Very early apples...

06 February, 2014

I have been eating fresh apples.

Yes; fresh off the tree.

In summer.

Now before I got into this whole fruit and veg growing malarky, I thought (much like 99% of the population) that fresh apples were available all year round, and that there existed maybe 5 or 6 varieties of apples.

Not so, my friends, not so.

While you can eat apples for most of the year, they will not be fresh. They will have been stored for anywhere up to 18 months after picking before they hit your friendly neighbourhood duopoly supermarket. Mostly they taste like they've been stored for 18 months. Bland, floury and boring.

Maybe that's also partly because they are the same old varieties. When there are thousands (yes, thousands) of named varieties. Who'd want to eat boring old Golden Delicious (which is usually not delicious) when there are varieties out there like Esopus Spritzenburg, Brabant Bellefleur, Hubbardson's Nonesuch and Staymans Winesap.

Not me.

And they can fruit anywhere from January to July. Yes, fresh eating apples for 7 months of the year.

That's why I have 57 apple trees. Yes, you heard right. 57. In my suburban backyard.

(Well, also the nature strip, but that's only two, so its not really cheating.)

This is how. They are mostly grown on dwarfing rootstocks, in a cordon espalier. Thus I fit apple trees which will eventually bear up to 30kg of of fruit, in about a 50cm square space. Not bad at all.

But anyways, back to the apples.

Most of the apple trees are in the area I call my "Orchard". It is an awkward corner of the yard that is partly shaded in summer by the very large trees on the nature strip. There are 6 apple beds in this area, where my apples are espaliered. The trees are laid out in order from earliest to latest fruiting, with the one's closest to the fence (and getting the most shade) are the later apples, which will get the sun in winter when the nature strip trees drop their leaves, allowing the later fruit to ripen. 

Some of these trees I've had since 2011, some from 2012, and some were only planted last year. The above layout shows the 'older' trees listed under the bed diagram, and the 'newer' trees above. 

Today I'm focussing on the very early apples.

The only trees to set fruit this year was the Early Victoria (only plated in 2013, so go tree!) and the White Transparent.

The Early Victoria lived up to its name, with fruit ripening from the second week of Jan.

Early Victoria

This is the tree.

I have to admit, it wasn't the tastiest apple I've ever eaten, being very acid and not very sweet. Kinda like a not very tasty Granny Smith. And generally the very early apples are not known as the most flavoursome. Nor do they keep well, with the very late apples generally being the best apples for storing. But it was a welcome change and quite novel for me, and a very good effort from a very young tree.

Ripening next was the White Transparent.

White Transparent

This one has been around for a few years longer, being planted in its present position in 2011.

You can see it is better developed, with more lateral branches which generally have the fruiting buds.

Fruiting bud, after the fruit has been picked, with new growth coming along.

Now because I was busy eating the Early Victoria's, I didn't quite pick these as early as I could have. This is what they looked like in early Jan.

This is how the last one looked just before I ate it a few minutes ago.

It was a good move to wait. The later picked apples had much more flavour. I thought they had a slightly tropical flavour, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what. Too bad I'll have to wait until next year to try it again.

So that's my early apple wrap up. The next apples that set fruit are due to ripen in February-March. I can't wait to see what these ones are like.


  1. That's an amazing number of trees Bek! I really love your method of espaliering too.

    1. Cheers Lon! I can't claim credit for the idea, but it's such a good one I feel I must spread the word.

  2. Fifty-seven! Wow! I thought I was doing well with eight (five of which are Ballerina varieties, which is my slacko alternative to your fabulous cordoning). I'd love to have more - every time I hear a name like Blue Pearmain or Improved Foxwhelp, I get a bit misty-eyed - but unfortunately didn't quite plan the 600 square metres we're working with as well as you did. Also: the curse of the codling moth. Protecting the fruit on eight (still young) apple trees is about as much as I can manage. Anyway, am so impressed with your orchard.

    1. They weren't particularly well planned, it was more "crap I've just bought 12 more trees, where the hell am I going to put them?". When they are dwarfing it is so easy to think "I can fit one more in, surely" which is a bit of a trap. I do net them which is a bit of a pain but not too bad as the espalier support makes it easier, and I now plan to let the ducks into the beds in winter to eat up all the coddling moth larvae. I hope that will work.

  3. Oh, wow!!! You HAVE done your apple homework! Do you have any problem with birds or possums? I'm interested in the way you've trained them and how you keep them within bounds. Could you point me to any posts you've done about it, or if you haven't, could you share?

    1. Cheers. No, I do net the more heavily cropping trees, as we do get possums who munch on the neighbours unprotected apples, so maybe they don't bother trying to get to mine when the pay can just shop over the fence ;)
      I did post on them when I planted the last lot and changed my training from a t-shaped espalier to the cordon
      I haven't blogged too much on how I prune them because they aren't really old enough to be unruly and put out too much growth. I summer prune, and can blog about how that works in a future post. Thanks for the ideas!

    2. Thanks for the link. I've read the post and learned a lot from it. I don't know what rootstocks my trees are on but they're probably not dwarf. I must do some summer pruning to keep them smaller. They're too big to net and the birds get most of them (those that weren't fried in the sun!). With the angled cordons, I can't see any difference in training at an angle and training straight up, as far as space goes. Have I missed something?

    3. No problem. I confess I'm still very much an amateur and have learnt most of what I know from what I've read. I highly recommend the woodbridge fruit trees website as they have some great fact sheets.
      I believe most trees are sold on MM111 rootstock which gives a 3-4m high tree. It would be an absolute pain in the butt to espalier as it would keep wanting to grow that big.
      The difference in angle is to encourage the tree to develop fruiting buds. Fruit buds develop more on horizontal branches, which I understand is due to some difference between the tree hormones in lateral vs horizontal branches. The 30 degree angle of the cordon espalier is enough to encourage more fruit buds, but I further encourage this by some additional horizontal training.
      I think the ballerina apples get around this somehow, as they grow straight up, but as I don't fully understand it I have no idea why this works.
      This is complicated by some apple varieties being tip bearers vs standard bearers, so in some cases you will need to ignore what I've just said, as they bear the fruit buds on the tips of last years' growth. Standard pruning rules of cutting off 50-70% of last years' growth will just remove fruiting buds and you'll never get fruit.
      Hope this helps. Its a complicated topic.

  4. WOW, I can't believe how many apple trees you have! Very impressive. It drives me nuts how apples are available all year round. Seriously, who wants to eat something that's been in storage for a year or more?? And why would you choose an old, floury, bland apple over beautiful IN SEASON stone fruit? I think if more people knew that they are stored for so long they would avoid them when they are not in season. This is why I only buy organic apples - they don't store as well so you know if they are actually fresh. I didn't know that apples could be grown so early. I wish those varieties made it to the shelves! Hope you enjoy them :)

    1. Its a disease :)
      I also buy (probably 95%) organic apples, and love the 'apple man' at the farmers markets I frequent who has standard varieties, as well as proper cookers like Bramley's Seedling and a few other older varieties. I really think there are people who just become creatures of habit and eat the same fruit (be it apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries etc) year round despite the season, because they can as supermarkets stock them. They complain about the out of season prices though!

  5. Wow Bek thats pretty impressive. By the look of the names they are heritage varieties?? I ask because I got a heritage tree on dwarf root (with a view to espalier) stock from a guy called 'Pete the Permie' who sells at the Convent Farmers market. It flowered the first year but not in the last 2 years. I was thinking maybe I should have gone for a low chill variety as maybe the winters have just been to mild.(I was planning to pollinate it using a crab apple I planted on the nature strip- its doing quite well for itself!)

    1. Cheers. I believe they are heritage varieties, but am not really that fussed as long as I like the sound of the name and the description. :) I do also have some standards like Granny Smith, Fugi, Pink Lady and Sundowner, but most are unusual varieties. A few of mine (particularly my cider apples) are from Pete too - I also saw him at a few farmers markets (Collingwood for me if I remember correctly) and just HAD to buy a few more apple trees.
      Chill is a difficult one. In my area I think I get just enough, but microclimate makes a big difference! I do recall seeing a link on the Daley's Fruit Tree website where you can use Bureau of Meteorology data to calculate a rough average chill hours for your area. But I don't have any of the high chill varieties as I just know I won't get away with it.
      Which variety is yours?

  6. I bought quite a few new season's apples at the farmers market yesterday. I really like varieties like gravenstein which are pretty damn sour. I bought about 3kgs of mixed varieties and the kids have already gone through 2kg of them.

    1. Sounds like they like them too! I haven't tried gravenstein yet - must keep an eye out for it.