Companions Down the
Orchard Path

Being a collection of links to apple, apple tree, and orchard resources
from the creator of My Grandpap's Apple Orchard and the Orchard at Sage Hen Farm.

 

Apple Variety Descriptions:
General
PA/NY | New England | Midwest | South | West |
UK & Ireland

Tree Management

Historical Sources

 

Apple Varieties: Descriptions and Other Information

General Information about Apple Varieties
  • The Orange Pippin from the UK is a site dedicated to "describing the flavours of apples and the origins of different apple varieties."
  • Adam's Apple, from a New England based blogger, reviews apples (over 150 at this writing) in an "opinionated catalog," and discusses related apple matters as well. One of the few places on the web to find both positive and negative comments. In 2012, Adam initiated a star system from no stars to three stars "based on their qualities eaten out of hand."
  • Thr Fruit Gardener is a blog that regularly reviews apple varieties with history, descriptions, and both fresh eating and culinary ratings from 1-10.
  • Tom Brown of Clemmons, NC, has put his passion of lost heritage apple varieties into a guide and business called Apple Search
  • Apple Journal appears not to have been updated since 2004, but on the site are good guides to apple varieties: one has descriptions and illustrations of about 80 varieties, and the one it calls comprehensive covers closer to 250 varieties, but has no illustrations. Its orchard trail section is no longer maintained.
  • The Fruit Forum, based in England, provides an outlet for an international discussion of fruits.
  • Backyard Orchard Culture, explained on the Dave Wilson Nursery site.
Regional Commercial and Non-profit Sites with Information about Apple Varieties
Pennsylvania & New York
  • Adams County Nursery, from one of the most productive apple growing regions in Pennsylvania (or the country), includes a rating system in its descriptions of apples (size, keeping quality, flavor, scab and blight resistance).
  • Cummins Nursery/Indian Creek Farm, Ithaca and Geneva, NY, includes descriptions, but no illustrations, of a large stock of antique, cold-hardy, and disease-resistant, cider & other unusual apples plus the standard currently popular apple and other fruit trees.
  • Black Diamond Farm, Trumansburg, NY -- pictures and brief descriptions of the 32 varieties of apples they grow. In the orchard is a mix of antique and recently developed apple varieties.
  • Hemlock Grove Farm, in Danby, NY, is organic and includes many "low spray" varieties.
  • St. Lawrence (NY) Nursery specializes in hardy apples. Buried on its site is the 2013 catalog.
  • New York Apple Country has lots of information about apples and can be used to locate apples and orchards
  • Apple Castle, between New Castle and New Wilmington, Pa., has been in the Johnston family since Lincoln was the President, and I grew up with a couple of the Johnston boys. Their most popular apple varieties are listed on the website by riping date, but they grow numerous heirloom varieties that are not included.
New England
  • Gould Hill Orchard in Hopkinton, NH, provides picking times and descriptions of its 90 or so apples, including modern and heirloom.
  • Fedco Seeds, Maine, includes descriptions and photographs of the fruit trees it sells, including many heritage apple varieties that originated in Maine.
  • Out on a Limb CSA, run by John Bunker, who selects trees for Fedco, offers some variations on the Fedco descriptions mixed with personal comments. The newsletter includes "This Week's Picks" which gives you an idea of what varieties ripen together.
  • The Worcester Horticultural Society Tower Hill Botanical Garden maintains the Frank L. Harrington Sr. Orchard of antique apple trees. It has sold scion sticks, but may not be doing so (at least online) currently.
  • New England Apples is a blog featuring apple descriptions, recipes, and seasonal essays. It originates from the New England Apple Association.
  • Maine Heritage Orchard, from the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, with pictures and descriptions of apples that originated in Maine.
  • Lost Nation Orchard at Heartsong Farm in Maine is the home of Michael Phillips, one of the country's leading authorities on organic apple growing. The site includes very brief descriptions of their apples.
Midwest
  • Purdue published a factsheet [pdf] of Apple Cultivars for Indiana.
  • Tuttle Orchard near Indianapolis includes photos and descriptions of the 25 varieties it grows and includes a nice chart with useful information.
  • Applesource, founded by the late Tom Vorbeck, still includes Tom's Growing Tips which also includes excellent short descriptions of the all the wide variety of the apples.
  • Tree-mendus Fruit, Eau Claire, Michigan, provides photographs and short descriptions of many different apples.
  • Moore Orchards, Midland, Michigan -- see especially the essay, "How Good Were Those Old-Time Apples" which lists some apples that were, and some that weren't.
  • Maple Valley Orchard, Gillett,Wisconsin: Apple Cultivars -- brief descriptions of hundreds of varieties, with hardiness zone information.
  • Southmeadow, in Michigan, has a long history of supplying heritage fruit trees, and appears to have recovered from a recent business unpleasantness.
  • Weston's Antique Apple Orchards from New Berlin, Wisconsin, includes a handy chart of apples with harvest dates and the post-harvest weeks when they are at their best.
  • Royal Oak Farm Orchard, in Illinois, includes a wealthy of information about apples and apple growing. Owner Dennis Norton's blog is focused on home orchard management.
  • Michele Warmund, UMo Department of Horticulture describes apples adapted to Missouri in Apple Cultivars and Their Uses
  • Grandpa's Orchard, from Coloma, Michigan, has descriptions, illustrations, and a little history of the fruit trees it sells, plus some nice growing tips guides. [The business "Grandpa's Orchard" and this site "My Grandpap's Apple Orchard" are totally unrelated.]
Southern US
  • Creighton Lee Calhoun, Jr. Old Southern Apples, Chelsea Green: 1995. Preview only (although extensive sections viewable) available through Google Books.
  • Vintage Virginia Apples, Rural Ridge Orchard, North Garden, VA, has lengthy and illustrated descriptions on many antique and modern apples.
  • Big Horse Creek Farm, Lansing, NC, maintains a long list of apple variety descriptions.
  • Century Farms Orchard, Reidsville, NC, includes illustrations and good descriptions of more than thirty apples, some old, some modern. I especially like the addition of quarters in the apple pictures to get a sense of size. A complete apple list with hundreds of varieties, not all available every year, is offered as a pdf.
West Coast
  • Trees of Antiquity, California, both include long lists of apple varieties with iphotographs and descriptive annotations including zones, and other growing details.
  • Raintree Nursery, located in Washington State's rainforest, has an extensive and descriptive catalog of apple tree varieties.
UK and Ireland sites
  • Brogdale Farm is the home of the British National Fruit Collection. Its online catalog provides descriptions and some pictures of 2000 apple varieties, including many North American apples.
  • Keepers Nursery is a leading specialist fruit tree nursery in the UK, and its online catalogue is lengthy, well-illustrated, very descriptive, and searchable by several traits and categories.
  • Fruitwise is an English Apple site maintained by "a middle aged couple who dreamed of and planted a new orchard in Hampshire, England." It includes their story, tips, photographs, and a diary.
  • The Apple Farm, Cahir, Ireland, is operated by Con Traas. For information about apples, check the newsletter link.

 

Management of Trees

Advice from Academics

  • Cornell's New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva in cooperation with the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory's Germplasm Resources Information Network provides a database compiling apples by dozens of traits and descriptions. One of the most complete listings of apple varieties around. Comments by Roger Way and others are included. Dr. Way's descriptions have been widely circulated around the web, usually unattributed.
  • Penn State's Tree Fruit Production Guide covers a full range of commercial tree fruit production issues and is valuable for backyard orchardists, as well.
  • Virtual Orchard, co-sponsored by Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Michigan State Cooperative Extension, provides news and information, and place for discussion.
  • Malus Resources at the Geneva Repository Plant Genetic Resources Unit, Cornell University, Geneva, NY
  • Critical Temperatures for Frost Damage on Fruit Trees: Utah State's Cooperative Extension has adapted a table developed by Washington State University that lists temperatures for each stage of development at which 10% and 90% bud kill occurs after 30 minutes exposure. The Utah addition is to illustrate the development stages.

Organic and IPM

 

Historical Sources

The earliest written record of named apple varieties in North America were advertisements printed as broadsides or placed in newspapers by owners of nurseries. Two of the earliest were the William Smith nursery in Virginia (1755, 21 varieties) and the Prince nursery on Long Island (1771, 42 varieties [here's what the 1841 Catalogue looked like]).

Three books merit special attention among the important treatices on pomology:

  1. Andrew Jackson Downing and Samuel Downing. The Fruits and Fruit-trees of America: Or, the Culture, Propagation, and Management, in the Garden and Orchard, of Fruit-Trees Generally. The first edition of this great authority came out in 1845, being the first attempt to list and describe all the varieties of fruit known in the United States. It was revised several times by his son over then next several decades. Editions available online include Darwin's copy of the 1845 edition and some of Darwin's notes; the first revised edition from 1865; a revised edition with the title Selected Fruits from Downing's Fruits and Fruit-Trees of America (1871); and the second revised edition of 1881, but published in 1900.
  2. Nomenclature of the Apple: a catalogue of the known varieties referred to in American publications from 1804 to 1904. Compiled by W. H. Ragan. Washington, D.C. : U.S. G.P.O., 1905. [Bulletin No. 56. United States. Bureau of Plant Industry.] This work is the most extensive catalogue ever compiled of named varieties of apples found in North America. It includes other names the varieties were known by and has a table to record descriptions and features.
  3. The Apples of New York, by Spencer Ambrose Beach (1905), became something of a Bible for apple growers. Beach was a horticulturist at the New York Agricultural Experiment Station at Geneva and was known as the leading pomologist of his day. In two colorfully illustrated volumes, Beach provided as complete descriptions of apples has had ever been compiled before. The ample historical sections and list of references he provides for each apple described testifies to his research in both the field and in the library. Both volumes are available online from multiple sources:

Beach's Ratings

One key feature of Beach's descriptions was the rating for the quality of the fruit's flesh. The rating should not be considered an overall rating of the quality of the fruit nor the tree. Many highly rated apples were not commercially viable. Key defects were shy or unreliable cropping, poor keeping, and too tender for shipping. As a result, many of the top rated apples have disappeared or been almost forgotten. Beach appears to have relied on A. J. Downing or other previous pomologists for some of the ratings, since he notes for some top rated apples that "we have not seen this variety." With that caveat, here are Beach's top rated apples:

Volume I (Winter) [24 apples]:
Best: Green Newtown and Yellow Newtown. Very Good to Best: Bullock [American Golden Russet], Esopus Spitzenburg, Hubbardston, Hunt Russet, Jonathan, Lady Sweet [not Lady, aka Api], Newark Pippin, Newtown Spitzenburg, Northern Spy, Peck Pleasant, Pomme Grise, Swaar, Swazie, Tompkins King, Wagener, Westfield Seek-No-Further. Good to Best: Red Canada
Very Good to Best (with caveats): Ellsworth [but he had not seen], Evening Party [but little grown in New York], Grimes [but generally does not develop in color, size, and quality as well in New York as in more southern latitudes]; Pryor [a southern apple not well adapted to New York], White [Winter] Pearmain [a midwest apple not recommended for planting in New York].

Volume II (Summer and Fall) [10 apples]:
Best: Summer Pearmain. Very Good to Best: Autumn Sweet Swaar; Cox Orange; Dyer; Early Joe; Gravenstein; McIntosh; Mother; Primate; Victuals and Drink

Other Historical Sources

Here are other historical sources available online, mostly through Google Books or Cornell's Core Historical Literature of Agriculture. Titles in bold have been the most widely cited.

Ancienty

  • Pliny in Natural History named many varieties of apples, but it is not all clear that they were fruits we would recognize as apples (malus domesticus. Where Pliny has chapter titles "Fifteen Varieties of Olives," "Six Varieties of the Peach," "Twelve Kinds of Plums," and "Forty-One Varieties of the Pear," his chapter on apple varieties is labeled "Fruits That Have Been Recently Introduced." Pomes and apples. Matian, Cestian, Mallian, and Scandian, Appian, Sceptian, Quirinian, Petisian, Amerinian, Gręculan, Gemella, Syricum, Melapium, Musteum, Melimelum, Orbiculatum, Orthomastium, Spadonium, Melofolium, Pannuceum, Pulmoneum, Farinacean, plus wild apples with remarkably fine flavor, peculiar pungency, or such acidity that they could blunt a sword blade.

18th Century


19th Century

20th Century

This page was created and is maintained by: John Henderson, Sage Hen Farm, Lodi, NY.
Last modified: January 24, 2014
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