All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A

by Pernell Gerver

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"Heirloom Apple Tasting & Growing Your Own Antique Apples"

Apples have a very long history, having been in cultivation since ancient times. They originated in what is now Kazakhstan and the first-known varieties were introduced in the 1400's. It wasn't until the 1500's that they began to be used for food. Up until then their main use had been for cider and when they were first used for food, they were seldom eaten fresh. They were usually dehydrated then reconstituted for use in pies which back then were eaten as breakfast foods, not the dessert we know them to be today.

Over the centuries, there have been thousands and thousands of different apple varieties that have been used for cooking and eating fresh. Here in America, there were over 18,000 varieties by the end of the 1700's. Many of those old-time varieties have, unfortunately, disappeared from the market.

Less familiar now, but popular at one time are the antique apples, really old varieties, with interesting and unusual names like 'Cox Orange Pippin,' 'Roxbury Russett,' and 'Golden Russett.' These antique apple varieties are not only rich in history, but also rich in flavor.

Apple 'Cox Orange Pippin'An old variety named 'Cox Orange Pippin' is very hard, very spicy, but also sweet. It's the second most popular apple in the world, next to 'Gala.' It's a good all-around, multi-use apple. It makes great pies. As an eating apple it's hard, crisp, juicy, slightly spicy, but also sweet. The fruit does not turn red, instead it's somewhat orangey and it's one of my favorite apples.

Most antique apples have folklore history. The story behind the 'Cox Orange Pippin' is Cox was the name of the woman who discovered it. In 1830, she owned a 'Ripsten Pippin' tree, saw a bee pollinating a blossom, tied a ribbon around it, and planted the seeds of the apple that came from that spot and the story is this is the apple that came from that seed.

Another historical apple, 'Roxbury Russet,' has its origins in Roxbury, Massachusetts before the Revolutionary War - back in the late 1600's, to early 1700's. They were originally in England and where the stock was brought over seedlings were found. It's not a particularly pretty apple (they used to be called leather coats) since it has a brownish russetting covering a green skin, but it's a highly sugared apple with twenty percent more fruit sugar than most apples. It's a great cooking apple - for sauce, pies, and cider making.

Apple 'Golden Russett''Golden Russet,' an antique apple variety that also dates back to pre-Revolutionary War time, resembles 'Roxbury Russet.' 'Golden Russet' is very round and much more russetted. Its origin is Concord, Massachusetts where it was developed in 1750. The flavor of 'Golden Russett' is dense, very juicy, and very sweet. A bushel of 'Golden Russett' weighs approximately five to six pounds more than a bushel of 'Cortland' because they are very dense and very juicy. It has a great taste.

Apple 'Lady''Lady' is the oldest apple variety still being grown today. Its history dates back to the Roman Empire. It's a small, rounded apple that has a sweet flavor. Because of its small size, it was popular with women during the Renaissance. It's said they would keep one tucked in their bosom and use it to freshen their breath. It's also known as the Christmas apple because it was widely used as a decoration on wreaths hung for Christmas.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Some Diseases and Insects that Affect Cucurbits"


Q. I planted yellow squash and cucumbers that grew healthy and were highly productive until the beginning of August. At that time, some of the plants developed either powdery or downy mildew, I'm not sure which one. Then, I noticed many of the plants becoming dried up in appearance and the leaves brittle and the production of fruit nearly ceased. The problem occurred whether or not the plant was affected by the mildew. My question is are the two problems related or do I have two separate problems and what can I do to avoid this situation again next year?

A. It sounds like you may have multiple problems with your squash and cucumber plants. Squash and cucumbers are in a group of plants called cucurbits. I've experienced the same problems with my cucurbits over the years and unfortunately there are many insects and diseases that attack them.

I'll give you the most common ones that match your symptoms so you can diagnose which problem or problems your plants have.

As far as squash plants go, the first suspect is the squash vine borer. This insect causes squash plants to quickly wilt. When you see this happening, check the stem for holes and a material resembling sawdust, called frass, that exudes from the holes. Inside the stems will be small white borers. You can save the plants by slitting the stem lengthwise and poking around inside the stem with an opened paper clip. Remove the borers and destroy them. After you're done doing surgery on the plants, mound moist soil over the stems so they can grow new roots. Covering plants with a floating row cover will screen out the moth that lays the eggs, but the covering should be removed to allow for pollination. I've also had good luck by interplanting my young squash plants with lettuce. I've found that the moth responsible for the borer can't seem to find the squash plant to lay her eggs on and I haven't had a problem with the borer on those squash plants for the past two years that I've been interplanting.

Regarding the cucumber problem, one of the most common problems with cucumber plants is bacterial wilt. There is no cure for bacterial wilt. However, the disease is spread by striped or spotted cucumber beetles and if you can control or prevent the insect from getting to the plants, then you will avoid this problem. A floating