Picking fresh apples in December

Grafting, Grafting Pictures Learning to Graft

It's possible to pick delicious fresh eating apples in December. At this time of year, fresh apples are difficult to get, and although decent English apples should be available in the shops, they are nowhere near as good as those which are fresh off the tree.

To do this you need the right varieties. You also have to net them against birds, and small trees are best. Unless they are securely netted, you will get nothing.

I have four trees about the same size as tomato plants, in twelve to fifteen inch pots, and they have 12 - 20 apples each, quite small, which hang on the branches until Christmas day or later. You don't need any more than this. If you have too many they're not a treat. They are all unnamed seedlings which I've found in the hedges and elsewhere, and grafted onto MM106 rootstocks. They are unharmed by light to moderate frosts, because they are relatively densely-textured apples, crunchy and well-flavoured, rather like Sturmer Pippin, which don't contain an excessive amount of water.

If you wish to try this you'll need to get some MM106 stocks and a good grafting knife. Recommended scion wood - Allen's Everlasting, Sturmer Pippin. You could do worse than use the rootstock apples themselves, which would mean no grafting - MM106 are first-class eaters in their own right, and stay on the branches quite late, though they are a bit big for 3ft-4ft trees in pots. A tiny tree with a dozen bright red apples in mid-December is a lovely sight and easy to construct.

If you want to find your own late seedlings, keep your eyes open and secateurs in your pocket as you drive around in December and January. You need trees in hedgerows and gardens where the apples, preferably small, are still on the branches. The scion wood (lengths of straight wood, if you can find it, should be about the same thickness as a pencil and a foot long, can be half-buried in the ground in loose compost, and used in Feb-March-April. It's worth trying the flavour, though remember your own well-tended tree, in a sunny spot, will produce more flavoursome fruit than an untended tree at the side of the road or in a thicket somewhere.

There's nothing to stop you putting these trees in the ground, but they will need strict pruning if you're going to net them in Nov-Dec.

My "Croft Late" seedling, which I found growing nearby and which I thought was Annie Elizabeth (until I found that the apples stayed fresh on the tree until mid-January) is shown below. This one is in the ground and budded onto M26.

Croft late seedling, M26, photographed late nov

Burford apple, photographed 10 dec 05

Burford apple, photographed 10 dec 05

Croft late seedling,MM106, photographed 10 dec 05

Whitwick Pippin, photographed 10 dec 05

Whitwick Pippin, same apples, 28 dec 05

Croft late seedling, photographed 10 dec 05

More pictures:

Nigel Deacon, Diversity site

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