Selecting the Trees

I’m planning to get the trees from Fedco Seeds, a local supplier in Maine.  They sell standard size trees and have a good selection on sturdy seedling rootstock.  I like the idea of Maine-grown trees, and there is something romantic about full-size trees that dwarfing rootstocks lack.  They have a volume discount that ends December 8, so it’s time to get the order figured out.

 The way I figure it, a quarter acre should have about enough room for 16 trees, if they are spaced 25~30 feet apart.  Following in my grandfather’s tradition, I’d like to plant a bunch of different varieties rather than a whole block of all the same thing.  Here are some preliminary choices, from the 07 Fedco catalog:

Baldwin: This is a sturdy old apple with a flavor I like, a good keeper that was once a commercial mainstay.  

 Calville Blanc d’Hiver: This is an old European green apple that’s lumpy, grainy, and not particularly pleasant for fresh eating, but it has a really nice flavor when cooked.  We made a really good pie for Thanksgiving this year that was mostly Calvilles.

Cortland: My favorite in Pops’ orchard when I was a kid; mild flavor but classic, big meaty apples related to McIntosh but with a more normal skin.

Cox’s Orange Pippin: I’ve never eaten one, but I’ve been inspired ever since reading about them as a kid, maybe in Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World.  Michael Phillips says that this British classic does best in ocean- or lake-moderated climates, which we have certainly got.

Esopus Spitzenburg: This old apple was apparently Thomas Jefferson’s favorite.  Beautiful red-orange conical apples with a powerful flavor.

Golden Russet: This is a classic New England apple and a good source of acid for hard cider.  I like them fresh as well, and they are apparently good keepers.

Honeycrisp: Apparently one of the best of the new varieties out of Minnesota, sweet and very crisp.  I figure we should branch out from heirlooms at least a bit…

McIntosh: Not a good keeper and I’m not particularly partial to their thin, plastic-like skin, but Macs are an absolute New England classic and they make good mild sweet cider.

Opalescent: I’ve never tried one, but this big red apple sounds too good to miss, so maybe we’ll give it a shot.

Roxbury Russet: Another classic New England cider apple; we have used it in our blends the last couple of years.

The following are full-on cider varieties, not particularly good eating but used to supply tannin for hard cider.

Dabinett: English, the preferred bittersweet at Farnum Hill.  Mangy-looking, terrible taste, but quite effective.  Alexis’ classmate Broc pressed a bunch from Poverty Lane for his cider this year.

Foxwhelp: We were really impressed by Foxwhelp in last year’s cidermaking; the tree at Poverty lane was absolutely plastered with these big green bittersharps and they gave a ton of juice;  this year the crop was not so plentiful but the apples were just as big.

Yarlington Mill: Medium bittersweet, I remember this apple as singularly unpleasant fresh but making a very smooth, rich, sweet cider.

Somerset Redstreak: An early British bittersweet.  We have not used it but it has a good reputation.

Kingston Black: Bittersharp, apparently makes a good single-variety hard cider.

 Ashton Bitter: Early bittersweet, apparently reasonably popular lately.

That makes 16 trees; there are a number of others that are worth considering, but they aren’t in the Fedco Likeup this year:

Ashmead’s Kearnel: A very flavorful old eating apple that’s also well regarded for cider.  We planted one last spring that was a gift to my mother from my uncle in Mt. Vernon, Maine.

Wickson: This is an awesome bright red apple that is about the size of an apricot.  I love the look and the flavor but I can’t imagine picking a whole tree.  Wickson will be an early grafting project.

Rhode Island Greening: A big, sturdy old green variety; my grandfather had one that produced well but was a low dwarfed tree and the deer browsed it nearly to death.

Medaille d’Or: A nice bittersweet that went into this year’s cider, beautiful golden color.  I’d like to get one at some point.

Granny Smith: My dad’s favorite, so I’ll get one at some point.  I heard that they are hard to grow in New England.

Macoun: A nice fresh eating apple, not much of a keeper but good flavor.

Winesap: Pops had one when I was a kid; I like the name but don’t remember much about the apples

Red Delicious: Be sure to try this much-maligned variety right off the tree; the west-coast storage versions are a travesty of mealy sawdust, but the variety itself is actually pretty good.

… The list goes on.  There are more apple varieties than I will ever have time to describe, let alone plant.  Check out the descriptions from Fedco.


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