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Gardening Articles: Care :: Pests & Problems

The New Easy Apples

by Jack Ruttle

Growers survey their ripening crop of scab-resistant 'Redfree' apples

As any fastidious backyard apple grower knows, it's a lot of work to bring in a bountiful and healthy crop. In some regions 10 or more sprays are necessary each season. Insect pests still require spraying in most areas, but apples are mainly sprayed to prevent disease, primarily scab. Ignore insect pests and you'll lose fruit. Neglect the diseases and you risk more than just the crop: Tree health suffers. So eliminate the disease problem and apples instantly become much easier. In many parts of the country you can now bring in a prime crop of new disease-resistant varieties with no fungicides at all. At most you'll need two or three insect sprays, applied many weeks before harvest.

The quest for disease-free apples began in 1907 at the University of Illinois. But it wasn't until 1943 that researchers found a source of immunity to scab in a crabapple. The first scab-free variety tasty enough to merit release, 'Prima', came in 1970.

By the end of the 1970s, a dozen scab-immune varieties were available. But very few commercial apple growers or gardeners made the switch, in part because good ideas are often slow to catch on. Most gardeners stuck with their old favorites. There just wasn't enough flavor variety to satisfy apple lovers. After all, why add one or two disease-free apples to an orchard of older varieties that still requires disease control?

Moreover, a fair number of the new varieties were 'McIntosh' wannabes. 'McIntosh', a big-money variety in the Northeast, is very scab susceptible. Researchers wanted a substitute badly. But none tasted as good, and most grew best only in the Northeast.

Now the second wave of scab-free apples, introduced in the '80s and '90s, is changing attitudes. 'GoldRush', which just became available this year, is getting rave reviews, not only for its rich and exotic flavor but also for its superb keeping ability. It will last in prime condition for more than seven months in cold storage. In taste tests it has equaled hot new varieties like 'Braeburn' and 'Fuji'. One enthusiast likened it to the powerfully flavored Esopus Spitzenburg, Thomas Jefferson's favorite apple and a benchmark among connoisseurs. 'Pristine', which will be available for the first time in the spring of 1995, has an exceptional sweet/tart taste and is extra early (ripening with the last raspberries and the first peaches). Now, with a wealth of different flavors and ripening times from which to choose, gardeners can plant exclusively disease-resistant varieties, and forget about disease sprays for good.

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