Ohio Apples Today and Yesterday

We recently had a get together at the Extension Office to learn more about apples. Most trees in our area are loaded with apples this year. Multiple environmental factors contribute to the massive crop this year.

Some sources say that John Chapman’s favorite apple variety was ‘Rambo’.

One was moisture level. Fruit development has been great, but fungal issues are abundant. Most fungal issues are only aesthetic for home apple growers. All you need to do is wash the apples and cut out problem spots before eating, canning, or freezing the apples. If you are interested in growing the “perfect apple”, it will take dedication, a strict spraying schedule, and perfect weather. If that isn’t appealing to you, pruning at the appropriate time and density will help you along.

In recent years, we have had very warm early springs followed by a cold snap. A late frost event can stunt apple production. If trees are near bloom, in bloom, or in early fruit development, freezing temperatures can cause the flowers or fruit to drop off the tree or rot. Fortunately, this year we did not have a harmful cold snap.

Pollinators must have been busy as well! Cross-pollination is essential for apples. Apple trees are primarily pollinated by insects. It aids in fruit development and overall crop success. This means that at least two different varieties of apples should be grown in an orchard so that cross-pollination can occur. There is no need to fear whether the apples will grow true to type or not. The apple that develops from the pollinated flower will bear the same characteristics as the other apples on the tree. However, if you grew the seeds from one apple and compared them to the seedlings from another apple from the same tree, the resulting trees may be very different!

Think of it this way: If you have a siblings from the same two parents, you probably share many of the same genetic characteristics. If you have a child with your partner and your sibling does the same, your children may share some characteristics, but will also have many additional differences due to the introduction of your partner’s genetics. This can help us understand the vastness of apple varieties. In the 1800s, there were over 17,000 documented varieties of apples in the United States. When grown from seed, each apple tree is genetically unique. Explore the USDA’s collection of historical pomological watercolor paintings to browse over 3,800 watercolor paintings of apples. These paintings were completed between 1886 and 1942.

So how do growers produce apples that are so consistent? That consistency is attributed to vegetative reproduction, usually through grafting. In these cases, cuttings (which are called scions) are taken from the desired apple tree and grafted onto root stocks that are compatible with the soil and climate of the orchard. This allows for the distribution of genetically consistent trees that are also adapted for specific regions of growth.

Apple history is deep and fascinating. As Ohioans, we all know of the legacy left by John Chapman or “Johnny Appleseed”, who carried apple seed and planted orchards across the mid-west. Before him, the pilgrims brought apples across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. Before the pilgrims, the Spanish conquistadors brought apples to South America. As of today, it is believed that the true origin of apples is Kazakhstan. It wasn’t until the Soviet Republic dissolved that scientists were able to map the lineage of apples that far. It is interesting that Kazakhstan is not too far from the believed location of the Garden of Eden.

As with many pieces of ancient history, the details are hazy. Even in home orchards, it can be incredibly difficult to trace the origin of well-aged apple trees. The best way to know what type of apples you have is to experiment with them. Taste them. Cook with them. Preserve them. Keep notes from year to year. Talk with your neighbors about their orchards. Look up periodicals from the time period that your property was first developed. All of these activities can lead you closer to knowing the history of your favorite apple.

To find out more about how to grow and enjoy apples in Ohio, you can contact OSU Extension by leaving a comment on this blog, visit ohioline.osu.edu and search for “apples”, or consult Ohio Apples, our state apple organization at ohioapples.com.