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Identifying old apple trees

 
C.R. Maguire
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Good day, everyone!
We recently purchased an older farm property that had been largely ignored for many years. As we began cleaning up the fields, we discovered a number of large old apple trees (and one random pear) around the perimeter of the property. Many of them are actively fruiting, but between lack of care and the dry weather, the majority of the apples are misshapen, damaged or on the smaller side. They still taste good though! 

I read through some of the other posts about recovering and reviving older trees. There's some great info there!  I'd really like to recover them if possible.  If not, I will graft newer trees onto the existing root systems.

My question is - how can I go about identifying the type of cultivar? I've tried contacting our local Extension office, and they just sent me a fact sheet and said good luck. I've determined there are at least three varieties, but there may be more - it's hard to tell. Is there a site or book somewhere that will help me to identify them?  We are in Central Maine, so that limits the options a bit I know....but I'm especially interested to see if they are some of the old varieties.

Thanks!
C.
 
Shawn Harper
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Honestly they might be varieties that no longer exist in catalogs or other places.
 
Dan Boone
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Hi!  Not sure where you are, and I don't have time to chase down links for these.  But there's a really famous book called "Old Southern Apples" that documents a zillion varieties, and then there's one called "The New Book Of Apples."  I think I'd be tracking those down if I were in your shoes.
 
R Ranson
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I have a few old trees on my property.  I call them 'heritage apples' and people seem happy with that.

It wasn't until the 1930s that the idea of types of apples really took off.  Most trees older than that don't have a specific name.  Actually, before the 1930s, apples were mostly for making apple cider (or hard cider as they call it in the US).
 
Craig Dobbelyu
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Being in Maine, it may be useful to pick up some of the local tree catalogs and see which varieties most resemble your apple.    I think the descriptions here Fedco apple tree varieties

Many of the descriptions include parentage and a year when it was first ID'd.  That info can usually get you pretty close.


If you post a picture of the apples, I'm sure many of us here will give it a solid guess.  May be just enough to get you on the right track.

 
Ray Moses
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Location: Brighton, Michigan
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R Ranson wrote:I have a few old trees on my property.  I call them 'heritage apples' and people seem happy with that.

It wasn't until the 1930s that the idea of types of apples really took off.  Most trees older than that don't have a specific name.  Actually, before the 1930s, apples were mostly for making apple cider (or hard cider as they call it in the US).

Many cultivars were developed well before the 1930s by more then 100 years , at least
 
Bill Erickson
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Unless I know what one of my apple trees is named, then I do like R. Ranson and just call it a heritage apple. Depending upon the quality of the meat of the apple or the taste of its juice I may call it an eating apple or a cider/juice apple.

When it comes to these old apple trees you find on older properties, the best thing I have found is to mulch, manure and water well - after I have pruned a lot of the crazy growth down. The reason for the pruning is to guide the tree into the shape I want it, to include height and all that good stuff. Once you have done that, you then know where the drip line is and you can root prune along that and concentrate your amendments there, as that is where the tree is feeding.
After all the pruning and feeding, then it is time to sit back and see what your trees produce once they've been giving some care and love. Most of those older apples were cider apples for the most part, like R. Ranson has already mentioned. The meat can be "mealy" feeling, but the juice from them is just incredible. Good luck with your "heritage" apples and hopefully you'll update us with your progress with them.
 
R Ranson
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Ray Moses wrote:
R Ranson wrote:I have a few old trees on my property.  I call them 'heritage apples' and people seem happy with that.

It wasn't until the 1930s that the idea of types of apples really took off.  Most trees older than that don't have a specific name.  Actually, before the 1930s, apples were mostly for making apple cider (or hard cider as they call it in the US).

Many cultivars were developed well before the 1930s by more then 100 years , at least


Yes they were developed and named, however, they weren't common in a home garden setting.  A lot of people didn't have disposable income to spend on something they can grow for free. 
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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I get the question about "What variety is this?" every week at the farmer's market. It drives me crazy!!! First of all, even if the variety that I'm growing had a name, it's very unlikely to mean anything at all to the person asking the question. AaaarrrgggghH!  "What does it taste like?" It's garlic, therefore, it tastes like garlic. AaaarrrgggghH!

One of the farmer's at my farmer's market treats the variety names of the things he grows on his farm as a  trade secret, so his sales staff are under strict orders to never tell anyone a variety name for what they are growing. The grocery stores don't disclose variety names of most things. Why do people ask it of their farmers?

Thanks for this thread... I think I'll develop some sort of canned response based on "It's a heritage _____".

 
Dan Boone
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Joseph Lofthouse wrote:The grocery stores don't disclose variety names of most things. Why do people ask it of their farmers?


Actually fancier grocery stores often do sell named produce, but unfortunately they usually lie; names given are usually trademarked marketing appellations rather than true variety names.  "Campari" tomatoes is the example most frequently seen in the stores I frequent. 

I get why you of all people would be frustrated by the question, especially as it has no good answer in connection with your genetically diverse crops.  But here's a list of reasons why I have been known to ask the question, especially when I knew less than I do now:

1) I want to be able to buy it somewhere else and think being able to ask/search for it by name might help;
2) I want to be able to buy seeds from which to grow it later;
3) I want to know more about the variety so I can best try to grow it from the seeds that are in it;
4) I want to research the variety to see if planting the seeds is worth the effort or if it's a hybrid unlikely to grow true from seed;
5) I think it looks admirable and I want to know if such a novel/awesome/excellent variety has a name by which to remember it;
6) I am a monkey whose first education as a toddler was being taught to put names to things while looking at them, so that's how I learn/remember.  "Cat" and "Dog" are fairly vague and useless names for the cartoons in the picture book, too, but naming things (however inaccurately) is a huge part of basic human cognition and information processing; it's what we do.

I don't even think that's a complete list!  These are all legitimate reasons to inquire.  I believe I'd be mildly offended at receiving an obvious blow-off answer like "It's a heritage squash" in response to my asking about varieties.  "I bred it myself, it doesn't have a name" would be fine though.  Or "no two plants on my farm are the same variety, I ran out of names for them in 2004" would be a funny version that's not insulting.
 
C.R. Maguire
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Thanks everyone - such great feedback, advice and comments!

I've started cleaning them up a bit, three trees so far.  I'm just cleaning the dead stuff and allowing some air and sunlight up through the center for right now. I'll trim back the height when it gets colder.

I've searched the trees and am unable to find a graft line anywhere.  It may just be that they have grown over it in a way that my untrained eye can't recognize it easily, or perhaps they are old enough to have not been grafted.

I've found around here that people like to know the variety of apple for cooking purposes.  It just simplifies it for me, since I know it will come up.  I like the idea of 'heritage apples' though.  Our goal is to have heirloom varieties and heritage breeds on our farm as much as possible, so if they do fall into that category it would be helpful to know. I'll attach some pictures for fun, in case anyone is interested. The tree is one I've just finished cleaning up - it looks so much better already!

I watched "Permaculture Orchard" and got some great tips from Stefan Sobkowiak - especially on companion plantings, care & feeding, and caterpillar traps.  That's my next step.

All the best,
Colleen

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Recently cleaned up old apple tree
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Veriety of apple I've not seen before. Shaped like a red delicious, but with a blush.
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Another one of the 'heritage' apples
 
O. Donnelly
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Hi Colleen - it looks like you have some beautiful apples there. Why do you feel you have to do anything to the trees to "recover them"? Would this just be for your own consumption or do you plan to sell them?

Incidentally, serious hard cider producers tend to prefer small apples, as they contend the small size concentrates sugar and flavor. Some disease and insect scarring won't hurt cider either.
 
Jd Gonzalez
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The second apple reminded me of a "little benny" apple.

Here's a link to heritage apples.

http://www.centuryfarmorchards.com/niche/wildlife.html
 
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