At an apple tasting in Cheshire recently, my eleven year old couldn’t get enough of the heritage varieties of apple being offered to visitors by a group of National Trust volunteers. Although delighted he was packing in his five a day in as many minutes, I couldn’t hide my surprise, as when offered an apple at home, he typically reacts as though I were trying to poison him. The difference, I suspected, was in the taste – confirmed when I nibbled a few samples myself.
Over the last several decades, apples have been selected and sold based on everything but taste – appearance, ability to travel well, and shelf life among others – so unless you have a good farmer’s market within easy reach, the only way to enjoy delicious ones is to grow your own.
With the bare root season starting in the coming weeks, it’s the perfect time to plant a tree or two so it can settle in before the worst of the winter weather hits. Don’t let lack of space put you off – I’ve grown apple trees in large containers and even metal dustbins. There are a few things you need to remember though, and doing your research first is time well spent.
Firstly, remember that most apples will need to be pollinated by another variety, so unless there’s an apple tree already growing next door, you’ll need two. Some, such as the popular cooking apple Bramley’s seedling, are what’s known as triploid, which means you’ll need two different varieties as well as the Bramley’s to get fruit. Thanks to the internet, you can easily find out which varieties work together – remember they have to flower at roughly the same time for pollinzation to work – so it’s worth doing your homework before you buy.
Apple trees are grafted onto rootstocks of different sizes, which will determine the eventual size of the tree – so you can choose trees to suit the size of your garden. Irish Seed Savers have a wide range of heritage Irish varieties and lots of info on their website.
Whatever you do, enjoy the decision making process, as well as the fruits of your research – whether that’s crumble, cider, juice – or just a delicious, juicy apple a day!
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