Experimental Homestead

Apple Breeding part 2: Doin’ it anyway.

applebreeding header steven



The awesome Photos of pollinating in this post are by tonia Chi

In part one I laid out some ideas and a little history toward the end of convincing you to try breeding new apples.  Here I present the nitty gritty of pollinating the flowers and in Part 2 I’ll cover growing the seeds out.  Neither process is very difficult, nor particularly time consuming.  Later on, grafting of the trees and growing them to fruition may require some skills that most people don’t have, but those can be learned elsewhere, or may be covered in future posts here, so don’t let that stop you.

SELECTING PARENTS:  You can of course just plant some apple seeds from any apple you like, but the real fun is in selecting two apples that have something awesome about them and assisting them to procreate.  Albert Etter’s success was based on extensive trials using over 500 varieties to find apples with the most promising characteristics to use as parents.  In his own words….

“In selecting apples one has a double index to go by: he selects his mother variety and his “mother-apple” to take the seeds from. The immediate success, of my work may be attributed to the foundation I laid, and my ability to select the individual fruits that will develop superior progeny.” 

“I am sending a collection of some of my new varieties of apples… The whole problem is now as simple as breeding up a herd of good dairy cows when one has a good herd to begin with. “

“Some people wonder where it is possible to make any very decided Improvement over existing varieties of apples now in general cultivation. To my notion we have really only begun to improve the apple systematically. I admit I have opportunity to study first hand that which gives me an insight denied to others who think and work along other lines. Comparison is a wonderful means of discerning faint lines. By this simple mental process what seems as opaque as milk reveals lines of similarity undreamed of before.”

Something else that interested Etter was taking chances on more primitive apples like crabs, and the red fleshed Surprise apple, to breed in exciting new characteristics.  I would imagine that such a project can take a greater number of generations than working with more refined apples, but in his case it paid off.  Fortunately, we can build on Etter’s work.  Wickson, which is probably destined to be Albert’s most famous creation, is a case in point.  It is a very small, and incredibly sweet, apple having unique and intense flavor coming from somewhere other than just the standard large varieties.  Though newer apples seem to be diversifying, much of what has been done in breeding so far has been to try to improve on what people already considered to be a good, or archetypal, apple.  We aren’t in great need of any more of those!  Apples with intense and diverse flavors, better textures over a greater range of seasons is something we can definitely use.  I would say that instead of crossing apples that are just good, or even really good, cross apples that are really interesting.  Not only will that give us interesting apples, but it just increases the chances that we will come up with something worth growing.  If you come up with the most bubblegum flavoredest apple ever, then we’ll all just have to grow it until a better bubblegum flavored apple comes along.  If you’re trying to grow a better Golden Delicious or Macintosh style apple, you’re probably not going to compete with the many already released by all the advanced breeding programs out there.

My efforts select primarily for flavor and internal color, with keeping ability nudging in as an important third priority, though I’m also interested in better early apples.  All of my crosses so far have been using Albert Etter’s red fleshed apple varieties as one parent, combined with other apples that I think are awesome.

I would encourage you to work only with apples that really inspire you.  If you don’t have any, consider collecting some.  At the simplest, just take two awesome apples and rub their stuff together.  It doesn’t have to be that simple though.  Some traits are dominant and some recessive.  Dominant traits will express in the offspring even if only one parent carries that gene.  Recessive traits will only express if both parents carry the gene.  It only gets more complicated from there and I’ve yet to find and assimilate much of that information.  The truth is that  I’m dragging you with me down the path of apple breeding with very little of that knowledge.  The only thing I know at this point is that the red flesh gene is dominant.  So, I cross red fleshed apples in both directions.  I also read something indicating that a columnar habit of the tree is dominant (columnar trees have few if any side branches, having instead single upright trunks).   If anyone out there knows more about dominant and recessive apple traits, post something in the comments, or email me.  I’ve looked for a simple list, or short treatment of dominant and recessive traits, but have yet to find one.  For more on plant breeding on an amateur scale, including basic genetics, see Carol Deppe’s cool book Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties.  (Carole Deppe is awesome and a huge cut above the average garden writer.  Her book The Resilient Gardener is a must read for homesteader types.)

One thing you can pay attention to is who the parents of apples you like are and consider going back to one of those or using other apples which are the offspring of those same parents.  If the parents are known, that information is not usually difficult to find.  For instance, at least two promising apples here have Northern Spy as a parent.  While I’m likely to use the offspring, I also may end up going back to the source.

(I edited out a section of the original post here misinforming people that patent law extends to pollen.  I’m not totally clear on this, but I don’t think it does in the case of vegetatively propagated plants)

A few apples, known as triploids, have sterile pollen.  Although triploids cannot be used as pollen doners, they can be fertilized with pollen from another tree, so look up the apples you want to work with and if one is a sterile triploid, use it as the seed parent and not as the pollen parent.  I can’t find a full list of triploids anywhere, but if you google the name of the apple with the word triploid, you’ll probably find out if it’s a triploid easily enough… that’s what I do anyway.  Triploids are uncommon, but some popular and excellent apples are included in the group, such as: Orleans Reinette, Roxbury Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, Suntan, Belle de Boskoop, Arkansas Black, Baldwin, Bramley’s Seedling, , Gravenstein, Holstein, Jonagold, Jupiter, Lady, McIntosh, Reinette du Canada, Rhode Island Greening, Ribston Pippin, Spigold, Stayman Winesap, Suntan and King of Tompkin’s County.  I’ve had some trouble pollinating triploids and getting their seeds to grow, but will continue trying.

NIGEL DEACON:  I first learned how to pollinate apples from Nigel Deacon in the U.K.  Who is also attempting to breed red fleshed apples.  He cuts off the calyx with a special pair of scissors removing the pollen bearing anthers in one snip.  Nigel’s method is very fast, but the apples grown after pollinating are sometimes slightly deformed due to the missing calyx.  I prefer to remove the petals and anthers carefully with fingers and scissors.  My method is slower, but leaves the apple to grow normally.  I’m not sure one way or the other is really better, but I tend to subscribe to the idea that healthy plants make the best seed doners. Genetic coding is one factor in what a plant turns out like, but it is not set in stone and good genes are better expressed in healthy plants from healthy parents, so I err on the side of caution, even though if I had to guess I’d say it’s probably not very relevant.

Nigel's special emasculating scissors. Read about nigels methods on his extensive website.

Nigel’s special emasculating scissors. Read about nigels methods on his extensive website.

BALLOON STAGE:  Apple blossoms are pollinated when they are in what is called the balloon stage.  At this stage, the female parts of the flower in the unopened petals are already receptive to pollen, but insects can’t reach them to pollinate.  At the same time, the Anthers, or boy parts, on which the pollen is produced, have not made any pollen yet, so the flower cannot have self pollinated either.  If you open the virginal flower, you can pollinate it manually and remove all the anthers before they bear pollen, thus assuring that it is your chosen parent which fertilizes the flower.  The balloon stage is when the flowers are blown up like a balloon and look like they will open in the next day or so.  Look at a few clusters of flowers.  If some are open and others are not, the best ones to open and pollinate are the ones with the biggest balloons.  You can often pollinate over a couple of weeks, but it is best to pollinate earlier than to wait till later when there are only a few blossoms left.

Balloon stage.

Balloon stage.  The flowers that look like they are just about to open are the ones to use.  The smaller one on the right and the opened one in the background can be removed leaving 1 to 3 buds in each cluster for pollinating.

COLLECTING POLLEN:  Pollen must be collected a day or two before pollinating so that the anthers have time to dry and release the pollen.  Open some flowers of the variety that you want to collect pollen from by carefully pinching away the petals.  The pollen is made by the Anthers, which grow around the edge of the flower on little stalks.  The 5 delicate center stalks are the female parts, which you can ignore for now unless you are pollinating the same flower that you gather pollen from.  In fact, it is easier to just clip them off with the anthers when you are gathering pollen than it is to try avoiding them.  The anthers will not have any pollen on them yet, but they will finish making pollen as they dry.  Trim off the anthers into a small container with a sharp pointed pair of small scissors.  Nigel Deacon uses a hair comb to comb them off.  The anthers produce a small amount of pollen only.  You don’t need a lot to do just a few pollinations, but collect anthers from at least 6 to 10 flowers or so.  Allow the anthers to dry in a warm room until the pollen powders out.  Nigel says the pollen can be stored for up to 3 years if kept very dessicated, but I haven’t tried that yet.

collecting pollen. The anthers are snipped off and allowed to dry in a small jar.

collecting pollen. The anthers are snipped off and allowed to dry in a small jar.

POLLINATING:  The best time to pollinate is on a warm sunny day in mid morning to early afternoon, but just do it whenever you can make time.  To pollinate a flower, pinch off any in the cluster that are open and any that are small leaving just 2 or 3 large balloon stage buds.

Carefully pinch or trim away the petals of the remaining flower buds.

 Carefully pinch away the flower petals.

Carefully pinch away the flower petals.

With sharp pointed scissors, trim away the anthers around the outside edge of the flower, leaving the 5 center female “pistles” untouched.  There are 5 five pistles coming out of the center of the flower and each one communicates to what will be one of the five seed cells in the mature apple.  If any of these is damaged, use a different flower if you can.  You may still get some seeds, but the tree is more likely to reject a partially fertilized apple.

Carefully trim away all the Anthers along the outside edge of the rim, leaving the five

Carefully trim away all the Anthers along the outside edge of the rim, leaving the five “girl parts” in the center.

Once all the anthers are removed, apply some pollen to the female parts.  Use a piece of grass blade, a fine tiny paint brush, a glass rod, or even the tip of a finger.  There is a slightly sticky tip on the pistle called the Stigma.  Pollen will stick to the stigma easily.

Pollen on grass blade ready to do it.

Pollen on grass blade ready to do it.

Pollinating the Stigma. Very little pollen is required, and no foreplay.

Pollinating the Stigma. Very little pollen is required, and no foreplay.

You can see when the flower is well pollinated, because the stigma will have pollen stuck to it, but your odds will probably increase if you visit the flower again for a second pollinating the next day.  I don’t usually do so and seem to do Ok, although it is not uncommon to find only a few seeds in an apple.  Triploids can be troublesome, so it might be well to visit them again.  I’ve had poor luck with pollinating Suntan, a triploid, and even poorer luck growing out the few seeds I’ve managed to get from it.

Pollen on stigma

Pollen on the sticky stigma tips

BTW:  I have a TERRIBLE time remembering the names of all these flower parts for some reason and am constantly looking them up again.  It doesn’t really matter though, just remember: girl parts in the middle need pollinating and boy parts on the outside need removing.

BAGGING V.S. NOT BAGGING:  To be as sure as possible that the flowers you’ve chosen to pollinate are not pollinated with undesirable pollen by bees and other insects, you would have to bag the blossoms, or cage the tree.  I choose not to.  My rationale is that since the petals are removed, there is little to draw insects to the flower.  Also, by that time I’ve already pollinated the blossom and the stigma should be crusted with pollen of my choosing.  At worst a few of the seeds in the apple might receive some random pollen, but it seems unlikely, therefore I choose not to bother bagging because it would just increase the effort spent for a small degree of insurance.

LABELING:  Always label!  tie a marker around the flower cluster so you can identify it later, because all the other apples will look just the same.  Only the genetic information in the seeds is different, while the fruit will look the same as the other fruit on the tree.  I use neon colored plastic strips so they are easy to find later.  Be sure to write what the crosses are on the tag with permanent marker.  When the apples get to be about half grown, I actually write on the apple with a permanent marker so that if it is knocked off  by birds or wind, I can identify that it is an apple which I pollinated, and which cross it is.  The convention for writing crosses is Seed Parent X Pollen Parent.

A Newton Pippin pollinated with Albert Etter's Grenadine®

A Newton Pippin pollinated with Albert Etter’s Grenadine® bad photo by me.

The next post will be on growing out the seedlings, and someday I’ll write about something besides apples again!  promise…

April 5, 2013 - Posted by | Food and Drink Making, Food Trees Fruits and Nuts | , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Some really good thoughts here (and in the previous post). I’ve been reading a little about nut selection recently and I think much the same can be said of all tree crops: we are so few generations of selection away from the wild trees compared to crops like grains or squash that we really have only just begun to explore the possibilities. The only way to know what those possibilities really are is to keep adding generations of selection into the mix……Good luck!

    Comment by tai haku | April 6, 2013 | Reply

    • Agreed tai. I find it interesting though that Etter basically had to go backward a little and toss some rustic genes back into the mix to add interest. People have been so caught up in their refined apples that they’ve been working with a limited gene pool inbreeding them over and over, not wanting to gamble too much. I think there is a valuable lesson there as well. I feel grateful to have some of what is probably multi-generational material to work with from those experiments in the form of some of Etters crabs and red fleshed apples. Thanks, for the good thoughts, check back in 5 to 10 years for some results!

      Comment by Stevene | April 6, 2013 | Reply

      • Agreed. What’s interesting is there seem to be quite a few heritage apples with features or flavours currently unavailable in a commercial apple – crossing something delicious or unusual but currently obstinately uncommercial like the red-fleshed apples or, say, pitmaston pineapple could yield results that could become very very commercial in a hurry.

        Comment by tai haku | April 6, 2013

      • and I agree… we could agree all day :) I was definitely thinking pineapple flavored/ red fleshed crosses. I would start using the pineapple varieties this year, but I don’t know which do well here yet, even though I have several including pitmaston and anana’s reinette. I did try Suntan and may again this year, but it has been difficult. the one seedling I got this spring got munched by something in the greenhouse. Modern growers do want disease resistance etc, so that could be a stumbling block to any commercial success. Also getting it out there in the first place could be difficult. The consolidation and commercial nature of the industry is very limiting. Red fleshed apples are on the way. It won’t be long before they start showing up in stores. Hopefully the quality will be acceptable. I think there is a competitive push to get them into the stores first. It’s a testament to something unflattering in us that Etter laid that groundwork so long ago and that it just didn’t go anywhere. I’m not even sure any of the efforts are using his germplasm.

        Comment by Stevene | April 6, 2013

  2. Steve, do you have any Red-vein Crab in your breeding stock? I can’t remember if you ever got scions of that from me. It sounds like an ideal parent for your efforts, being deeply red-fleshed and powerfully flavored, very early ripening, etc. It is just about to blossom here, so if you want some pollen, let me know. I could also send you a few scions if you want. Got started reworking trees this week before the rain came, hoping to finish up this year’s effort next week. More RVC, KD, MdB! (Would like more Porter’s Perfection and Yarlington Mill, too, but the ones I have seem to have stopped producing scionwood.)

    Comment by Tim in Albion | April 6, 2013 | Reply

    • I thought I got red-vein at some point, but I just catalogued all my grafts and I don’t have it. it has another name too right? is it the same as Neidwetzkyana? One of the fishman pages says that it may be the parent of surprise which is the one etter used. I did taste the juice at your house before. it was intense! like cranberry/pomegranate or something. Being 46, I’m inclined to use the somewhat more advanced versions of red fleshed apples, like the greenmantle etters. I’m trying out maypole this year. It is a columnar habit red fleshed crab with very red flowers. I haven’t tasted it, and dont’ know what the ancestry is, but I’ve heard it is very red and very good, so I’m going for it. The pollen is sitting on my counter waiting for a sunny day to dust onto wickson flowers. I had tons of yarlington, but I already got rid of all my wood. too late to cut more now unless you want to try budding, but maybe next year. It’s been a great grower for me and made almost enough apples to matter last year. Have you fermented out the red vein yet? It didn’t seem sweet, but maybe as a blend? Just wondering if the flavors come through of not. I’m hoping so, but my preliminary observation is that it doesn’t.

      Comment by Stevene | April 6, 2013 | Reply

      • I think it must have another name, but I don’t know it. I got the tree from SAAN of fond memory. The juice is indeed intensely acidic, tannic, and flavorful, and your descriptors match my perceptions. I fermented out RVC once, and the result is undrinkable by itself, just way too much acid and tannin. It would be an easy way to perk up a bland low-acid, low-tannin cider though; probably 10% – 15% would be enough to make a big difference.

        Comment by Tim in Albion | April 12, 2013

      • The color of the red vein is neat, but it’s the unique aromatics of those red fleshed apples that I’d like to see come through in a finished cider. I’ve actually been tempted to do a cross with yarlington mill or some other distinctively cider apple. If a bunch of cider makers around the world did that we’d probably have some good ones within a decade. it would take a long time to test, but then you wouldn’t have to about things like looks or eating texture either.

        Comment by Stevene | April 12, 2013

      • Scratch maypole. It’s bitter and not that red. It could make a good cider apple though.

        Comment by Stevene | October 23, 2013

  3. Delighted to see so much interest in apple breeding. I’ve collected redfleshed apples for a long time and have just grafted my first batch of own-bred seedlings onto MM106. They have unusual appearances – reddish-green leaves or pink / red scionwood or both, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of apple we get.

    One problem I anticipate is this – some redfleshed apples seem to be redfleshed every year and no matter where they are grown. However some which appear very heavily pigmented can produce white or off-white fleshed apples when grown in another location. I’ve been sent two very heavily pigmented varieties but when grown on my plot roughly in the middle of the UK the flesh is a rather unpleasant dirty pink.

    Sometimes a variety produces redfleshed apples on a particular tree one year and whitefleshed the next. Then it’s back to red again a year or two later.

    A large number of apples behave irregularly or unpredictably. I have seen this in Mott’s Pink, George’s Red, Sops in Wine, an Aldenham Purple variant sent to me from Sweden, Webster Pinkmeat and a few others. Even Almata and Burford’s Redflesh can be pale in some years.

    Then we get the whitefleshed apples which occasionally go pink when the weather is right – Devonshire Quarrenden, Merton Knave, Norfolk Rattlebox, Hall’s Pink ……. the way the DNA is ‘expressed’ seems to be dependent on a number of factors. None of these seem to be understood very well, or at least not documented.

    I would be interested to hear from anyone who has looked into this. Posting it here would be excellent.

    Comment by Nigel Deacon | April 9, 2013 | Reply

    • Nigel: I’ve heard about the lack of coloring issue. I think my climate is pretty good for coloring the flesh up well. That’s why we need people breeding this stuff all over the place. Good chance that whatever I come up with won’t do well in a cooler climate. On the other hand, I might throw out others that would be great somewhere else, but are soft and worthless here.

      Comment by Stevene | April 11, 2013 | Reply

  4. Steven – I wonder if you have any thoughts about what it is about your climate which lets the apple flesh colour up? Day length, perhaps, or temperature, or some combination of weather factors, such as long bright days and cool evenings.

    My experience in the UK is that hot, dry, summers with warm evenings are accompanied by many varieties having less internal colour.

    Other observations:

    Some varieties (e.g. Pink Pearl or Hidden Rose) only colour up just before they are ripe. Their flesh is still colourless well into September, when the apples are three-quarters size.

    Others (eg Webster P) seem to be heavily pigmented when small but the colour ‘dilutes’ as the apples get bigger.

    Perhaps there isn’t a simple link, and each apple needs its own special set of growing conditions to colour up well.

    It would be interesting to find some research on the Biochemistry involved.

    Comment by Nigel Deacon | April 12, 2013 | Reply

    • We do have long bright days and cool evenings actually. We also have a long season in general, usually with lots of sun in the fall and often into the winter. We can get a lot of rain and cold, but we usually have periods of sun and warmth through the winter months. The cool evenings are a problem here for growing other things. Yeah, it is sunny and warm and bright, but it generally cools off in the evening, so while much colder areas of the country stay warm at night during the summer, we cool off at night and everything stops growing. That’s why the east coast growers with a short season can whip out amazing crops that we need a longer season to mature… they have 24 hour growth. On the other hand, it can be too hot during the day for many apples leading to mealiness. Late ripening apples seem to do a little better with that issue.

      Grenadine also colors up toward the end of ripening.

      Comment by Stevene | April 12, 2013 | Reply

  5. Steve,
    met you at some of the Monterey Bay CRFG scion exchanges, and I am really enjoying these posts of yours on apple breeding.

    I have some information you should find useful:

    From the Home Orchard Society’s “APPLES: Pollen Sterile (Triploid) Varieties”
    Listing over 150 pollen sterile triploid apple varieties, available as a file download from HOS for a small fee at http://www.homeorchardsociety.org/ebooks/

    The following that you mentioned in your post are not on that list (that is, these are not sterile triploids):
    Orleans Reinette, Roxbury Russet, Ashmead’s Kernel, Newton Pippin, Lady, and McIntosh.

    While these others you listed are indeed sterile triploids:
    Suntan, Gravenstein, Holstein, Arkansas Black, Belle de Boskoop, Baldwin, Bramley’s Seedling, Jonagold, Jupiter, Reinette du Canada, Rhode Island Greening, Ribston Pippin, Spigold, Stayman Winesap, Suntan and King of Tompkin’s County.

    Other well known varieties that are pollen sterile triploids include:
    Baldwin, Fukunishiki, Mutsu (Crispin), and Orin.
    I mention these as they are important varieties which are often fresh taste test winners, or favorites of many for cooking or cider.

    thanks again for the blog

    John Valenzuela

    Comment by cornucopiafoodforest | May 8, 2013 | Reply

    • Yes, I know you! Thanks for the link and info. There was a recent study, I believe in the U.K., that identified more previously unknown triploids. Here is a quote from an article at Orange Pippin:

      “The research found that more than 10% of the varieties in the UK apple collection were triploid, a higher proportion than expected. One of the surprises is Ashmead’s Kernel, a widely-grown traditional English apple. Ashmead’s Kernel has always been known to be difficult to pollinate but previously it was assumed this was because it bloomed very late in the blossom season. Other well-known varieties that are now confirmed as triploids include Roxbury Russet and Orleans Reinette.”

      Leave it to the Home orchard society to have a comprehensive list. Those guys are awesome. I guess they just haven’t updated since that study, or you maybe you have an older copy.

      Just checked my pollinations today. Looks like they all probably did pretty well except for the Wickson X’s

      Comment by Stevene | May 8, 2013 | Reply

  6. Stevene,

    Thanks for that link to Orange Pippin. The actual study on genetic fingerprinting of apples, and pears, in the can be downloaded here:

    This new (2009) list updates that old HOS list by doubling the number of polyploids to just over 300.
    Also interesting is the groups of genetically identical (or at least very, very similar) varieties that are listed in tables in the study.

    So it looks like Newton Pippin, Lady, and McIntosh are still diploid, that is they have fertile pollen that could be used in breeding. Newtown Pippin is actually listed as partially self fertile by the HOS.

    All this is important if you are spending time hand pollinating apples; though all of the triploids might be good mothers, they should not be counted on to provide any pollen to others.

    Too bad about the failure of the Wickson X’s (I am a big fan of Wickson).


    Comment by cornucopiafoodforest | May 9, 2013 | Reply

  7. I had some Wickson crosses take, but not many. I know why though. They bloom very early, so by the time I had the pollen I wanted, there were few blooms left to pollinate, and not the best ones at that. I think I might need to save pollen over for a year to have it on hand. I may just go the other direction this time too and use the Wickson pollen.

    Comment by Stevene | October 23, 2013 | Reply

  8. Hi Steven,
    I’m hunting for Jupiter apple scion wood, and a search brought up the Turkey Song, so now I’ve been reading all your apple breeding posts; fun to think that there’s quite a few people working on this, all with their own twists. I tasted a couple intense red-fleshed seedlings this year, one from Grenadine, one from Rubaiyat. Both open pollinated, both very good flavor, both tiny in size, and 6-7 years from the seed. First and solitary fruits for each of these, so I know not what’s typical for them. Several others not pink enough to mention, but a couple with semi-exciting characteristics. I like the sound of a NewtownxGrenadine! Based on a friend’s results with Pink Pearl, the pink color came up quite often, Maybe 25%, in various shades, none quite as dark as P. Pearl, but Pink Pearl is not nearly as dark as the other two I mentioned above. I think he said he’s fruited 400 so far. One of his Pink Pearl seedlings (O.P.) he brought to the apple tasting. Very good flavor (more sugar, but still spicy), size, internal (but a bit mottled) and external color. He is hoping for darker and more uniform pink in his newer (all controlled) crosses coming into fruition this next year using mostly Rubaiyat as pollen or seed parent. Good chance of it if my Rubaiyat seedling this year is any indicater.
    I’m sure you’ve found info on this already, but Pink Pearls grown in the Central Valley have almost no flesh pigmentation. My red-fleshed apples bloom over a long period, and begin ripening in early September, with a milky pink internal color. By November when the later-set fruits come off the trees, the color has intensified to nearly blood-red. My orchard is two miles inland, my home is .75 miles from the coast, and consistently cooler in Summer. The same pink-fleshed varieties are better tasting and more deeply colored all through the ripening period up to November when my orchard apples finally catch-up, (it is now colder at night in my valley-bottom orchard than here). It is so really clear from seeing the color variation around the county here that high ripening temperatures in general, and lack of day/night temp. fluctuation in particular make for pitiful looking pink-fleshed apples. It seems to me the secret to breeding a great pink-fleshed apple is to start with Grenadine or Rubaiyat and cross either way to a very late ripening apple with good flavor and some sugar (Newtown is one possibility), so the progeny ripens under cooler conditions (or else move to coastal Mendocino). If you live in a hot climate, consider Mulberries for your anthocyanin fix; Nigel might have to settle for beets.

    So anyway, now that I’ve ranted my rant, back to the real reason I’m writing. Can you send me a couple sticks of Jupiter apple scion wood? It sounds good, can’t find it. i hope things are good with you, and wish you’d stop by some time.


    Comment by Ellen Baker and Freddy Menge | November 11, 2013 | Reply

    • Great stuff Freddy: That’s super helpful info. I understood that the red pigmentation trait was dominant, but then I guess it can be “turned” on and off to a greater or lesser extent. Deep red pigment is nice and so far the apple that Greenmantle calls rubiyat is rocking that department. My grenadines are less red until they get over ripe, but still pretty red. I’ve switched to the former for breeding purposes just because it seems to be a more refined apple as well… better texture, though maybe not as intense of a fruit punch flavor so far. I only make intentional crosses now. It’s too big of an investment to throw to the wind, and crosses are easy enough to make. So far I’ve used golden russet, pink lady, wickson, rubinette, newton pippin, lady williams, gold rush, king david, cherry cox and sweet sixteen. I’m inclined at this point to concentrate on the high sugar apples when crossing. None of those red fleshed apples are very sweet. I’m almost thinking of using a low acid high sugar apple even though I don’t much like them just because all the reds are on the tart side. I might actually try to talk to an apple breeder this winter to at least get a list of dominant and recessive traits and some idea of how to steer toward what we want out of these apples. There are numerous groups breeding red fleshed apples and I think some are even starting to go in the ground commercially. I’m guessing they will be mediocre because there is a rush to get to market first. Mostly, I’m thinking along the lines of flavor. Imagine mixing the intense cherry bubblegum flavor of sweet sixteen with the fruit punch flavor of grenadine. The later ripening trait is something I’ve also thought a lot about. I’m going to put a little more thought into my parent selections this year.

      Another thing I’m wondering is if we should maybe be crossing two reds together. Either a red that might be from another breeding line, like pendragon (which I have btw), or even from the same line. It seems like that might reinforce the red pigmentation, but I’m shooting in the dark here.

      How are you fruiting out? are you frameworking onto another tree, grafting onto dwarfing, or just growing out the seedlings? It seems like there must be a way to speed up fruiting even more with micromanagement. Kopelt says to just grow them out as fast and as much as possible, more buds equals reduced fruiting time. I’m thinking oblique growth, branch bending and maybe something drastic like reversing a section of the rind. What about grafting in an interstem from a fruiting tree? What they are doing commercially now is looking at the genes from the new seedlings and throwing out any that don’t show potential for strong coloration. That’s pretty handy. Let me know what parents you think might be amazing. I actually used Hauer pippin, but I’ve just not tasted one that is exceptional here, so I sent the seeds to Axel. Still hoping for better things from Hauer, but it may just not like it here. I’m really liking wickson as a potential parent. It is super sweet and has the fine texture that the reds could benefit from. I have to admit though that if I think of mentally combining the flavors of an etter red with wickson, it seems a little odd. Not sure how that will play out. I’m also inclined to use anything with cherry flavors. That means sweet sixteen, maybe northern spy and cherry cox here. But cherry cox is pretty tart and coarse fleshed, things I would prefer to downplay in the etter red line, so I think I may ditch that one. Do you have anything else with cherry flavors or almond maybe?

      I’m high enough in the mountains (1800 ft) and near enough the coastal influence that night/day fluctuations are pretty strong. That may be why I get lots of coloration. My Grenadines have been disappointing in the texture department last couple of years. Maybe just too warm here. I’m shying away from it now.

      I hope you’ll stop by here virtually more. You have a lot to contribute. You’re a large part of the reason I ended up geeked out on apples. um.. thanks a lot? I never go that far south, but if I do, I’ll definitely be visiting. And yeah, I’ll send you whatever you want. I’ll send a list of what I have. There are probably a few things that are worth you trying out. I’ve put quite a bit of energy into pulling together a collection of late ripeners/keepers. Much of it not proven yet unfortunately. Still looking for quite a bit of stuff too, so I’ll send both lists. Was sorry to miss your avocado talk.

      Comment by Stevene | November 12, 2013 | Reply

  9. Hi steven – very interested to read these notes. I’m still working away on my redfleshed crosses but as you’ve noted, i have problems, especially in warm summers, to get red flesh to show.

    Regarding triploids ….. not all of them are pollen-sterile. Hugh Ermen used Bramley pollen on a Cox to raise ‘Cobra’ – a very pleasant cooking apple. If you look at notes by Crane and Lawrence from the 1930s, they examined the effectiveness of some crosses invlolving triploid pollen, and quite a few worked well. I believe however that if you get a good apple from a triploid parent, the variety will be almost completely self-infertile. (a good example of this is Cox, which comes from triploid Ribston).

    I thought you might be interested to see a short video which one of my fellow gardeners filmed yesterday whilst i was doing some apple crosses…. here we go:

    good wishes from England.

    Comment by Nigel Deacon | April 28, 2015 | Reply

  10. Hi I am new to apple breeding, and in reading all the articles and posts I think I have hit on a flaw with how apple breeding is conducted.
    I could be wrong, and this methodology might be incorrect but here goes. The basic premise being you are looking to breed a cross between two apple varieties.
    but the general randomness of the results don’t always offer what you would want. I have read over and over that if the first generation after the cross does not live up to expectations is a spitter or what not it’s eliminated. lets say you got 4 viable plants from a cross but none of the apples from the resulting plants had the taste or traits you wanted. wouldn’t you then breed these plants together knowing that their parent plants have the traits your looking for shouldnt those recessive genes in both of the plants have a higher likelyhood of coming out when bred together??? it would seem there should be a higher likelyhood of the parents traits emerging in the second generation than in the first. granted this takes much more time. My question would be has anyone ever done this or bread the 1st generation back to the parent apples? Is there any research out there on this?

    Comment by Rick | May 22, 2015 | Reply

    • Yes, I think you are correct, it is called backcrossing. I am definitely starting to think along those lines now that I have a good batch of seedlings going. This must certainly be done in large breeding programs to a great extent. They use unreleased crosses for breeding purposes a lot, which you’ll see in pedigree charts. My own approach has been to just get started making crosses and worry about that stuff later. A person could get very sophisticated with the whole thing and modern breeders become more and more sophisticated. They now use genotyping a lot, where they can read the genetic code for certain traits. That way, seedlings can be rejected or selected for trial as soon as they start growing.

      There probably aren’t that many amateur apple breeders out there that are doing anything that sophisticated at this point. I think if we can form a community, we could maybe encourage momentum in that direction. For me, I like to keep it fun, so if it gets to be more complicated and analytical than I’m enjoying, I’ll just stick with a more random approach, but I think everyone is different. Backcrossing seems easy enough though, and full of possibility. One thing I’ve been thinking of is acquiring different genetic lines of red fleshed apples and combining two different breeding lines (both reds already crossed into other quality apples) to see if that intensifies the trait, but with the benefits of breeding out instead of breeding in. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’m sure there is a lot of research, just search backcrossing. Here are a couple on using it for red flesh and scab resistance: https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/pri/breeding.html http://biotechlearn.org.nz/focus_stories/breeding_red_fleshed_apples/breeding_a_new_apple_cultivar

      Comment by Stevene | May 25, 2015 | Reply

  11. One of the problems with apple breeding is the timescale. My first crosses were pollinated in April 2010. The resulting seeds were grown for two years and then grafted. It’s now 2015 and none of the trees have had flowers yet – though i think there will be plenty next year on some of them. So it looks like a six or seven year breeding cycle. If you get into back-crosses, that’s 12-14 years. Your own lifespan soon comes into the equation. It’s fairly obvious why so few people breed apples. Nevertheless I find it very absorbing.

    Comment by Nigel Deacon | May 25, 2015 | Reply

    • Nigel: just looked at the tags, and my first seedlings were either planted, or grafted out in 2011. I think I planted them in 2010 and grafted out them out in 2011, probably anyway. I’m just getting fruit from the first of those now. 1 out of 4 fruited this year. all are grafted onto an already bearing tree on large rootstock, M111 (supposedly semi dwarf, but pretty large. I’m hoping that those grafted onto true dwarfing stocks and grown out fast will be a little speedier to fruit, but when doing multi-generational breeding, we also have to account for the time assessing the fruit and tree growth, possibly over a number of years. That’s why I think we should think of it more as a group effort. Hopefully someone can pick up our work and go ahead with promising lines. Albert Etter obviously didn’t have anyone to take his work over. That must have been pretty hard to watch as he grew old. All that groundwork already laid and so much potential waiting to be coaxed out. Well, we got yer back Albert!

      Comment by Stevene | May 25, 2015 | Reply

  12. Anyone know where I can get a Pendragon apple tree?

    Comment by Rick | June 25, 2015 | Reply

    • I can’t help with that now. My pendragon scion is just failing to grow for the third year. I keep hoping it will get some headway, but it just never does. I may move it to it’s own stock next year. Try the North American Scion Exchange. https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/scionexchange/info

      Comment by Stevene | June 25, 2015 | Reply

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