Here's why you should grow your own apples

Eating apples at this time of year is a real boon to health. Fiann Ó Nualláin says it’s well worth growing your own — chemical-free

As the Irish seed savers ‘Taste of the Orchards’ tours continues this weekend in Scarriff, Co Clare, it prompted me to write something about apples for today.

The myth is that home grown apples are harvested in autumn — and so it’s supermarket varieties shipped in from elsewhere, for summer.

Well the truth is that the third week of August sees a good few varieties of apple begin to ripen. Beauty of Bath, Irish Peach, Rosette, Discovery, Epicure — to mention a few. And if the summer was good then we might be having a sneek preview of a few Pippin varieties as well as Egremont Russet and some heritage varieties.

I would encourage you to think of planting a summer or early ripening variety. Apples are continually reported as one of the most pesticide-contaminated foods, so it is well worth growing your own. There are certainly plenty to choose from — with more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples out there covering a mix of three types — dessert, cooking or cider apples.

Whether you pluck your own or shop local, eating apples at this time of year is a real boon to health. The benefit of growing your own is, you know exactly their chemical free-status and you get them fresh — not chilled fresh. Bare root season will soon be upon us again and this time next year you can be keeping the doctor away from your own garden stock.

So how do apples keep the doc away?

One medium apple has roughly 14% of your daily recommended value of vitamin C which provides a good boost to your immune system and helps ward off illness but vitamin c is also vital to recovery from illness and the healing of wounds.

Vitamin C is essential to the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body and even has a role in mental well being. The thing is that almost half of an apple’s
vitamin C content is located just under the skin and this is why you often hear nutritionists recommend that apples be eaten with their skins on. ( I would caveat that with — if you are sure it wasn’t sprayed to hell before it reached you).

Apart from vitamin C, apples are high in other antioxidant plant compounds in particular quercetin and catechin. Quercetin also exhibits anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and even anti-depressant properties, while catechin is known to improve both brain and muscle function.

Where apples become really interesting is in their non-digestible compounds — the fibre and polyphenols within their meat. These non-digestible compounds promote the growth of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract and in the large intestines and
significantly, in the colon.

The implications of bacterial imbalance in the colon is a trigger for metabolic
disorders, including diabetes and obesity. Bacterial balance not only improves the immune system response, but lessens inflammation and fatigue.

Fruits can be a sugar spike to diabetics but apples can help regulate blood sugar, with their flavonoid-inhibiting enzymes such as alpha-amylase and alpha-glucosidase that break carbohydrates down into simple sugars, so lessening ‘sugar’ in the system. The fibre and polyphenols also help lessen the absorption of glucose and simple sugars from the digestive tract.

There are much better fibre sources than apples but apples have pectin – a soluble fiber polysaccharide which can lower blood fats associated with heart disease. Pectin also acts to decrease both total cholesterol and
LDL-cholesterol.

We think of antioxidants as antiaging agents but they are so much more. The
antioxidants in apples help decrease the oxidation of cell membrane fats and so slow down age-related clogging of the arteries but those same antioxidants have a role in lowering risk of asthma in all age groups. An apple in your kids’ lunch box is setting them up for good health throughout their life.

It is not just the eating — the smell of an apple is good for you. Especially the fresh citrusy green apples which have been shown to lessen migraine pain and stomach upset, stabilize blood pressure and also help you lose weight. Smelling an apple tricks your brain into thinking you have eaten one, and so sniffing an apple 20mins before meal times lessens your calorie intake.

Now if you can just smell an apple and not eat it, then more power to your will power. Eating one before mealtime will also increase satiety when it comes to the following meal, so you will also eat less. Eating an apple also gives all the benefits that I am mentioning in this article. So apple starter anyone?

Apple varieties that are good to grow in Ireland.

While the odd garden center will stock Cox’s Orange Pippin, Golden Delicious and Gala – those favourite supermarket buys — they are not so easy to grow in the Irish climate.

Our wet winter and summer is a trigger to their propensity to suffer scab and other fungal diseases. Apart from the ones mentioned in the first paragraph — you could also try James Grieve, Sunset; ‘Red Love’ or opt for an Irish apple such as Ard Cairn; Beauty of Ballintaylor; Kerry Pippin Russet; Kilkenny Pearmain, Eight Square, Reid’s Seedling, Cavan Sugarcane — they all thrive in the Irish climate.

For some heritage and Irish sustainable apples you can order from Irish Seed Savers Association in Co Clare, English’s Fruit Nursery in Co Wexford; Future Forests in Co Cork, Cornucopia in Co Mayo — and all offer nationwide delivery.

Okay — it’s important to ask before you buy your apple variety if it needs a cross pollinator or not. There are plenty of self-fertile types and even single tree but multi-specimen-grafts available.

The next issue is deveoted to space — especially if you do need two trees to get a consistent crop. And that’s all down to rootstock. Most apples are grafted on to a rootstock that limits its maturity height and for ease, I’ve prepared a list of rootstock types.

So, to help selection — here is my concise guide:

- MM111 has a 25% dwarfing effect on the graft so it keeps the eventual mature tree to around 6-7 metres tall.

-n MM106 is 35% dwarfing so a maturity of 5-6 metres tall.

- M26 is closer to 50% in its dwarfing effect and delivers a mature specimen at 4-4.5 metres tall.

-n M9 gives 65% dwarfing and provides a limit of 3 metres tall.

- M27 being 75% dwarfing will limit mature tree to around 2 metres tall.


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