Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Permaculture Plants: Apple Trees

This is the first of hopefully many entries on specific plants to be used in a Permaculture System.  I attempted to document every aspect of a plant that would be useful, but I am sure there are things I missed.  However, this should be a fairly holistic overview.


Heirloom Apples

Common Name: Apple
Scientific Name: Malus domestica or pumila
Family: Rosaceae

Description: Hardly needs description. Moderate sized tree to small dwarf trees.

History: Originated in Western Asia (Turkey?). Likely the first tree to be cultivated. First brought to the U.S. in the 17th Century.

Trivia: China is the main producer of apples. The U.S. is second.


USING THIS PLANT
Primary Uses:
  • Fresh eating, cooking
  • Fresh juice
  • Drying
  • Preserving
  • Fermenting: Cider, Apple Jack


Secondary Uses:
  • Coppicing
  • Smoking  - wood is commonly used for smoking meats
  • Nectar source for insects (especially bees)
  • Winter food source for birds and mammals
  • Dynamic Accumulator (Fair potassium accumulator) - The term "Dynamic Accumulator" is used by Dave Jacke in Edible Forest Gardens as a way to describe plants that either keep nutrients around (like in fallen autumn leaves) or pull nutrients up from the subsoil.

Yield:
  • Standard 100-400 lbs (45-180 kg)
  • Semi-dwarf 77-155 lbs (35-70 kg)
  • Dwarf 55-120 lbs (25-55 kg)

Harvesting: Harvest when ripe
Storage: Store in cool place


DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 3-9
Plant Type: Medium-sized Shrub to Medium-Sized Tree
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer in Smaller Forest Gardens, Sub-Canopy Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Over 7,500 cultivars


Pollination:
  • Most require cross-pollination
  • Note that not all species will cross-pollinate – review a chart before planting. Here is one example.

Flowering: May-June

Life Span
Years to Begin Bearing:
  • Standard 5-8 yrs
  • Semi-dwarf 4 yrs
  • Dwarf 3 yrs
Years to Maximum Bearing:
  • Standard 10 yrs
  • Semi-dwarf 10 yrs
  • Dwarf 5 yrs
Years of Useful Life:
  • Standard 35-100 yrs
  • Semi-dwarf 30-50 yrs?
  • Dwarf 10-30 yrs


PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT





Graphic showing the different sizes of rootstocks.

Table showing characteristics of some rootstocks.



Size: Depends on root stock
  • Own root, Standard: 20-26’ (6-8m) high x 20’ (6m) wide → tall, not for fresh eating apples which should be picked from the tree, but can be used for juice/cider apples which can be picked up off the ground
  • Semi-Dwarf: 13-16’ (4-5m) high and wide
  • Dwarf: 8-13’ (2.5-4m) high x 12’ (3.5m) wide

Roots:  Flat, mostly shallow roots
Growth Rate: Medium


Apple Tree in Fall

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Full Sun preferred
Shade: Tolerates mild shade
Moisture: Medium
pH: 6.1-7.0

Special Considerations for Growing:
  • Tolerant of most garden conditions
  • Not tolerate to Juglone, a natural growth inhibitor produced by members of the Walnut Family: Hickory, Pecan, Walnut, Wingnut

Propagation: Typically by grafting.  Seeds are not true to type - meaning they produce apple trees that produce apples that rarely taste anything close to the parent stock... often they do not have a good fresh eating flavor, but could be used for hard cider.

Maintenance:
  • Pruning annually to every 2-3 yrs
  • Needs nitrogen and potassium to sustain cropping

Disease/Pests:
Numerous diseases including various types of Apple Scab, Blotch, Rot, Canker, Mildew, Rust, Pit, Scald, Mottle, Blight, and pests including Nematodes, Codling Moth, Aphids, Bird, to name just a few.

Concerns:
Seeds and leaves are poisonous – contain a precursor to cyanide (large amounts need to be eaten for this to be toxic).

Red Astrachan Apple

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    Climates such as the north-west USA e.g. western Washington state, and north-west Europe, have much milder winters ... but also such cool summers that almost half of these luscious fruits can't be reliably ripened. There's little chance of ripe persimmons or pawpaws where I live in southern England, except in a freak heatwave year.

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