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[nafex] Virginia Cider
I have spent the past 25 years trying to establish a decent orchard
in Northern Virginia, and have been making fresh and fermented cider for
the past 5 years. Your valley climate in general shouldn't be too much
different from mine, although you may have more pronounced temperature
extremes due to your elevation. While I can tell you about my own
experiences, the real authority on apple varieties adapted to Virginia's
climate is Dr. Tom Burford (also a Nafexer) who lives in Monroe.
1. When talk turns to cider varieties, it almost inevitably revolves
around English varieties, and a few old French apples. No question that
the English and French are masters of cider, and many of their old
varieties are marvelous cider apples --- for them. But I am not
entirely persuaded that all of these apples are well adapted to
Virginia, which is about 15 degrees South of the major English and
French growing areas. Ouir summers are considerably warmer and longer,
and we have more disease pressures. Also, while many of the older
varieties are very good, they are not good just because they are old.
Many of the old-timers are not very productive. There are some
excellent modern cultivars that will also make excellent cider, and grow
well with reduced disease problems in the mid-Atlantic region.
2. I have tried to plant varieties that ripen roughly in the same
timeframe --- that is, early to mid-October, certainly no later than
mid-September. I just don't have a cool, moist area to hold apples at
top quality for longer than 2-3 weeks. Cidermaking is quite an
operation here, involving equipment setup, and washing and cutting by
friends, relatives and in-laws. (I grind the fruit in a garbage
disposal, so most of it has to be cut.) So we try to do it all in one
hectic day. It is my impression that many of the European apples will
ripen here considerably earlier --- beginning in August. Nevertheless,
I do have a Foxwhelp, a nice branch graft of Kingston Black, and a
couple of the French Calville Blanc's.
3. Here are a few that are have been performing well for me, and some
that are my hopes for the future. I think all of them have the kind of
complex flavors that hold up well in blended cider, fresh or fermented:
-- Spigold: I don't hear much about this apple, but it is the best
all-around apple I have grown so far. A little slow to bloom and bear
(fifth year), but practically disease free, with apples (when thinned)
averaging over a pound each. When you look at these things, you think
an apple that big can't taste like much, but it is always crisp and very
juicy, with a complex, sweet-tart flavor. If you plant it, leave plenty
of space, since it is a very vigorous grower even on M-7. A triploid.
-- Mutsu: Very similar in appearance and quality to Spigold --- perhaps
a bit spicier. Apples average over a pound, and it bears annually.
-- Spartan: For my money, the best of the Macintosh crosses.
Excellent flavor, with good disease resistance. Very popular in N.Y
State and Vermont for cider.
-- Yellow Newtown Pippin: Nativized in Virginia as the Albemarle
Pippin. Like many of the older varieties, a bit of a shy bearer, but a
marvelous cider blending apple. Should be well adapted to valley
-- Calville Blance D'Hiver: This old French apple does ripen late,
and it is excellent for nearly any use, including cider and vinegar.
But a little slow to begin fruiting, and not a heavy bearer.
-- Stayman: Fine cider and eating apple. Some years, I have had
problems with cracking and bitter pit. Last season the tree was hit
with cedar apple rust. Still worth growing. Fairly productive.
-- Freedom: Sister of Liberty, but a little more tart and spicy.
Very large apple. Bears in the 4th year. Good scab resistance.
-- GoldRush: My little tree has not fruited yet, but from what I hear
from reliable sources, this should be one of the best cider apples for
the mid-Atlantic. A recent Purdue release with good disease resistance.
-- Kingston Black: I only have a branch graft of this cultivar, and it
has not yet fruited. May try to whip graft it on M-7 next spring. This
old English variety has been proven in Virginia, and it appears to be a
late apple, but I would not expect it to be a heavy bearer. I really
would like to get this one going.
-- Virginia (Hewes) Crab: These little apples have been grown for
cider in Virginia for at least 200 years. I have two little trees that
I grafted on M-7, and one of them set four apples the first year after
grafting. They look like vigorous growers and bloomers, and are
probably good pollinators. A little more tannin than most apples.
4. I don't mean to discourage you from trying some of the more exotic
varieties, but you need quite a bit of production for any substantial
quantity of cider, and the juicier the apple the better. That's one of
the things I like about Spigold. It doesn't take many to fill a
bushel. Having said that, I also think Nell Lancaster is right about
Golden Russet, although I don't have any experience with it.
5. Just out of curiousity, what are the table/cooking varieties you
have now? You might already have some decent cider apples, as part of a
blend. I throw Red and Golden Delicious in my cider when there are too
many to eat or even give away, and it doesn't seem to hurt the cider at
6. Where are you located in the Valley? How many trees will you
plant? One thing I learned the hard way: leave a little more space
between the trees than you think you need.
Best Regards, Don Yellman, Great Falls, VA
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