Growing and eating apples

by Kate Bradbury

Every autumn, Gardeners' World magazine Editor Adam Pasco and Deputy Editor Lucy Hall bring their surplus of home-grown apples into the office.

Apple 'Spartan'Every autumn, Gardeners' World magazine Editor Adam Pasco and Deputy Editor Lucy Hall bring their surplus of home-grown apples into the office. Adam shares a number of dessert varieties, while Lucy delivers the cooker, 'Bramley'. They are all very well received.

The Gardeners’ World magazine office apple season starts in September, when Adam brings in 'Ellison’s Orange', a mid-season variety and offspring of late-mid season classic 'Cox’s Orange Pippin'. This is shortly followed by Cox's Orange Pippin, and lastly my favourite, late-season 'Spartan', which is absolutely delicious.

At some point during this time, Lucy turns up with buckets of 'Bramley'. These are swiftly gathered by colleagues and taken home, mainly to be turned into crumble. And why not? Last weekend I made the most wonderful apple crumble I have ever eaten, using this BBC Good Food recipe (I ignored the instructions to add jam and orange juice to the apples).

My garden might not be too small to grow apples, but its soil is too shallow to sustain a tree and it only gets sunshine for two hours a day. But if you have better conditions, now's a great time to plant bare-root apple trees. Many varieties will fruit within a couple of years, won't need much attention (unless you train them as a fan, step-over, espalier or cordon), and will provide you with years and years of delicious home-grown apples.

It’s a good idea to taste as many as you can before you commit to buying. Ask to sample fruits growing in friends’ gardens/allotments or go to a local tasting festival, like the one held at Brogdale each year. If you only have room for one tree, make sure it’s self-fertile, like 'Cox's Orange Pippin', or choose a suitable pollination partner (another variety that flowers at the same time) if you have room for two. 'Spartan', for example, is partially self-fertile but produces a bigger crop if grown with another which flowers at the same time, such as 'Beauty of Bath'. If you buy your apple tree from a specialist nursery, there will be someone there to advise you on pollination partners.

Consider when you would like your apples: some varieties fruit in September, while others don’t mature until November. Generally the earlier the fruit, the less well it stores, so if you want fruit through the winter go for a late variety such as 'Winston', 'Elestar' or 'Jonagold'. Alternatively, opt for local, heritage varieties, which were either cultivated or discovered in your area.

You should also consider rootstock, which determines how large your tree will grow. A rootstock is simply the roots of another tree, on to which your apple is grafted. This means you have more control over disease resistance and vigour. If you have a small garden or want to train your tree into a cordon, fan or espalier, try MM106 or MM116 rootstock. For larger trees, choose MM111. You can get smaller rootstocks such as MM26 and MM27, but these tend to produce a smaller crop of fruit with greater susceptibility to pests and disease.

What are your favourite apple varieties?

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Gardeners' World Web User 12/11/2010 at 16:46

I cannot wait to make my apple crumble this year using my aunt's Bramleys - fortunately for me my mum didn't get all of the crop this year so I will try that Good Food recipe out Kate if it comes recommended. My rabbit is still indulging in some late windfalls and for one fussy bunny, he sure likes the gnarly ones!!

Gardeners' World Web User 12/11/2010 at 16:59

It definitely comes recommended PeaPod, was fantastic. Aww I used to feed apples to my bunny when he was around. Sadly he's not around anymore...

Gardeners' World Web User 13/11/2010 at 19:14

My Bramley tree was very old when we moved in 46 years ago and each year when i see it absolutely covered in blossom, I dread this is its swan song but it never happens and the apples seem to get bigger and bigger. I'm still freezing and giving loads away this year. I have a very nice apple called "Charles Ross" which you can cook or eat - hard, clean flesh and a very good keeper which will stay on the tree till Xmas and can then be eaten straight off the tree - by which time it is a glorious Xmassy red all over.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/11/2010 at 15:36

patientgardener - I could... but I'd have to grow them on MM26/27 rootstock so the fruits and crop would be smaller and the plant would be more susceptible to pests and diseases. My garden only gets two hours sunshine a day too, which doesn't make for very tasty apples. And the garden is so small, if I plant a tree it's got to be more productive than that!

Gardeners' World Web User 17/11/2010 at 17:33

Why don't your readers think about planting cider apples - to make their own nectar. Kingston Black is the king of cider apples and also makes a seriously delicious apple juice, and Dabinett makes my favourite single variety cider.

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