By Grant McCarty
Local Foods and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension
August is the beginning of apple harvest in the Rockford area. Each week brings on new apple varieties as not all apples are mature at the same time. Typically, the ones that you will find right now are early season ones. There are many apple varieties on the market and in fact, you’ll find varieties at orchards you will not find in the grocery store.
A popular variety at both orchards and in grocery stores is the Honeycrisp variety. Developed by the University of Minnesota, it is a fresh eating apple that has an interesting flavor to it. If you want to grow Honeycrisp, disease and insect problems are quite common as the variety is not resistant to many pests. This includes diseases such as Apple Scab and Fireblight. There are apple varieties available that are resistant to these two diseases.
When deciding on what apples to purchase, you’ll want to ask the seller whether it is a sweet/tart or cooking/fresh eating. As their names suggest, a sweet apple may be better for fresh eating while a tart one may be better for cooking or baking.
If you are visiting an orchard, you’ll see that most apple trees are fairly short. Most growers are using a root-stock that allows for the apple tree to be dwarf or semi-dwarf in height. Dwarf trees reach 8-10 feet while semi-dwarf will reach 12-15 feet. A root stock means that the root is different than what is growing above ground. These two varieties have been grafted together and you’ll see this fusion on the tree. Bud 9 is a popular root stock as it is cold tolerant. You can purchase varieties with this root stock.
Apple trees require pruning. Whether they are younger or older trees, you need to do seasonal pruning each year. You want to wait to prune until the winter as the lack of leaves will aid in effective pruning. If you have inherited older apple trees, it may take at least 3 or more years to restore the tree into top shape.
Apples are a great crop to introduce to your seasonal diet either this season by purchasing or when your tree starts producing.