These days when we hear the term apple we sometimes have thoughts of the latest iPhone or what the hottest album on iTunes is. Perhaps if you’re a 90’s fan, the line Matt Damon delivers in Good Will Hunting “How do you like them apples?” is what pops into your head. However, at the core of it all (pun intended) is the delicious, bright, crunchy, crisp fruit that hails from the Rosaceae (Rose) family we call the apple. Along with the wonderful apple (Malus domestica) this family produces beautiful roses, strawberries, cherries, and almonds.
History of the apple is long, and full of some very true stories and some very well-known fairytales. We couldn’t have the story of Snow White without it! Apples have been around since prehistoric times, with remains even found in dwellings in Switzerland. The apple tree is thought to have originated in Central Asia from the wild ancestor, Malus sieversii. From there, thousands of species have spread through Asia and Europe, and eventually brought to North America by European colonists. Although Native Americans did have a version of crab apples growing before the introduction by colonists.
If you would like to grow your own apples you will need a minimum of these four things: space, patience, chill time, and two trees of differing cultivars. Apple trees can grow over 20’ tall; although there are dwarf varieties that only reach a maximum of 10’. Apple trees take a minimum of 3 years to produce fruit and some take up to 8 years. Because apples require cross-pollination you will need at least two apple trees that are different cultivars. However, if your neighbor has an apple tree close by this usually works. Apples also need a chill period when temperatures are below 45°F, but above freezing, in order to set fruit. The amount of time needed is variety dependent.
As the spring season rolls around in your area this is the time to plant apple trees. Be sure to plant your trees in full sun and 20’ apart from one another, unless you are using a dwarf variety, which can go as close as 10’. Keep your trees out of low lying areas where cold air settles. Your soil should be loamy and at a pH between 6-7.
Apples can be planted from seeds, but it’s better to plant a grafted tree. The grafted tree is typically two genetically different varieties grafted together, with the scion (the above ground portion) and the rootstock (portion containing the root) joined together. The scion will determine the variety of fruit produced and the rootstock will determine the tree’s size and fruit bearing time.
To plant, dig a hole 2x the diameter of the root ball and 2’ deep. Spread out the roots and place soil around the roots. Do not fertilize at the time of planting or the roots may end up burned. Be sure the graft union (where the scion attaches to the rootstock) is 2” or more above the soil line so that roots don’t develop from the scion.
As your young tree grows, very minimally prune it, as pruning can slow overall growth and delay fruiting. Instead of pruning, buff off young buds prior to them growing into undesired branches. Using string, you can also try bending branches down by securing small branches to stakes. This can slow growth while promoting fruiting. When your tree is mature (bearing fruit) pruning is critical and should be done when the tree is dormant. Also, be sure to pick your fruit as your tree produces. Keeping your tree, and the area around it, neat and tidy improves airflow and reduces the risk of developing disease.
Deer and other critters will want to enjoy your apple tree too. Applying wire mesh around the base will protect your tree. To keep insects away, mix up equal parts of vinegar and sugar, add it to 2x that amount of water, then put the mix in plastic jugs and hang on your apple tree.
Your apples will be ready to pick when their color changes and they readily snap off the branch. If you find you have waited too long to harvest and the apple is a bit soft, no worries, you can use these apples for baking! Which brings up a good point of something you should consider when picking a variety of apple to plant. Some apples are better for eating, while others are better for baking. Although, the great thing about apples is, even if the variety you choose is more geared toward eating or baking, you can still use them for either or!
There are so many varieties of apples and therefore the nutritional profile of them can be different. However, in general when you eat a raw medium sized (~180 grams) apple with the skin, you will receive approximately 95 calories, 0 grams of fat and protein, and 25 grams of sugar (4 grams of which is dietary fiber). Apples are a good source of Vitamin C and provide us with Vitamins A, E, K-1, all of the B’s minus B-12, and the minerals calcium, copper, non-heme iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and potassium.
Some other great things about apples is that they help clean our teeth and massage our gums as we chew them, giving us a boost in dental health. Apples also contain quercetin, catechins, and chlorogenic acid (also present in coffee). These compounds help the body to regulate blood sugar, fight inflammation, reduce our risk of certain types of cancer, boost our mood, improve brain function, and help muscles recover. So perhaps, as the old adage says, an apple a day can keep the doctor away.
So, to get your apples in, there is no shortage of recipes to try, plus they’re great raw and all on their own. If you would like to try a recipe with your freshly harvested apples here’s one I really enjoy.
Crustless Apple Quiche
8 large apples, peeled and sliced
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded Gruyère
6 eggs, beaten
1 cup full-fat milk
2/3 cup cream
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
Preheat the oven to 350° F
Place apples in a greased baking dish
In a large bowl, whisk eggs
Add milk and cream
Stir in cheeses and spices
Pour the mixture on top of apples
Bake for 60 minutes
If the quiche still has a liquid, jiggly center, bake for an additional 10 minutes
When firm, remove from oven
Allow to cool slightly before serving (~10 minutes)
If you would like, you can add sausage or bacon to your dish, and also change up the spices if you prefer. Get creative and make this quiche your own!
Apples are wonderful fruits that are fairly common in many areas and are very versatile. The blooms on the trees are beautiful to see and enchanting to breathe in. The fruit is delicious, both raw and cooked, and will delightfully grow for many years to come. So, gear up your patience and apple cooking skills, and enjoy all the bountiful fruit your very own apple tree will provide!
Choose My Plate.gov. US Department of Agriculture. SuperTracker. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/tools-supertracker
Hoover, E., et al. 2018. University of Minnesota Extension. Yards and Garden. Growing apples in the home garden. https://www.extension.umn.edu/garden/yard-garden/fruit/apples-in-home-garden/