Planting Apple Trees? Taste The Fruit First….

If you are thinking of planting apple trees, one of the first questions to ask yourself is what type of apple do you like to eat? You could choose a familiar supermarket-type variety like McIntosh or Golden Delicious. But the truth is that those types of apples aren’t always the easiest to grow organically.

When planting apple trees, it’s best to do your research first – and the taste of the fruit is just one factor to explore. It’s essential to choose a cultivar that will survive and thrive in your climate zone. If you want to plant apple trees that are easier to care for, I’d suggest selecting trees that have been bred to be resistant to common diseases like apple scab, rust, powdery mildew or fire blight.

View the video to learn about the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival, one of the largest apple tasting festivals in North America.

With thousands of apple tree cultivars available from specialist fruit tree nurseries across North America, it is possible to find a perfect apple cultivar for almost any garden. But once you find some suitable cultivars in your fruit tree nursery catalogue, how do you know you’ll like the taste?

Your best bet is to attend an apple festival – and one of the biggest takes place in Salt Spring Island, B.C. a scenic Island off the coast of Vancouver. Here growers cultivate over 450 apple tree varieties and many of them are available for tasting at the annual Salt Spring Island Apple Festival, which takes in October each year.

Stay in a B&B that looks out on an orchard. Salt Spring Apple Company's owners also graft fruit trees that they sell from their farm.

Stay at the Salt Spring Island B&B that looks out on a working orchard. Salt Spring Apple Company’s owners also graft fruit trees that they sell from their farm. (Photo Credit: www.orchardpeople.com)

Tasting the Apple Growing Life at a Local B&B

During a recent visit to Salt Spring Island, my husband Cliff and I wanted to immerse ourselves in an apple growing experience, so we booked to stay at the Salt Spring Apple Company B&B. There, from the window of our cozy cottage we could look out onto the orchard and watch owners and staff weed and mulch around the hundreds of heirloom and disease resistant fruit trees.

We were also free to wander around the orchard and the owners, Peri Lavender and Brian Webster, were happy to show us around. Their goal in planting apple trees was to create a high-density orchard made up of hundreds of dwarf apple trees. The trees are supported by trellises and trained using the tall spindle technique.

man training apple trees

Susan Poizner filming as Brian Webster demonstrates how to train apple trees using the tall spindle technique. Learn more about fruit tree pruning and training at www.orchardpeople.com/workshops.Photo Credit: OrchardPeople.com.

Wolf River is a baking apple that is so large that one apple can be used for a whole pie. Photo Credit: Salt Spring Apple Company

Wolf River is a baking apple that is so large that one apple can be used for a whole pie. (Photo Credit: Salt Spring Apple Company)

Brian and Peri currently grow 333 different apple cultivars, most of the varieties are ones that most consumers have never heard of. One of Brian’s favorites is “Wolf River,” an heirloom cultivar that originated in Wisconsin in the 19th century after an immigrant from Quebec planted apple seeds along the Wolf River. The seeds were from a Russian apple variety called Alexander that he brought with him from home.

When you’re growing an apple tree from seed, the new seedling tree will not produce a clone of the original fruit. Rather each seedling produces a new type of fruit – and there is no guarantee that the fruit on the seedling trees will taste good.

But in this case, one of those seedling trees that the Quebec immigrant planted grew into an apple tree that produced massive, perfect pie apples. And so the “Wolf River” variety was discovered in the 1870s, propagated and cloned using fruit tree grafting techniques.

“In some cases you can produce a whole pie with one (Wolf River) apple. When we harvested our first crop I was amazed that each apple weighed more than a pound!” Brian says.

Orchard Tour in Salt Spring Island

Over a dozen apple orchards on this small island open their gates during the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival for tours, apple tastings and gourmet food prepared by local chefs. (Photo Credit: Michael Levy, www.flatearthphoto.com)

A Festival Filled With Fruit

We visited Salt Spring Island in the early summer and it was beautiful. But if you are serious about planting apple trees and tasting the different cultivars, the optimal time to visit is in October during the apple festival. At that time over a dozen orchards open their gates to visitors who can come to explore the orchard, taste the fruit and enjoy gourmet meals prepared by local chefs on site.

Salt Spring Island Apple Festival Fulford Hall Apple Display. Photo Credit: Francis Litman

Salt Spring Island Apple Festival Fulford Hall Apple Display. (Photo Credit: Francis Litman)

During the festival there is a huge apple display at Fulford Hall where you can see and learn about hundreds of varieties. There are pie tastings, tours and educational activities for children and adults. And of course there are enough apple cultivars to taste to make your head spin!

Each year the festival attracts over 1,500 visitors and Harry Burton of Apple-Luscious Organic Orchard, one of the festival’s organizers, says for some people tasting the apples is a trip down memory lane.

“Probably six or eight years ago we had a woman walking into the orchard with a cane. She wasn’t walking very well. She asked me if we had any of the old Gravenstein apples that she was familiar with as a kid and when I said yes, they are right over there, she leapt up two stairs to get the Gravensteins.”

Salt Spring Wild Cider has cider tastings in their tasting room. They have also planted an orchard of cider apple trees that they grafted themselves.

Salt Spring Wild Cider has cider tastings in their tasting room. They have also planted an orchard of cider apple trees that they grafted themselves. (Photo Credit: www.orchardpeople.com)

Planting Apple Trees for Cider

If you’re interested in planting apple trees for cider, you can visit Salt Spring Wild Cider’s tasting house to explore how the classic and unusual cider apple varieties will change the way your cider will taste.

“During the festival, people like to try all the different types of ciders that we have to offer and we can explain what kinds of apples we are using whether it’s Belle De Boskoop or Kingston Blacks or Chisel Jerseys or any of the interesting varieties we can find on Salt Spring,” says Mike Lachelt of Salt Spring Wild Cider.

Tasting the ciders at Salt Spring Island Wild Cider.

Tasting the ciders at Salt Spring Wild Cider. (Photo Credit: OrchardPeople.com)

Mike and his partner Gerda Lattey originally foraged for wild apples on abandoned apple trees across the island to produce their ciders but now they have planted a cider orchard on their property that you can also explore during your visit.

The Key To Planting Apple Trees Successfully is Research

So when you’re considering planting apple trees, be sure to spend lots of time researching. Learn how to research a tree that will thrive in your unique environment in my Beginner Fruit Tree Care Online Training and I’ll take you through all the necessary steps involved in finding a tree that will work on your site.

Once you’ve found some varieties that might work for your location and for your needs, it’s time to taste your way through your list by checking out an apple festival near you – or by visiting the Salt Spring Island Apple Festival. Then your next challenge will be planting apple trees and learning how to care for them so that they flourish and produce some amazing fruit that you can enjoy and share for years to come.

Susan Poizner

Susan Poizner

Director, OrchardPeople.com Fruit Tree Care Education Online

Susan Poizner is the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards and the creator of the award-winning online fruit tree care training portal at www.orchardpeople.com. She is an urban orchardist, journalist and film maker living in Toronto, Canada.