Its been surprising how many folks
from cold apple growing regions have contacted me. I've had emails from
Russia, Finland, Sweden, Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and the high
mountain areas of Colorado and Nevada. As well as from fellow cold climate
apple growing Canadians in Quebec, northern Ontario, and the Canadian
prairie provinces. Many folks have asked for an update on my orchard. Since
I'm basically a computer illiterate, my wife Tina is the one who designed
and updates my webpage. So one of my resolutions for 2012 was to give an
update. Here it is...enjoy.
2012 Apple Notes Update
Orchard update.....The orchard is
still going strong and doing well. This is despite record drought worse than
the 1930s until recently, and hideous climate conditions. For example a
couple of years back, we had the third most mild November in central Alberta
weather history, going back over 120 years. Then on Dec. 12 it hit -46C or
about -52F at the Edmonton International Airport, a short 30 minute drive
from my orchard. This was about the coldest temperature ever recorded in the
last 100 years. And I'm trying to grow apples, pears, and cherries in
this....Its a good thing one of my philosophies is "Don't take life too
seriously. You'll never get out of it alive anyways."
There was severe dieback the next
spring, about 2 ft. yet not a single tree died. They recovered the next
summer, and appear normal today. Clearly all the "weaker varieties" died out
years ago, and only the ultra hardy remain. Even most of my test University
of Saskatchewan apple trees had a good 2 ft. of tip dieback that spring, but
they all recovered. Obviously after an extremely mild November, the trees
were nowhere near as dormant as they would normally be. Then they got hit
with -46C within a week or two...Ouch...But they all made it!
Here are a few random notes...
I DON"T sell trees or rootstock. Its
purely a hobby for me. I have been contacted by a number of people asking to
buy trees or rootstock. Sorry, but just do a Google search on the variety
you are looking for, and you will find the sources from folks that sell
them. My orchard is a kind of "Zen hobby" for me. I don't want to complicate
my life by attempting to sell apple trees or rootstock.
Apple Tree Killers
It seems all nature conspires against
the poor hardy apple tree....In a heavy snow year voles will often decimate
a prairie orchard, and when the snow is gone, the orchardist is astonished
to see many or all of his trees completely girdled to the heartwood. Unless
you are skilled at "inarch grafting" you will lose the entire tree above the
graft. The way around this is to put poison bait stations around the orchard
for mice and voles in the late fall. Since doing this each late fall I have
had no problems with vole damage.
Deer and moose will chew your orchard
to nubs. I sometimes get emails asking for orchard growing advice in cleared
"bush plots". The potential orchardists have cleared a few areas in the
trees, and think it would be nice to "plant a few apple trees" in the opened
area. I have 3 basic rules for prairie orchardists...1/ "Unless you have a
wire game fence around your orchard, don't bother". Rule number 2 is
similar..."Unless you have a wire game fence around your orchard, don't
bother". And my 3rd rule for success (you guessed it) is "Unless you have a
wire game fence around your orchard, don't bother".
ABSOLUTELY NOTHING else works to keep
deer out of the orchard. I've tried them all. Human hair and blood and soap
hung from nylon bags on the trees. I even got "timber wolf essence" from a
trapping company and liberally applied it on my apple trees. These scent
methods work, but only for 3 or 4 weeks. Then the deer habituate to the
smell, and feast on your trees no matter what you try. Did I mention "Unless
you have a wire game fence around your orchard, don't bother"? I had a
friend in Saskatchewan who told me the nearest bush was two miles over
plowed fields. He had NEVER, ever, seen a deer on his property in decades.
So he planted his orchard. Actually the first winter he was okay, no damage.
But the second winter he was absolutely astonished to learn that his trees
had been severely damaged and eaten by deer that apparently had walked a
good two miles over plowed snowy fields for the feast. My game wire fence is
8' tall, and keeps out the deer and moose nicely. My suggestion is don't
even bother trying an orchard without a game wire fence. It just can't be
done, at least not in prairie Canada.
The Biggest Apple Tree Killer is (drum
roll please) THE SUN!
What you say? The sun? That's pure
nonsense, isn't it? Sadly no....Apple trees will do well for a few years,
then you will notice cracks on the southwest side of the trunk when the tree
gets to a certain size. These cracks expand, allow in bacteria, and believe
it or not, the tree goes into a fairly steep decline in health and dies a
few years later. The cause is the sun hitting the trunk in February and
March, warming it up, the sap starts to rise, then freeze, the freezing
causes expansion, and the cracks form in the trunk. I'm saying you can have
a perfect 100 tree orchard, nicely tucked behind a 8 ft. game wire fence,
lovingly watered and weeded, and the trees still can go into a steep decline
and die. All due to the SUN and sunscald.
The way around this is to wrap the
trunk of each tree each fall (a daunting task with 300 trees), or do what I
do....Mix a half and half solution of interior white latex paint and water
in a pump spay can, and spray the entire southwest side of the trunk from
ground level up to 4 or so feet every few years. Yes, this looks a bit weird
at first, but the trees don't mind at all, and they actually live and bear
fruit for you. This is a lot better than the trees becoming sickly, and
dying due to sunscald. And don't use those white plastic spiral wraps for
your apple trees. Why not? The answer is you will become too busy and forget
to take them off in the spring. Then the tree will be damaged as it expands
and grows into the spiral wrap. Don't ask me how I found this out....
Dwarf Rootstock in Zones 2 and 3
I've tested many kinds of dwarf
rootstock in my Alberta orchard. Guess what? They ALL work fine if
irrigated. None of
them die. Keep in mind I always have a good snow cover in winter. Ottawa 3,
Bud 9, Bud 118, or the Vineland series from the University of Guelph
are all decent choices. However, I recommend using Ranetka instead, a full
size rootstock. Why? Prairie folks are a tough breed, and we think anything
we plant should also be tough. So we tend to plant a tree on dwarf rootstock
in good soil, water it in, perhaps stake it, and think that's fine. In a few
weeks the grass aggressively grows to the trunk, the dwarf rootstock has a
tough time competing, and you get poor results in terms of crops. The trees
don't die. However you just get very few apples.
So if you want to use dwarf rootstock
and get good results on the prairies, you can, BUT...1/ The trees must be
grown in black soil without ANY competition by grass, weeds, etc. That is a
TON of backbreaking weeding every few days/weeks. Very few folks have the
heart (or back) for it. And Roundup will kill the grass, but it also will
damage and kill apple trees. I have seen numerous apple trees killed and
severely damaged by Roundup application that got on the leaves accidentally,
or on the watersprouts at the base of the tree. Apple trees are extremely
sensitive to Roundup. My worst dieback year was when the farmer next to my
orchard grew "Roundup Ready Canola". To control the weeds he just sprayed
the canola field with Roundup, and the spray drifted over my orchard. I lost
two rows of apple trees nearest the fence....
Point number two is always stake the
trees. Putting them on a metal wire is not good on the prairies. At -40C and
colder the metal causes "burns" in the parts of the tree in contact with the
wire. So I've had the best luck with individual wooden stakes.
Lastly you MUST irrigate the dwarf
apple trees. The roots are just not able to feed the tree, and produce a
nice apple crop without extra watering. Dwarf trees need about one inch of
water a week in the summer, assuming they are grown in black soil without
any grass to compete for the moisture. Most prairie locations get about half
that May to Sept. per month. I'm saying dwarf apple trees can work well on
the prairies, but require a TON of work. Most folks start out with high
hopes and strong determination. But the constant weeding to get rid of grass
competition, the irrigation, the staking soon gets old...and the trees go
into decline. They don't die. They just produce very poorly. So go with
Ranetka instead. The trees won't get too big in our tough, cold climate.
Making Money Selling Apples on the
I can answer this one quickly. Forget
it. It "ain't a gonna happen" folks.....at least not in enough volume to
make it worth your while. Here's why not...Apple trees need to be "babied".
We think we can just stick them in the ground and they produce like barley
or oats. That just doesn't happen. Voles, deer, moose, porcupines and other
animals LOVE to eat apple trees. They need pruning and irrigation to do
their best. The sun kills them if you don't protect the trunks. A bad winter
causes significant dieback and the trees will take a year or two to recover.
Or some years they just "rest". Things look great in the orchard, but the
trees just don't produce apples, or very few. Then you get a GREAT crop!
Guess what? A hailstorm in late July to August! The apples all look like
they were shot with a shotgun with many ugly black spots all over them.
Totally unsellable. From my experience I'd say you might get a good crop to
sell about every third year. That's two years of pretty thin soup...
I suppose if you held a gun to my head
and said "you MUST make money selling apples" I would go into the value
added processing business. For example, I'd try to get a contract with the
Gerber Baby Food company for "organic apple sauce" and produce the sauce
from my orchard. Or make and sell "gourmet northern apple pies" and sell
them for $20 each to a high end specialty market. But I'd never just pick
and sell the apples. Its almost a sure way to go broke in prairie Canada
from what I have seen. In warmer zone 6 climates you can get 20,000 lbs of
apples per acre on dwarf trees. On the Canadian prairies you will get one
tenth of that, and thats a good crop! So keep it fun. Keep it a hobby. Often
when your hobby becomes your work, it no longer is fun.
Honeycrisp and best varieties
I really had hopes for Honeycrisp at
my orchard. Sadly all 20 of my trees died, one by one, over a period of 7
years. I think I got a total of 3 apples from my 20 trees. Honeycrisp just
can't take -40C and colder. It is fine in the city of Edmonton, but we don't
hit -40C inside the city limits due to the heat island effect of large
cities. But we often get -40C and colder outside the city in a test winter.
There goes your Honeycrisp....
My favorite apple is still the old
18-10-32 from the University of Saskatchewan, now released and called
"Prairie Sensation". This is a large apple, excellent eating fresh off the
tree, that stores well and makes outstanding apple pies! It is rock solid
hardy, and basically wasn't damaged at all in the test winter where most
other varieties died back a good 2 ft after -46C on Dec. 12 after an
extremely mild November. Its main downfall is that it is "bland looking" in
that it is yellow with a slight red bloom. But "bland looking" is not nearly
as bad as "bland tasting". For information see
Summing Things Up
My orchard has been a wonderful hobby
for me, and I have all the apples, apple juice, apple sauce and pies that I
care to consume. I have found the search for ultra hardy apples to be
fascinating, and I've enjoyed astonishing the naysayer who assured me "you
can't grow an apple orchard in central Alberta". My 300 trees say
differently...Learning the art of grafting and "making my own apple trees"
has also been very rewarding. However apple trees will always need
"babying". You can't just "plant them and forget them, returning in the fall
to pick the apples". They take a surprising amount of work and effort to
produce well, and even then, there are hailstorms, test winters, frost
during blossom time so you get no crop, etc. There seem to be dozens of
different things that can stop a tree from producing for you. But despite it
all, there are few feelings as satisfying as being in the orchard when
things are going well, when the grafts you made "are taking", at blossom
time, or when the trees hang heavy with delicious apples.
THE INTRODUCTION BELOW
WAS WRITTEN IN 2002
Introduction and Climate Data
My test orchard of 200 apple trees is located in a harsh
zone 3, even zone 2 in some winters, climate about a 30 minute drive west of
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The coldest recorded at my orchard was -43C (-46F)
during the test winter of 1995/1996. Cold weather in central Alberta can stay
for several days, with each night dipping to the -30s and -40s. The average
January temperatures at my orchard are a high of -10C and a low of -20C. In July
the average high is +23C and the average low +10C. Precipitation averages about
18 inches per year, with a June, July, and August maximum. The climate would be
generally semi-arid, with supplemental water needed for the trees (especially
those on dwarf rootstock) a few times each summer. The last spring frost
averages May 24th and the first killing frost in the fall arrives about
September 15. The later maturing apples are left on the trees until temperatures
of -6C are predicted overnight, usually the first or second week of October. The
orchard was started in the spring of 1993 by planting 50 Ranetka Crabs, and
grafted-on them with several varieties. Each year the orchard has been expanded
by a few dozen trees, ending in 1999 when I ran out of space with a total of 200
Several different rootstocks are being tried at my experimental orchard.
Obviously all rootstocks need to be quite hardy to survive my winter climate.
The following are my comments based on my trials of various rootstocks:
Ranetka Crab - Very hardy, grows well, produces good sized apples, and is rought
resistant. However, as a seedling rootstock, each rootstock will have very
slightly different characteristics that it will pass on to the grafted-on
cultivar. This is one very tough rootstock, and it has survived a week of -40F
with no snow cover in Fairbanks, Alaska, with less than 5% mortality.
Siberian Crab - Very hardy and drought resistant, but slower growing than
Ranetka. A two year old tree in my climate on Ranetka is as big as a three year
old tree on Siberian. I have not experienced compatibility problems on Siberian
Crab, probably due to the fact that the apples I'm growing are very hardy, with
a lot of crab in their recent ancestry. Some have claimed Siberian Crab
produces smaller apples than other rootstocks. I'll be watching for this in the
next year or two as the trees produce. So far there is no difference in apple
size on Siberian Crab.
Ottawa 3 - This rootstock appears to be hardy in my climate, as well as drought
resistant. However in the winter of 2000/2001 we had very little snow. This
greatly reduced the insulation for all rootstocks on trial. On marginal
cultivars, the grafted-on tree died, but the Ottawa 3 rootstock came up from the
roots. Based on this preliminary evidence, I'd say Ottawa 3 is not the rootstock
to use in a severe climate with marginally hardy cultivars. It also hates to be
moved, and will "pout" by not growing for two years after transplanting.
Apparently the roots regrow very slowly.
Bud 490 - This rootstock survived fully after the test winter of 2000/2001 with
almost no snow and temperatures down to -30C. This was actually a mild winter
for us, but the lack of snow tested all rootstocks. Bud 490 is semi-dwarf,
drought resistant, produces large apples, and partially fire blight resistant.
The main problem is that it is very hard to get in Canada. I received mine from
the Agriculture Canada Research Station in Kentville, Nova Scotia. It apparently
does poorly if the soil thaws and freezes as it does in eastern Canada. However
in my climate, once the soil freezes in early November, it stays frozen until
April. Bud 490 may prove to be the rootstock of choice for me, but further
testing is required.
M26 - I'll pass on this rootstock as I lost about half of my 20 trees on M26
during the test winter of 2000/2001. It just isn't as hardy as the others. The
other problem is M26 is very drought sensitive, which is not good for my semi
Bud 9 - While not tested heavily, I did lose a few trees, about half of 6 or so,
on Bud 9 after last year's test winter. Pass.
P22 - While this rootstock was hardy, it appears extremely sensitive to
fire blight. Specifically 20 trees were grafted to P22, and every single one died
of fire blight. Since fire blight is a constant problem in my area, P22 is not a
rootstock of choice.
Vineland Series, V1, V2, V3 - These are new rootstocks from the breeding program
at the Vineland Research Station in Ontario. Parentage is Kerr Applecrab (very
hardy) x M9. These rootstocks are fire blight resistant/immune as well as quite
hardy. Time will tell how they produce in my climate. They have survived 3
winters, including last years test winter, unharmed.
Apple Cultivars and Comments
Clearly any apple cultivars I grow must be extremely hardy
by apple growing standards. As an example, McIntosh is widely considered to be a
very hardy cultivar in most apple growing regions. McIntosh, however, doesn't
stand a ghost of a chance of survival at my orchard. McIntosh simply can't take
winters colder than -40C. Also, a hardy cultivar recommended for the Canadian
prairies is Goodland. Unfortunately at my site, Goodland is very marginal in
terms of hardiness, and my test trees have struggled, especially after a colder
winter. This will give you an idea as to the challenges I'm up against in terms
of tree hardiness and survival. Nonetheless, I've found numerous cultivars that
survive, and even prosper in my harsh climate. While I have experimented with
well over 50 different apple cultivars at my orchard, the below sums up the most
Norkent - The origins of this Edmonton apple are obscure, but it appears to be a
seedling from the tens of thousands sent out across the prairies from a program
by Agriculture Canada in the 1960s. The original Norkent tree was moved from the
University of Alberta as a whip to a residential backyard in Edmonton as they
were out of room at the university in terms of letting it grow to full size. It
is best described as an ultra hardy Gala. It has been fully hardy for me, and
also quite productive. Two other apples closely related to Norkent, some say it
may be the same apple, are Simonet 1847 and PF51. Norkent is ripe about Sept. 7.
While it stores reasonably well, it seems to lose taste in storage. Good for
fresh eating and cooking. Red/orange striped and quite pleasant looking.
922 End - This is an Alberta apple with an unusual name. It originally stood for
"plot 9, row 22, end of row", hence "922 End". This apple is one of the hardiest
apples on the planet, and was grown for many years by the late Jake Friessen in
the Peace River country of northern Alberta. Jake told me he had never once even
seen tip dieback on this cultivar, even after long cold periods of -45C and a
bit colder. While tart to eat, it excels in pies, sauce and juice. It is also
very productive and must be thinned. 922 End is a yellow apple with red cheek,
turning 80% red by its ripening date, about Sept. 10 for me. It doesn't store
well and should be considered a processing apple, especially suitable for
extremely cold climates.