By Donnetta Wilhelm, Colorado Master Gardener
What says autumn better than apples? Warm apple cider, apple pie, apple butter and fried apples are all delightful as the chill of autumn sets in. There is even an ‘Autumn Glory’ apple, described as very sweet and crisp with hints of cinnamon and subtle notes of caramel. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it?
The State Agricultural College (CSU) bulletin, Fruit Interests of the State, published in October 1891 indicates that by the 1890’s apples were the primary fruit crop of Colorado. There are several reasons why Colorado is a great place for growing apples. Vernalization, commonly called “chill hours”, is vital to the apple tree life cycle. For apple trees to flower and properly set fruit each spring, they must accumulate 600 chill hours between 32°F and 45°F. Apple trees also require at least 6 hours of full sun each day once blossoming begins. Another reason apples grow well in Colorado is they blossom later in the spring making them more likely to avoid most killing frosts. Finally, most apple tree varieties are hardy to Zone 4, so Colorado gardeners have the perfect environment for growing apple trees.
There are good varieties to select from, and research has been underway since 2008 to create an Old Colorado Apples list. The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project currently lists 436 varieties of apples grown in Colorado prior to 1930. Thirty-one varieties are considered endangered or rare. Endangered varieties such as Fall Jenneting and Johnny Appleseed, or rare varieties such as Fall Pippin and Crimson Beauty are still available through mail order if gardeners want to establish an “old orchard” reminiscent of 1891 Colorado apple orchards.
Gardeners may also consider another Old Colorado Apple, the elusive but recently re-discovered Colorado Orange apple, originating from Colorado with its distinctive characteristics: yellow with a reddish blush, complex flavor of tart and sweet with a bit of a citrus bite. Sounds delicious.
As Martin Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”