Our orchard site is on an approximately 3/4-acre north-sloping field behind the house. This north slope means we ought to be pretty well protected from the danger of late frosts, which can all but eliminate a particular year’s harvest, but at the sacrifice of fruit that ripens later than many other orchards in the area. That’s okay with us, though, because we opted to plant heirloom apple varieties for their better flavor, texture, and interesting history than the common commercial varieties, and don’t feel the need to chase the “first apples on the block” market. In January 2012, before we even moved to the farm, we planted five each of the apple varieties listed below. Turns out 2012 was a terrible year to establish an orchard, with the record drought and persistent heat; in fact, the trees that survived in our orchard were those on the western edge of the planting, the ones that got the first shade of the evening cast by the trees along the fenceline. So our orchard plans were set back a fair bit — we emerged with a less-than-50% survival — but we plan to replace the lost trees in spring 2014.
- Arkansas Black – Developed in Benton County, Arkansas around 1870, if not as early as the 1840s. Dark purple-red skin turns nearly black at maturity. Very crisp and tart, improving with age. Matures in October-November, and keeps all winter.
- Ashmead’s Kernel – Originated in the Gloucester area of England from seed planted by a Dr. Ashmead around 1700. Golden-brown skin with a crisp nutty snap. Fruit explodes with champagne-sherbet juice infused with a lingering scent of orange blossom.
- Cox’s Orange Pippin – The most famous of all English eating apples. A seedling of the variety Ribston Pippin, Cox’s Orange Pippin originated around 1830. Considered a dessert apple, juicy and firm, flavor improves after harvest.
- Esopus Spitzenburg – Discovered in the late 1700’s in Esopus, New York, along the Hudson River, by a Dutch settler named Spitzenburg. Unexcelled in flavor or quality, the fruit is great off the tree, but flavor radically improves in storage. Medium apple with crisp, yellow skin covered with inconspicuous red stripes and russet freckles. Flesh is tinged yellow, firm, aromatic, and complex in flavor; a perfect balance between sharp and sweet. Rumored to be one of Thomas Jefferson’s two favorite Apple varieties; he planted thirty-two of these trees in the South Orchard at Monticello between 1807 and 1812.
- Golden Delicious – Not your supermarket Golden Delicious. Discovered in an apple orchard in 1905. A great all-around apple, can be eaten fresh or made into apple sauce, apple butter, apple pie, and even cider. Sweet and fragrant.
- Yellow Newton Pippin – Reportedly the result of a seedling dropped in Newtown, Long Island, in the early 18th century. By some reports the favorite apple of George Washington, and according to Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book trees of this variety were planted at Monticello in March 1778.
Our first harvest will not likely be until fall of 2014, and it will be a small one. Each year the crop will increase, and in 5 to 6 years we ought to be gathering a full harvest each fall. We still have room in our orchard for another 15 trees or so, so stay tuned for updates as to what we plant next!