A is for Apple

Gala apples just ripening at the end of July.

Gala apples just ripening at the end of July.

Every garden needs an apple tree. We have two espaliered galas that we heavily prune each year in order for them to stay manageable. Espalier is fancy word, indeed! It sound as if we must really know what we are doing to have espaliered trees (which means, a trellis or framework on which the trunk and branches of fruit trees or shrubs are trained to grow in one plane). But this is the beauty of the garden. We can espalier any way we want. Nobody is coming to check that we’ve made exactly the right cuts, or if our branches are off plane. If it works for us, then it works. No need for precision in the garden; that’s why I’m good at it.

Pests of the apple tree haven’t affected us. We have never sprayed anything on these trees and they continue to perform splendidly for us every year. We do have occasional codling moth, which manifests as a worm inside the core, but I notice fewer and fewer of these each year as the overall health of the garden improves. As far a fertilizing goes, we don’t. We do make a once-yearly (with luck and a borrowed truck) trip to Garrods’ stables, and get a load of composted horse manure–free if we shovel it ourselves– for a $20 loading fee. Spreading the horse manure around is the only food any of our fruit trees get, and they only get that about every year and a half. We do have our own composting bins for chicken poop and clippings, but I save the good, homemade compost for my vegetable beds. I do check frequently for signs of fire blight on the apple trees, but haven’t had any.

As our apricot tree did earlier in the season, these apples will fully ripen while we are once again on vacation. Slight variations of harvest time occur due to the weather we are having, but basically I can tell you the approximate day of the year based on what I’ve harvested in my garden. With our apples, we eat them early, and we never thin the fruit. (Some people want bigger fruit and therefore thin the developing apples.) The apples will last on the tree throughout the summer provided our dog doesn’t pick them. But I prefer to core most of them and dry them for snacks to take on vacation. By coring the apples, this takes care of any worms we might have bitten in half. Have you ever counted how many apples or apricots you can eat in one sitting when they’ve been dried?

My three year old assumes that everybody has apples on trees in their backyards. I’m proud of that. So many children think fruit comes from the market. I do realize that we are fortunate to have a home with a yard. I’d like to believe that if we didn’t, I would still teach my kid where food comes from.

All this on apples and I have yet to write what my favorite thing is about apple trees! Grafting! My first successful experiment with grafting onto fruit trees was on these galas. I grafted a scion (branch) from a Pink Pearl variety onto one of my trees…and it worked! I now have a harvest of Pink Pearl apples as well as galas!

My kid is too young to grasp the grafting concept. In another year or so I will let her try. The process of taping or securing a branch of one kind of tree onto another, and watching it grow stronger every year is fascinating. To see a tree with different kinds of fruit growing on different branches, and know that you made that happen, is a powerful feeling. Not only do we get different kinds of apples, but we also extend the harvest time of the tree as different varieties of apples ripen at slightly different times of the summer or fall.  Grafting also gives us more variety in the same amount of yard–an important consideration if you’re limited on space.

Gala and Pink Pearl grown on the same tree.

Gala and Pink Pearl (named for the pink inside) grown on the same tree.

Our first swarm landed on the espaliered apple tree.

Our first swarm landed on the espaliered apple tree.

About master kindergardener

Santa Clara County Master Gardener since 2007, Mom since 2009, Gardener since birth.
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