Archeological evidence locates the origin of apples (various Malus species) in the region today known as Kazakhstan, specifically forests of the Tien Shan mountains. The Old Silk Road from the Black Sea to western China was key to the evolution of the cultivated apple. Caravans and foot travel have traversed it since Neolithic times, scattering seeds from apples eaten along the way. Carbonized remains of apples have been found in prehistoric lake dwellings in Switzerland, dating back to the Iron Age, and 8,500 years ago apples were being grown and eaten in ancient Jericho. Selected cultivars were probably well-established in the near east by 4,000 BC and were later documented by Roman authors.
Crabapples are the only native apple species in North America, with small, sour fruit, but native tribes cooked and stored the fruit, and used the bark medicinally. Only 9 years after first landing at Plymouth in 1620, colonists planted European apple trees in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Unlike Europe, apple varieties in early America were usually not grafted and most fruit came from seedling trees. The fruit was eaten fresh, but mainly processed for storage by drying, cooking, and especially by making cider. Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) was very influential in spreading seedlings throughout the East and Midwest in the early 1800s. By the mid 1800s, farmers began to select for fruit quality and grafted the varieties they liked best. Development and selection of improved varieties has continued to the present day, conducted by both private and state sponsored research programs.
Old-time apple varieties is a list of apple varieties commonly found in old Pacific Northwest orchards compiled by R.A. Norton from an orchard reference book dated 1914.
Apple cultivar trials were begun in 1963 by Dr. Bob Norton. At that time the varieties available to home orchardists were often unsuited to local conditions, with problems of disease susceptibility, poor flavor and inferior keeping quality. In the years since, there have been notable improvements in variety selection for flavor, quality, disease resistance, and suitability for home garden production.
Several of the apples highly rated for home orchards have also proven suitable for commercial production. This is especially true where growers can make use of niche marketing or farm-market outlets to offer a specialized selection of high quality apples, with unique and distinctive flavor.
For a summary of apple variety trial results, see Reports.
Cultivars and selections from various breeding programs were on trial from 1990 to 2005 in a separate block, which is not sprayed with fungicides, to evaluate the range of disease resistance. The apples on trial, though immune to scab, may be susceptible to other diseases such as powdery mildew.
A small collection of cider apples specifically bred for hard cider production was evaluated from 1978 to 1998, selecting for variety productivity and ease of growing. In 1994 six new varieties were added in a larger planting, which was expanded in 1999 with new trees from varieties in the earlier trial. In 2001–2002 new varieties from France and England were added. Beginning In 2002, varietal ciders were produced on-station using fruit from the trial, with the advice of an expert cider maker. The ciders are then sampled and evaluated for quality and marketability.
Cider School Classes have been offered in collaboration with Peter Mitchell, an internationally known expert in hard cider and perry production from Worcester, England. The classes emphasize practical aspects of cider making and include intensive hands-on laboratory work as well as field trips to orchards and cideries.
The Northwest Cider Association is a group of cider makers and orchardists from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia who have organized to promote the production and appreciation of hard (fermented) cider.
Old-time apple varieties, a list of apple varieties commonly found in old Pacific Northwest orchards compiled by R.A. Norton from an orchard reference book dated 1914.
Jonagold Test Plot Trials (1994–2001)
his plot was established in 1994 as a site for cultural research on commercial apple production, and was set up to duplicate the conditions (rootstock, tree spacing, training methods, etc.) and variety strains typical of area orchards. Four strains – standard Jonagold, DeCoster, King (Jored) and Jonagored – were planted on M9 rootstock at 800 trees per acre. Spacing was 12′ between rows and 4.5′ between trees, with 4 replications across the block for a total of 480 trees. Crabapple pollinators (White Angel and Centennial) were set in between each 12-tree section of row. Irrigation was by a drip system, and trees were trained to a 2-wire trellis using a variant of the central leader method. Research performed in this block included a nutrition study of potassium-magnesium, scab and mildew spray trials, and thinning trials. The trial concluded in 2001.
The bulletin EB 1804 Growing Jonagold in Western Washington includes information derived from this trial on establishing and maintaining a commercial ‘Jonagold’ orchard. It covers topics including orchard site selection, soil testing and amendment, nutrition requirements, spacing, rootstocks, pruning, and harvest, much of which is applicable to apple growing in general.
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