Farm Focus: Apples

Originating in the mountains of Eastern Europe wild apples were first domesticated by humans many centuries ago for their amazing flavor, long shelf life, and beauty. Part of the Rosaceae or Rose family apples spread across the world along with Europeans even though it wasn’t as easy as just planting a tree wherever they settled. Known by botanists as extreme heterozygosity each apple seed contains genetic blueprints for apples with entirely different characteristics than the fruit the seed came from so planting from seed is a gamble.
In order to continue growing favorite varieties, farmers had to find a way to propagate new trees from the original without the seeds. This new process is still used for most fruit trees including citrus and stone fruit. Each plant is actually a combination of a young branch, or scion, from a favorite fruiting tree and roots, or rootstock, from another variety combined together in a process called grafting. The fruiting trees are bred for flavor, appearance, storage life and yield. Rootstock, on the other hand, comes from trees bred for strong roots and physical strength which helps the fruiting stock to be healthy and productive.
So what happens if you try growing an apple from seed? More often than not trees grown from seeds bare fruit that is bitter and not good for eating. Fortunately, these apples make good hard cider. In fact, most of the apples grown in early America were used to make hard cider which most Americans consumed daily. Many of the first apples grown in the US were grown planted by seed by none other than John Chapman, who we all know as Johnny Appleseed. Johnny had the bright idea of planting apples in the undeveloped frontier to meet the demand from new incoming settlers who needed to claim land by planting fruit orchards. As a member of the Swedenborgian Church, he believed that grafting a tree caused the plant harm so he only used seeds to plant new trees. Most of these apples ended up being made into hard cider because they were unfit for eating but they played an important role in creating new varieties that we know and love today. By planting seeds, instead of grafting old standard European varieties, Johnny Appleseed unlocked the amazing genetics of apples and allowed breeders to create strong new varieties well suited to North American climates. Check out the variety list to see what apples you have!

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