears, mountain ash, saskatoons, hawthorns and cotoneaster. All pome fruit have their seeds in a core (consisting of the endocarp and mesocarp) and have the blossom end (the calyx) remaining on the fruit.
Why you need an apple tree
There is an apple variety to suit every taste and use and many of them are very hardy, some even down to zone 2. In addition, there are a number of dwarf, semi-dwarf and columnar varieties, with more available every year. That means that even if you have very limited space, there is an apple tree for you!
What you need to know
All apples need a pollinator. This means that, in order to get fruit, a pollinating insect must be able to exchange pollen from your tree with another apple tree of a different variety. Therefore, you need another apple tree of a different variety that blooms at the same time as your apple tree, and it must be fairly close by. Fairly close by in the apple world is within about 2 city blocks. This is usually not a problem in older neighborhoods where there are a number of apple trees. However, if you live in a newer neighborhood or have a large lot/acreage, you may need to have that second variety in your own yard. If you don't have room for a second apple tree, another option is to graft more than one variety onto a single tree. There are often combo apple trees available at garden centers and nurseries that have already done the grafting for you.
Apple trees also benefit from occasional pruning and thinning. Removing water sprouts and suckers ensures the tree does not expend energy on branches that will not produce fruit. Thinning branches increases space throughout the tree which allows air to freely circulate (reducing the incidence of mold, mildew, fungi and other diseases) and allowing sunlight to penetrate to the center of the tree, greatly aiding in the ripening of fruit. Thinning the fruit early in the season to approximately one hand width apart will encourage larger fruit size, earlier ripening and large harvests every year (instead of every second year, known as biennial bearing, which can be common in apple trees).
Apples fall into three categories based on when the fruit ripens: early season (ripens in summer), mid season (ripens early fall) and late season (ripens in fall). Varieties that ripen later in the season tend be firmer, store longer and be sweeter than earlier varieties. However, they can also be hit be early fall frosts before they are completely ripe. There is definitely a trade-off there. Different apples also vary in the their texture, size, colour, sweetness and flavour. The varieties listed below are commonly available in nurseries and garden centers in the Calgary area and are all proven to do well in our climate.
Early season (Summer)
Above from left to right: Norland (link here), Heyer 12 (link here), Prairie Sun (not pictured)
Mid Season (Early Fall)
Above from left to right: Goodland (link here), Fall Red (link here), Norkent (link here), September Ruby (link here)
Late season (Fall)
Above from left to right: Honey Crisp (link here), Prairie Sensation (link here), Frost Bite (not pictured)
Above from left to right: Rescue (link here), Dolgo (link here), Kerr (link here)
Combo apples are now commonly available in many garden centers. They have 3-5 different varieties of apples grafted onto the branches of one hardy apple tree. This allows you to have a variety of apple types and flavours all from one tree, and no worries about having a pollinator tree nearby (as long as the varieties grafted onto your tree bloom at the same time). It's a good option to consider, just ensure that the varieties grafted onto the tree are hardy in your area.
Apples are ripe and ready to pick when the skin changes color (it helps to know the variety and what it looks like when ripe) and when the seeds turn from white to dark brown. Many apples will fall once they are completely ripe, bruising them and making them less palatable. So pick frequently! Apples will continue to ripen even after they are picked from the tree. So if you know a good frost is coming, and you can't cover (this is admittedly hard to to do with something as large as a tree), you can always pick all the fruit and allow it to ripen indoors. After they are fully ripe, how long they will last in storage is widely dependent on your particular variety.
Apples and apple crabs can be eaten raw, made into pies, cakes, sauces, jams, jellies, juice and even turned into soft and hard cider. Making apple sauce and freezing it in batches is a yearly tradition in our house. It is a fantastic use for those apples that may get a little bruised when they fall off the tree. And, of course, apple sauce is mandatory for pork chops. You can find our recipe, with and without sugar here. You can find more recipes by clicking on the recipe button above.
Yummy gardening everyone!
TreeTime.ca (https://treetime.ca/?linkid=headerLogo) has a wide variety of small caliper trees. Many fruit, shelterbelt and naturalization varieties. Great bulk pricing.
T & T Seeds (https://ttseeds.com/) Longstanding Manitoba company with a huge variety of seeds as well as trees, shrubs, perennials and gardening accessories.
Bylands Nurseries (https://www.bylands.com/) a common supplier of greenhouses and nurseries in the Calgary area. Great information on most trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals available to gardeners.
"Growing Fruit In Northern Gardens" by Sara Williams and Bob Bors, 2017, Coteau Books, Regina, Saskatchewan
"Prairie Fruit Cookbook" by Getty Stewart, 2012, Pursuit Communications Winnipeg, Manitoba
Don’t forget your local garden centre or greenhouse!
All Purpose Apple Sauce - with many options for variation
Apple Crisp (recipe coming soon)
Apple Butter (recipe coming soon)
Don't forget to add fresh sliced apples to your next grilled cheese!