Monday, September 23, 2019

It’s Apple Season!

SnapDragon Apples courtesy Kevin Maloney Dept of HorticultureThere’s little in life more pleasing than biting into a crisp, juicy, slightly sweet, slightly tart, fresh-off-the-tree apple. And what could be healthier? Apples contain vitamins A and C, antioxidants, potassium, pectin, fiber, and no cholesterol. They can be eaten fresh, baked, or stewed; turned into juice or cider; made into sauce, butter, jelly, vinegar, wine, and delightful confections when coated with candy (sugar syrup), caramel, or toffee and nuts; or cooked into pies, crisps, crumbles, cakes, doughnuts; even meat dishes.

New York’s apple harvest is underway. And it’s shaping up to be a good one. Early season varieties are now available at area orchards, farm stands, pick your own locations, and farmers’ markets.

Susan Brown teaches apple breeding and genetic improvement at Cornell. She’s has been recently director of Cornell AgriTech (formerly Cornell’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, NY) and oversees the University’s apple breeding program; one of the largest fruit breeding programs in the world. In 2013, Brown introduced two new varieties of apples; Snapdragon and Ruby Frost.

Susan Brown picks apples in a Cornell AgriTech orchardIn cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension, Professor Brown provides information on developments in commercial production and related issues, such as intellectual property rights, to growers across the state. Under her guidance, trees of advanced selections have been established in several NY orchards, to test their adaptability and potential. Trials are sometimes established in other regions of the country, and internationally as well.

In a recent interview with Cornell Media Relations Specialist Lindsey Hadlock, Professor Brown was quoted as saying, “2019 should be an excellent year for apple quality. While we had a very wet early season, which made control of early diseases difficult, that was followed by sun and heat.” She went on to say, “These recent cold nights are perfect for enhancing both color and quality.” And “Due to all of the early rainfall, apple size should be bigger this year.” She noted however that, “Some varieties are ripening a week or two later than usual.”

New York’s apple industry provides approximately 10,000 direct agricultural jobs (e.g. growing, packing), as well as roughly 7,500 indirect jobs (e.g. marketing, distribution).

We’re the nation’s second-largest apple producing state. With more than 10 million trees, our roughly 600 commercial apple growers produce, on average, 30 million bushels of apples annually. And they grow more varieties than producers in any other state; among them: McIntosh (the national apple of Canada), Empire, Cortland, Rome, Gala, and many others. NY-grown apples are shipped raw; squeezed into juice and cider; frozen; canned as applesauce, slices, and pie filling; and processed into vinegar, jelly, apple butter, mincemeat, and dried-snack products.

In 1976, New York’s policymakers designated the apple as the official state fruit. In 1987, they approved the apple muffin as a state symbol.

None of the varieties of eating and cooking apples produced and marketed today are cultivated from seed. The fact is, apple trees grown from seed bear little similarity to their parent trees. In other words, the seed from a McIntosh apple will produce an apple tree, but it won’t be a McIntosh apple tree.

All orchard apple trees are clones. The technique of grafting is used to join a length of vegetative branch-wood (scion) from the tree the grower wants to propagate to a rootstock adapted to the soil and/or climate where the tree will be planted.

Grafting dates back thousands of years. The earliest verifiable written account of grafting is from the Hippocratic treatise, ‘On the Nature of the Child’, thought to have been written in about 424 BCE, by one or more of the followers of Hippocrates. (Source: A History of Grafting; Ken Mudge Department of Horticulture, Cornell University, 2009)

During the Roman era, a number of authors wrote about grafting as a common agricultural practice. In one of his greatest works, the Georgics (Greek for agriculture or farming); which is more than two thousand lines long and divided into four books, the ancient poet Virgil (Publius Verglius Maro; 70–19 BCE) wrote:

“For where the tender rinds of trees disclose
Their shooting germs, a swelling knot there grows
Just in that space a narrow slit we make
Then other buds from bearing tress we take
Inserted thus, the wounded rind we close
In whose moist womb the admitted infant grows”

(Translation by John Dryden; 1631–1700)

Apples have been associated with temptation (the Garden of Eden), love, (In Greek mythology, Gaia, or Mother Earth, presented a tree with golden apples to Zeus and his bride Hera, on their wedding day), health, (an apple a day keeps the doctor away), praise (the apple of my eye), the nation (as American as apple pie), nature, (Sir Isaac Newton discovered the laws of gravity and motion when watching an apple fall to the ground), promise (they are eaten at the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, as a symbol of the sweetness and freshness of the coming year) and legend (Johnny Appleseed).

Jonathan Chapman, the American frontiersman behind the Johnny Appleseed legend, was a rugged, fearless individualist and a man of vision. But that’s another story.

Photos, from above: SnapDragon Apples courtesy Kevin Maloney Dept of Horticulture; and Susan Brown picks apples in a Cornell AgriTech orchard provided.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.

2 Responses

  1. Jim Fox says:

    This is a wonderful article! Grafting botany, history, entomology, poetry, and how many more studied topics is a joy to digest. Cornell Cooperative Extension is so much more than I imagined!

  2. Steve Marshall says:

    Is it possible to buy a snap dragon tree or scion wood?
    I’ve been experimenting with native wild apple trees in my back yard and want to try a snap dragon graft.

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