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Great Apples for the Home Orchard

Great Apples for the Home Orchard
Calville blanc
I’ve been tending to my young orchard for about 8 years now, and I’m eager to share with you some of my favorite apple varieties. Sometimes it takes a tree several years to establish itself and begin to produce fruit, so I’m pretty confident the following varieties are winners both in vigor, taste and culinary use. They’re not your everyday apples, but why would you plant something you could easily get at the local grocer (no offense Ms. Gala, Mr. Fuji, and Lady Braeburn). There are so many really great apples to grow, do a little research, dig a big hole and plant yourself firmly in growing something special.  And if space is an issue, plant trees with a dwarfing root stock. I have plenty more apples where these came from, so stay tuned as other varieties prove themselves in my Pacific Northwest orchard. I’ll happily share my findings, in the name of apple lovers everywhere.

My Favorite Apples in the Orchard


Belle de Boskoop apple: I would have planted this tree merely for its name (pronounced Bell-da-boss-k0e), but lucky for me it’s an all-around great apple with lots of personality. Wonderfully tart, the flavor is unique as if you spritzed lemon juice on it. Belle de Boskoop bakes and cooks well, and is perfect for chunky applesauce, sturdy pies, bubbling crisps, and juicy grunts. In my orchard the tree produces biennially, that is bumper crops one year and little to no fruit the following year. It’s so good, I can accept that.

Bramley's Seedling Apple

Bramley’s Seedling apple is hands down one of my favorite baking apples. It’s a tree that says stand back, I’m ready to grow some great cooking apples and plenty of them. Such a very heavy producer, Bramley’s Seedling usually requires support stakes to keep the overloaded limbs from breaking. Apples are big, firm, crisp and flavorful–spirited for sure, and perfect for cooking or eating fresh though on the uber-tart side when first picked. My tree has proven to be a biennial producer, but again, the apples are so good, I can indeed live with that.

Calville blanc

Calville Blanc tastes as good as it sounds. A French heirloom apple dating back to the sixteenth century, Calville Blanc has proven itself as a truly exceptional apple blessed with every attribute you’d want in an apple: it’s sweet, spicy, flavorful, and good in the kitchen and on the table.  If that’s not enough for you, this apple contains more Vitamin C than an orange. In my orchard, I’ve found it to be healthy and productive.

Esopus Spitzenberg Apple

After reading that Esopus Spitzenberg was the preferred apple of Thomas Jefferson, I sought the cultivar out and planted it faster than I could say or spell, “Monticello.” Trees of Antiquity nursery describes the apple glowingly. “Unexcelled in flavor or quality, the fruit is great off the tree, but flavor radically improves in storage. Medium apple with crisp, yellow skin covered with inconspicuous red stripes and russet freckles. Flesh is tinged yellow, firm, aromatic, and complex in flavor; a perfect balance between sharp and sweet. ” I wholeheartedly agree. It took my tree a couple years to get established, and while many sources cite Esopus Spitzenberg apple trees are susceptible to a number of diseases, I have not found that to be the case in my orchard (knock on apple wood).
Jonagold Apples
Jonagold apple is an amazingly good all-purpose apple tree in my orchard. In fact, if I could only plant a couple apple trees, Jonagold would top the list. As a cross between a Gold Delicious and Jonathan, it brings a lot of flavor to the table. . Fresh eating or all-purpose, this apple is juicy and super sweet but finishes off with a very nice tartness. The vigorous tree is a heavy and consistent producer of medium to large apples each year.
delicious liberty apples
Liberty apple: I joke, “Give me Liberty or give me pests!” as this delicious sweet-tart snacking gem is wonderfully disease resitant, making the Liberty apple a fuss-free choice for the home and organic gardener. Known for its reliability and excellent quality, the Liberty shines on all levels and performs well in our cool climate.  If not thinned the apples are small, but like I said, this makes them a perfect snack size. 


Melrose apples on tree

Melrose apple: I only planted Melrose a couple years ago, and it’s already one of my favorite apples. Dripping with juice and bright flavor, the crisp apples grow quite large and are perfect for fresh eating and baking. Introduced in 1944 from Ohio State University (and now Ohio’s official state apple), Melrose won kudos for exceptional flavor, but never took off commercially as consumers preferred prettier apples. Big mistake. This is a really great apple (a cross between the Red Delicious and Jonathan) which deserves to be more widely available. Plant one, you won’t regret it.

York Apple
York apple, a.k.a. York Imperial, is one of those apples that tastes like it should have a long history, and it does. With roots that run deep both literally and figuratively, the York apple was discovered in 1830 in York, Pennsylvania. Not overly sweet, York yields a subtle flavor and appealing, extra-firm texture. It’s an apple I could eat everyday. In addition, York is a superior baking apple, good-keeper and tree of exceptional vigor and productivity.

french apple pie
Ready for the oven! Baking English apples in a French tart.

Keep your eye on the apple pie, and happy growing!

No surprise here, I'm not the only one who loves apples.
I’m not the only one who loves apples around here.

Here are some related links you may be interested in.

Apple Tree Nurseries

  • Burnt Ridge Nursery: “…offering many different disease resistant apples on a variety of rootstocks.”
  • Fedco Nursery: a great source for heirloom apples, available mail order
  • Grandpa’s Orchard: “…allowing the backyard fruit grower to order online and purchase the most proven disease resistant, antique, heritage, unique, and common bareroot fruit tree varieties on dwarf, semi-dwarf, semi-standard and standard rootstocks.”
  • One Green World: “…a family-owned nursery now located in Portland. Our plants are grown by Northwoods Nursery, our mother company, on our 66 acre farm in Oregon’s fertile Willamette Valley.”
  • Trees of Antiquity: “…growing and shipping organic fruit trees across the country for over 30 years”

(I’ve ordered from all of these with complete satisfaction.)

My Favorite Apple Recipes


  1. Great post–I love the wealth of info in it.
    Hubby and I have been unable to identify several of our apple trees–it is a very old orchard and we have been trying hard to find our what variety they are. My “applesauce” tree is about to fall over and I will be lost without those delicious beauties. The taste is out of this world!

    • Hi Sue, you may wish to consider taking some scion wood from your applesauce tree in the late winter or early spring before bud break and grafting it on young rootstock. And this way you’ve got your old tree and a couple new chips off the old block for new growth and a continuing legacy for this wonderful old apple tree, now reborn. If you don’t know how to graft, see if there’s a fruit tree club in your neck of the woods, or find an orchardist who will do it for you, perhaps for an exchange of the scion wood. Good luck!

  2. Hi Tom, thanks for sharing those delicious apples, I share your enthusiasm for less familiar varieties.
    Esp like the look of the Belles, in my experience that slightly mottled less shiny skin can be concealing the most interesting flavours, such as Russets and Ashmeads Kernel that come through our local harvest (Somerset UK).
    And how about that pie!

    • Sunny, I have a newly planted Ashmeads Kernel and Hudson’s Golden gem, so I’m eager to see them get established and produce some of that Russet apple love! Thanks for the kind words and visit!

  3. Tom – do you routinely thin your apples or do any sort of disease/pest prevention measures – I’m trying to set up to grow some in a small plot I have and want to grow as cleanly as possible.

    • Dee, planting disease resistant varieties really helps. I minimally thin my apples but only after they have their own natural thinning take place around a month into fruit set. The tree seems to manage excess apple removal quite handily. After that, I just reduce apples in big clusters to one or two and remove those with deformities or early signs of disease or scarring. I don’t spray a one and I’ve found the single most effective way to keep my orchard healthy and free of coddling moth and apple maggot, is to remove fallen fruit every day. Don’t let rotting fruit sit around. I only minimally prune as well, by simply removing crossing or touching branches, and weak and dead ones. And I only do that in summer, so as not to encourage water sprouts, the quick growing vertical shoots that result from spring pruning. I tend to find less is more, and so many folks feel this urgency and need to drastically prune their fruit trees into submission. I’m sure agricultural agents are rolling their eyes right now, but again, I’ve found it better to prune my fruit trees in late summer not when dormant, and to keep my orchard clean and water with slow drip irrigation, and no overheard water sprays. It doesn’t happen overnight, but eight years later, I’m really pleased with the growth and health of my orchard.

  4. Tom,
    Do you ever make apple pie filling for canning? Or make pies to freeze for later? I have way too many apples sitting on my back stoop and would like to save them for the long winter months that are coming. Any suggestions?

    • Karen I’ve never canned apple pie filling but really should give it a try. I will core them and chop them up and toss them in lemon or lime juice and freeze them for pie fillings later. I also make chunky applesauce, which really is like apple pie filling sometimes and I’ll put it in turnovers. 😉

    • Melanie, I’m with you. I’m awaiting the harvest where I too many to eat and can and just enough to crush for cider. Apple cider is one of my favorite drinks. Thanks for the kind words and visit!


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