Anna and Dorset Golden Apples

Anna and Dorset Golden Apples

Part of my winter chores this time of year is caring for my semi-dwarf apple espaliers on the back of the garage.  The two varieties, Anna and Dorset Golden, never really go dormant in my yard.  They are both very low chill apple varieties, recommended by many gardeners as a couple of the easiest and most dependable to grow in Coastal Southern California.  Anna was originally from Israel and Dorset Golden came from the Bahamas.  They always seem to have a few apples, they put on fruit at multiple times during the year, and the majority of the leaves hold on to the tree throughout the winter.  I spent a few hours last Sunday picking off each and every leaf and even a few straggling apples in various stages of development.  I also cleaned up any leaves that I found underneath the trees.   The two trees are almost ready to flower because a few blossoms had already opened.

I have learned that is helpful to pick off the leaves to avoid fungal issues like apple scab.  If the previous year’s leaves are left on the tree, it can foster disease just as much as fallen leaves left on the ground.  I also pick off any ‘mummies,” fruit that never matured or went unpicked and decayed on the tree.  When I had an apple scab outbreak in a cool foggy year, it was aggravated because I neglected the clean up chores until it was too late.  Fortunately, Anna and Dorset are such heavy producers for me, we didn’t lose too much fruit to the unsightly disease.

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Winter photo of Anna Apple Tree right after pruning and leaf removal (taken Jan. 15th, 2012)
Summer photo of Anna Apple tree. Taken in summer 2010

Since the trees have been in the ground for more than a decade, they both have tons of spurs, and I actually found it necessary to cut out some of the densely located older ones this year to provide more air circulation later on.  Training in an espalier pattern probably helped encourage such prolific spur development.  When branches are in a horizontal position, it helps stimulates fruit development.  I intentionally keep the trees in picking height and keep them very small with pruning whenever needed.  My personal fruit tree management style is “If it is taller than I can reach with a small hand pruners, it needs to be lopped off.”  This keeps me from having to use a ladder or pole in the garden for harvest and makes it possible for the kids to pick fruit themselves when they feel like it.  A few of the neighborhood kids say “that our yard grows the best apples ever!”  I think they feel this way because they are able to pick them themselves.

My largest main crops on both, are usually ready to harvest sometime in July, with Anna just a tiny bit behind the Dorset.  Anna and Dorset don’t keep well, but they are excellent fresh eating apples, similar to a golden delicious.  The trees start flowering again almost immediately, if not while the summer crop is still on the tree.  We usually pick a smaller fall crop, and then a few scattered apples in winter, up until the trees get their annual clean up.  For low chill apple varieties, Anna and Dorset are hard to beat.  After their second year, I have consistently had good harvests throughout the year, regardless of the number of chill hours during the winter.  We had a really warm winter in 2004/2005 with only about 60 chilling hours, and these still produced just fine, but my some of my other trees suffered that season.

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Close up of spurs just after clean up this year. The same area on the tree is is pictured below from a previous year in early Spring
Closeup of spurs with flowers and new leaf growth: taken in Feb 2010.
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In Spring, once the immature apples are about the size of the end of my thumb, I thin them out to just one apple per spur. Otherwise, the apples are tiny and crowded. If a batch gets too heavy with fruit, it will droop or even snap off.  This picture was taken two years ago, maybe in March, just before I thinned it out.

From what I understood when I planted them both back in winter 2000/2001, it is necessary to have the Dorset planted nearby the Anna for cross-pollination.  Both will set fruit on their own, but Anna is more fruitful with the Dorset for a pollinator.  The first few years, the fruit quality was only fair. Plus, I had yet to learn how long they needed to be on the tree to be good.  The first few seasons, we ate some apples that were either overly ripe/ soft or a few that weren’t quite ready which was disappointing when we only had maybe 10 apples that first harvest.  The only negative I can think of these days, now that the trees have been mature for many years, is I wish the crop was later in the year.  In summer we have so much other home-grown fruit ripening that we kind of take it for granted that we also have the apples in July.  The kids get much more excited about Anna’s and Dorset’s lighter fall crops because other than citrus or kiwi, there isn’t much fruit we are picking in the backyard around that time.  Along with fallen fruit clean up, the early timing of the apple crop does help the trees to avoid typical apple pests, like apple maggots, that attack some of the later varieties.  I also let the chickens in area in the fall and winter to help clean up under the trees.

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The two trees planted near each other in the back garden behind the garage. They are on a South facing wall and get almost all day sun.  This photo was taken in 2009
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Dorset and Anna apples harvested last summer (photo taken in July because they are poor keepers)

A side note on Apples in Southern California:  There are other varieties I would like to eventually try growing.  My folks have had success with Fuji, just a little further inland than me, and two seasons ago their crop had some of the best apples ever, better than any farmer’s market fuji apples.  I also would like to try a local variety, originally grown from a seeding in Long Beach in 1949, called Pettingill, but I have yet to make room for another apple.  In Riverside, at a tiny nursery, called Kuffel Creek, they propagate a large number of low chill and non low chill apples.  They have had remarkable results, seen in this video, with dozens of varieties of apples us Californians have been told we can’t grow.  After following their website for the last 3 years, I have noticed each year they do take a few varieties off their recommended list, however, that list is still pretty extensive with some unusual apples and the list is growing.  They also invest in importing heritage varieties from places over seas.  Nevertheless, since they grow where there is much more summer heat, and still a bit more chill, than what we get on the coast,  I will wait and see which of those  “out of the ordinary” apples other local gardeners start reporting having success with, too.  Don’t get me wrong, Anna and Dorset are a couple of my favorite fruit trees in my yard and I won’t be removing them. It is just when it comes to edible plants, especially fruit trees, I am constantly looking into new varieties so I have a few things to pick in the yard year round.

I would love to know what you think about this.

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