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by Terence F. Moore

I ventured into growing apples without regard for a fundamental principle I follow in my day job as a health-care executive. I forgot that the cheapest and best money you can spend is in planning and studying what you are going to do before you act. Consequently, I planted the wrong varieties, the wrong rootstocks, with the wrong distance between trees, and made all the other mistakes a novice can make.

My salvation was that when I began planting in the mid-1980s, I did not plant more than a dozen to 50 trees per year, and each year I learned from my mistakes. Today my modest orchard has about 2,000 trees of slightly more than 100 varieties.

Two old varieties stand out from all the rest because of their popularity with my customers and friends. Whenever I find one of my apple trees to be unsatisfactory, I top-graft one of two varieties - Opalescent or Twenty Ounce. Opalescent, which was reportedly found as a sprout by George Hudson of Barry County, Michigan, was introduced in 1880. It is a large apple with beautiful red coloring and waxy skin that immediately attracts attention. In my orchard it has been an annual and consistent bearer. A garden club of twenty people toured the orchard last fall and was told that each person could fill his peck bag with whatever variety or varieties he chose. At least 50% of all of the apples that were chosen were Opalescent. I wish I had 150 Opalescent trees instead of fifteen.

The second variety that has proven to be very popular is Twenty Ounce. It reportedly originated in upstate New York and was introduced in 1840. The bumpy skin on this very large apple can be a detraction for first-time buyers, but once someone tries it for any culinary purpose (it makes a great baked apple or sauce), he or she is hooked. They look like grapefruit hanging on semi-dwarf (MM106) trees. I would rather be without Northern Spies-the favorite baking apple in our area-than Twenty Ounce. Some varieties I would not plant again are: Swaar, Doctor, Peck's Pleasant, Sheepnose, Maiden Blush, Fallawater, Transparent, Baldwin, Blue Pearmain, Jersymac and Giant Winesap.

Someone once said that the best apples he had ever seen were in catalogs. If you cannot see and taste a particular variety, consider not planting it.

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