It isn’t until August and September that prairie gardeners begin to collect apples from various apple trees — if not their own, then a neighbour’s. A single mature apple tree can produce an immense amount of fruit, enough literally to feed the whole neighbourhood.
Often neighbours and friends who have apple trees are only too glad to give apples away to people who want them; food banks and soup kitchens often benefit from this bounty as well.
Many old apple trees still exist in both farm and urban gardens where they have grown for decades, their gnarled old branches still amazingly productive, their variety names often lost over time.
If you have such a tree and want to know the variety name, your local nursery may have models of the various apples they sell. If they do not have models, they may have good photos of the various varieties to allow you to tentatively identify your apple tree.
Gardeners all have their favourite apple varieties and for those who are just planting apple trees — now is a good time to do that and nurseries will still have some potted trees for sale — careful consideration of which variety to choose will ensure that you get the apple that you want. Planted now, the trees will have time to settle in and get established before autumn arrives.
For those who want early apples that ripen in mid-August, know that the list of such apples includes several of the hardiest and most reliable apple varieties available in Manitoba. One is Heyer 12, a yellow-skinned apple that ripens early and is mostly used for making applesauce or for baking.
Early apples are not generally good storage apples, so the fruit must be used or preserved in some way before it spoils. Norland, another early apple, is a medium-sized red apple that also ripens in August, and is great for pies, juices and sauce. It is good for fresh eating but it will not store well.
Apples that ripen in September are usually the best storage apples. Battleford, an old favourite, has green fruit with red markings and it ripens in mid-September. It is a good fresh eating apple and is good for baking.
Battleford is not the best storage apple — its storage life is relatively short. Goodlands, a yellow apple, is an excellent fresh eating apple and stores longer than Battleford, although it is not quite as large. It is an excellent all-purpose apple, good for fresh eating as well and cooking.
The development of hardy apple varieties by nurseries is going full steam and there are now many other apple varieties available to the prairie gardener, including Red Sparkle, whose parentage includes the well known McIntosh apple. It is a great fresh eating apple and has excellent storage life.
Prairie Sensation is one of the largest hardy apples on the market. Its fruit matures in late September, making it a good all-purpose apple and an excellent apple to store for winter use. There are myriad varieties from which to make your selection.
The last few years, columnar apple trees have become available as have apple trees with several varieties grafted onto the same tree.
The advantage of the former is that the tree takes up a lot less space and is ideal for small yards. The apples are produced on spurs attached right to the trunk; the tree is columnar with a very narrow profile.
The advantage of having an apple tree with several varieties — up to seven varieties can be grafted onto the same tree — is that you can enjoy a longer harvest. Some apples will be early eating apples, while some will be later apples ideal for storage. You can have several varieties of apples and only have to grow one tree.
Apples have to be harvested with care, particularly if they are going to be stored and not used immediately. When picking apples, do not let them get bruised.
Pick the apples individually and gently place them into a basket or box; don’t drop them into a pail, which will result in bruising.
Windfalls will be bruised but they can be used if harvested immediately after they fall. Windfalls and apples picked improperly will have brown spots that will have to be removed from the apples when they are processed.
Keep harvested apples cool; refrigerate them right after they are picked.
I have had success storing apples in cardboard boxes in an extra refrigerator that we have in our garage for vegetable storage. Apples, if they are unblemished when they are picked, and are a variety recommended for winter storage, will keep well into the New Year.
Be sure not to store apples in the same space as carrots. The carrots will become bitter and may even become so bitter as to be unpalatable.
If you have a prolific apple tree, it is possible to have canned or frozen apple sauce and juice, frozen slices of apples for pies and puddings, as well as an abundance of fresh eating apples stored away for winter use. Like me, you will have the satisfaction of knowing the apples all came from your own apple tree and that they were grown without the use of chemicals if you choose to grow them that way.
Look around your yard to see if you have space for an apple tree. If so, go buy one and plant it — in a couple of years, you will reap the benefits by being able to pick apples off your very own apple tree.
Albert Parsons is a consultant for garden design and landscaping who lives in Minnedosa.