Apple Orchards in the Bush?



Oct 14, 2009

The University of Alaska’s Cooperative Extension Service lost an important member of its team last June. Forest Specialist Bob Wheeler passed away on June 29 following a short battle with cancer.

One of Bob’s last projects was developing cold tolerant apple trees that would grow and thrive in the Interior. His project involved grafting 31 varieties of apples onto rootstock of cold tolerant Ranetka crabapples, a Siberian tree known for its ability to withstand cold winters.

Trees were planted in high tunnel greenhouses near Fairbanks two years ago. Today the AP has good news about the success of Bob’s project.

Fruit was harvested a year before expected.

“They’re a little tart, but they’re good,” said research technician Kendra Calhoun as she bit into a tiny yellow Ukalskoje apple.

Read Bob’s overview of the project here.


6 Responses to “Apple Orchards in the Bush?”

  1. UgaVic Says:

    This fine gentleman gave an update on this project when I attended the conference in Fairbanks last spring.

    It was exciting to see a REAL possibility of having a fruit that could be grown wtih success in many parts of Alaska.

    I am hopeful his research will not be lost but instead expanded upon, it is greatly needed.


  2. Jim Says:

    I’ve got an apple (not crabapple) tree in Anchorage. We got some tiny apples last year, none this year. The moose love it and gobble anything that grows through the protective screen.

    Until about 20 years ago, I used to grow cantaloupe not far from the UAF Experimental Farm. They were delicious. I direct seeded under plastic mulch between the first and tenth of May, cut the seedlings through the plastic, and grew them inside 2 X 8 board boxes that I covered with more plastic if it got too cool. With the south facing wall in Fairbanks I could grow all kinds of pole beans, eggplant, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and bi-colored corn. My parents’ house had a tall south-facing wall that was about 70 feet long and we sure got a lot of food grown in front of it. But Fairbanks has little wind and the temperature often approached 100 degrees near the south wall from late May until early August. Summers are often ideal. Anchorage’s climate, and climates in places like Nunam Iqua and Ugashik, aren’t nearly as good for outdoor gardening as Fairbanks or other areas of the Interior.

    The protective apple shelter looks interesting. I hope it will work in more marginal areas.

  3. Say No to Palin in Politics Says:

    Wonderful news! I hope the Parnell administration supports and applauds this. It is a big benefit for Alaska to produce and store more food.

    Congratulations Alaska!

  4. Say No to Palin in Politics Says:

    Jim, I don’t know if moose would respond like deer, but I’ve been told putting wire on the ground bothers the deer. I have a friend in ND do this with cattle panels on the ground around trees, it worked for them.

    They live in the country and planted 100’s of young trees of varied species for wind blocks, purchased through the conservation service, think baby sticks as seedlings, lol. They have loads of deer that will eat everything.

    Apparently they don’t like stepping on it, it feels unstable and spooks them. But moose may be less sensitive, lol. Worth a try?

    We did the same thing through the conservation service here in MO. We had some deer damage but not too bad. They do like the spring fruit leaves and pine limb sprouts. Our apple robbers this year were raccoons, little buggers.

    Will moose eat any type tree? We planted a privacy row of native wild plums not realizing the wicked 3″ thorns they’d have, I think it keeps the deer away now. It will definitely keep strangers from coming throw the row onto the property, they’d be torn up and bloody for trying. BTW, they are fast growing.

  5. Jim Says:

    Say No to Palin in Politics:

    Thanks for the tip– I’ll try that. I’m planning to build a fence but who knows when.

    Moose like many deciduous trees, especially young ones. Willow is one of their favorites. I don’t know how birch trees can survive and grow old but eventually they get too tall for the moose. Moose love most fruit trees although they won’t eat choke cherries.

    Last winter I heard a loud banging sound out on the porch in the middle of the night– turned out a moose was trying to get to the halloween pumpkin. I threw the pumpkin out on the lawn and she immediately ate it. They come around and eat all the pumpkins after Halloween.

    Guess I’m getting off topic.

    I wonder if my apple tree didn’t flower because the moose ate some of the leaf tips, or if it flowers every other year . . . I’m going to read up on Bob’s research and select a couple more apple or other fruit trees. However Alaska has very diverse climates (look at the hardiness zone map)– Southeast is different from Southcentral, which is different from the Interior, which is different from the Arctic, which is different from Western Alaska, which is different from the Alaska Peninsula, which is different from the Aleutians (and you could divide many of these areas into sub-regions).

  6. irina Says:

    “A little tart” is probably the understatement of the week.
    We have a person in Fairbanks who has grown apples successfully outdoors
    for many years now. He sells them in the fall at the Tanana Valley Farmers Market. Here is a sample conversation between him and me :

    me : Wow, lots of apples today, they look great ! (pointing at 10′ table full of bags of apples)
    him : Yup.
    me : So tell me what’s what here.
    him : (Waving a hand over the entire table), Well, these here’s cookin apples.
    And those (pointing to several bags discreetly hid in a corner), those ones are eatin apples.
    me: ah yes, i’ll take a bag of eatin apples please.

    Most people don’t know to ask and truly the ‘cookin apples’ are about as sweet as rhubarb. For villages, I think berries would be a better choice.
    The apples HAVE to be fenced or they will be completely chewed up.

    And for the poster above who hopes Sean Parnell sits up and takes notice, don’t hold your breath. Recently I attended a presentation he gave on economic development in Alaska. Not one word about agriculture. During Q&A a student (this was at UAF) asked about the future of farming in AK. Parnell’s response was so Palinesque (up until that time he had been quite coherent) that I wrote it down verbatim. His lack of interest floored me.
    He said,

    “I can’t know everything about everything and I don’t have a plan for everything.” Wow. This politician hadn’t even taken the time to come up with a couple of sentences about the importance of agriculture and felt comfortable saying the above to several hundred bright young economics students ? In the context of economic development ? Epic fail.

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