By Nancy Smorch
I know it seems a little early in the season, but if you ever wanted to start growing your own apple trees, now is the time to make your plans. A few years back, I wanted to buy some apple trees and just assumed you could wait until spring to order them... but when spring came, and I went online to place my order, many of the varieties I was looking for were sold out, and others were no longer shipping any trees at all!
So, one of my friends, who has a wealth of knowledge about organic living, told me that I need to place my order the first of the year. For the past two years, I have ordered various fruit trees for our farm in Michigan - mostly apples, but also peaches, cherries, plums, pears, and even almonds. They are my "babies" and they have been lovingly planted and I get so excited every time I look at them - envisioning when they grow up and produce all sorts of wonderful fruits!
Of course I wanted to grow some Honeycrisp trees (whenever I tell someone we just bought a 10-acre apple orchard, they always ask if we are growing Honeycrisp!), but I wanted to stray away from the norm a bit and try some new varieties. There are, after all, some 7,500 varieties worldwide, and 2,500 in the U.S.
Can you believe that? How many different varieties have you actually tried? I bet most people have tried no more than 10 varieties of apples their entire life.
So, on that note, I decided to branch out (pun intended), and planted a few varieties that were new to me: Cinnamon Spice (I bet that will be good in apple pie), D'Arcy Spice (for a friend who is named Darcie), and Pumpkin Russet (because the description said they were crisp, rich and sweet). We're coming up on year 3 that I've had these new trees. Soon they will be producing fruit and we will enjoy harvesting and sharing what they have to offer.
So back to planning. If you wanted to start growing your own trees, order them soon. They won't ship them out until the weather is warmer, but you need to get your order in now. Two of my favorite places to order from are Trees of Antiquity and Territorial Seed. They are both really great companies to work with.
When buying seeds and plants now, I always make sure they are organic or heirloom, because heirloom varieties can't be genetically modified. Fortunately, to date, there are no genetically modified apples. That may change soon, if we don't express our concern over the genetically modified "Arctic Apple," which is seeking approval for production here in the U.S. It would be the first GMO apple, and the reason it was altered was so that when you cut the apple and the flesh is exposed to air, it doesn't turn brown. Not a good trade-off in my opinion!
I know this is planning ahead a bit, but I think it might be fun for you to do some research into the orchards near you and see which ones carry varieties of apples you haven't yet tried. Then, come fall, visit the orchards and try some of them. I know I am planning on doing that for sure this fall.
Until then, hopefully you've frozen some apple cider from this past fall that you can thaw out, or maybe you made some applesauce or apple butter you can enjoy - or better yet, choose a hard cider from this fast-growing industry!