Our list of apple varieties may contain names which are unfamiliar to you – Winecrisp, Goldrush, Liberty, Pristine, Williams Pride, and so on. We don’t grow Honeycrisp, Gala, Golden Delicious, or other common supermarket apples. Why did we choose these unusual varieties?
Virtually all of the organic apples in the supermarket were grown in the Pacific Northwest. Not near wet Seattle, where it rains 37.5 inches per year in average, but in inland, near-desert areas such as the Yakima Valley, which receives barely 8 inches of precipitation per year. Organic apple production is concentrated there because dry conditions drastically reduce the amount of disease which infects the apple trees and fruit. Plant diseases thrive in humid, wet conditions. In the apple growing regions of Washington, growers supply water to the tree roots using drip irrigation, but the above-ground parts of the trees stay dry and disease free.
In Wisconsin (and most of the eastern United States) we have frequent rains and high humidity during the growing season. Consequently, diseases thrive. Conventional, non-organic apple growers use chemical pesticides to keep the diseases in check. But organic apple growing here is challenging.
Many diseases can attack apple trees, but the most consistently destructive disease in our region is apple scab. In wet years it will defoliate trees, reduce yield, and cause cracked and spotty fruits. Our orchard consists entirely of varieties which were specifically selected to be naturally resistant to apple scab without needing any sprays or special treatment. Most of these varieties were bred in the past sixty years at universities and experiment stations in the midwest and eastern United States. The most prolific of these apple breeding programs was based in Illinois, Indiana, and New Jersey. Other varieties that we grow were bred in Europe, Japan, and Canada (apple scab is a problem throughout the world’s humid apple-growing regions).
A wonderful part of the burgeoning local and organic food movement is that many new organic orchards have started in our region, and local organic apples are becoming increasingly available at farmers’ markets and grocery stores. Some local organic orchards do grow mainstream apple varieties which are susceptible to scab, and these growers typically rely on sprays of sulfur and liquid lime sulfur to keep scab in check. (Yes, organic apple growers can use certain sprays, as specified by the National Organic Standard – non-toxic and primarily natural products.) We don’t have any reason to think that sulfur and liquid lime sulfur are dangerous to consumers, but they do have effects on wildlife in the orchard, and liquid lime sulfur is particularly caustic and dangerous to the grower who handles and sprays it. We prefer to avoid these materials as much as possible.
Fortunately, many of the scab-resistant apple varieties are outstanding, and some are becoming common even in non-organic orchards. We sell a large portion of our apples through grocery stores, especially the Willy Street Co-op in Madison, and our varieties sell well even though household names like Honeycrisp are on the shelf nearby. Online reviews have given high ratings to many of of our varieties – see these for instance: Winecrisp, Williams Pride, Pristine, and Goldrush. We love our apples, and many of our CSA members agree that they’re outstanding. But tastes differ and not everyone likes them. Most mainstream apple varieties taste very similar – sweet, juicy, and crisp. There’s a much wider assortment of apple flavors, tastes, and textures out there in the world, and our varieties represent a broader spectrum of the possibilities. If you find mainstream apples bland and boring, give us a try! But if you’re devoted to Honeycrisp and eat nothing else, we’d encourage you to be cautious and just try out our varieties by signing up for one of smaller sized CSA shares.
It’s also important to remember that every apple variety benefits from being eaten at its peak. Most supermarket apples are picked fairly immature and stored for long periods; flavor suffers. We pick our apples near the peak of ripeness and get them to you quickly. Enjoy!