Here we are. Somehow it is already mid-August. County Fairs are wrapping up and kids are starting back to school. Most days are still hot, but every once in a while you catch a hint of autumn in the air. The gardens that you’ve lovingly and painstakingly tended all summer long are kicking into high gear. Zucchinis that somehow stayed hidden under the large leaves are now the size of baseball bats. Many gardeners talk of their bushels and bushels of beans, and peppers are coming into their own. Along with all the garden bounty that comes this time of year is one of my favorites, the apple. It is a crop that has deep roots here along the Front Range. Young and mature apple trees can be found in backyards, along old ditches and in managed orchards.
Apple orchards took off in the area in the late 1800s and for a time there was a thriving industry here. While those days are gone and the industry has largely moved to the Northwest (Washington state is the largest apple growing region in the U.S.), there are still apple orchards here, along with a growing interest in the crop. In some of those orchards and on backyard trees you can find varieties that you don’t find on the grocery store shelves that have names like Pristine, Priscilla and Scarlet Surprise. You will also find trees bearing more familiar varieties like Gala and Honeycrisp. You can find apples for all different uses from fresh eating, to cooking, to cider. One example of a difference in variety is an apple more suited for cider will have a bitter or dry flavor which makes them mostly unpalatable, but the juice makes for delicious cider.
If you’re interested in picking your own apples but don’t have your own tree, there are several you-pick-it places along the Front Range that take reservations and allow you to have a real orchard experience. If you want to plant your own tree, start planning this fall as they are typically planted in the spring. You can purchase apple trees from local nurseries or by mail-order. It is important to know that apples (and several other fruits) are grafted onto rootstock. This is a process that dates back several thousand years and is done by joining a piece of vegetative wood from a tree the grower hopes to propagate and harvest from, to the rootstock of another tree that has certain qualities like disease resistance, cold hardiness and/or size.
Semi dwarf and dwarf trees (i.e. trees that have been grafted onto rootstocks that produce smaller trees) are popular in orchards because they are easier to harvest from, but also make sense for backyards because they don’t get too big. In our area it’s important to look for varieties that have some resistance to fire blight. This is a bacterial disease that is quite common in Colorado and can be destructive to apples and other plant species in the same family, Rosaceae.
Once you have your apples in hand, whether from an orchard, your tree or that old abandoned tree you found down the street, there are so many things you can do with them. From sweet to savory, there are recipes for pie, cake, jelly, chips, salads, dried, crisps, salsas and more to be explored.
If you are interested in learning more about the rich history of apples in Colorado, there are several resources to start you on your way. The Boulder Apple Tree Project (appletreeproject.org)
and the Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project (MORP) (montezumaorchard.org) are two such groups working with local residents to find old trees and identify them to help preserve their genetic material and potentially bring them back into the fray.
By Deryn Davidson. Deryn is an Extension Agent – Horticulture at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information contact CSU Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds,
9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6386, e-mail [email protected] or visit boulder.extension.colostate.edu.