By Bob Purvis
On April 9, 1991, 1 received a phone call from Bennie Nikolai, a new NAFEX member in Edmonton, Alberta Canada. He had some interesting information to share about the performance of fruit cultivars appropriate for Alaska, and I am publishing this information because it fills in gaps in our knowledge of some of them.
Edmonton (latitude 53° 34’ North) averages, a 140-day frost-free season. The record high there is 93°F. The record low, set in the 1890’s, is -54°F but in the past 10-20 years, the low for the winter has typically been in the -28°F to -33°F range. Average temperature for July is 64°F (versus 58°F for Anchorage), with daytime highs typically in the mid-70’s. Shallow but persistent snow cover normally blankets the ground from mid- November to late March. Wintertime temperatures are very stable. Rainfall averages 14”, with 54” of snow in the wintertime in addition.
Concerning apples, Bernie reported that a friend of his has been growing “Vista Bella” on Mailing 9 and Mailing 26 (two  dwarfing rootstocks) in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and has had no winter injury on the trees after -40° F and drying winds. “Vista Bella” has fruited for four (4) consecutive years for him there. His “Vista Bella” apples won first prize of 79 entries in the provincial fair last year. His “secret” for success involved withholding water from the trees in late summer, and then watering them thoroughly just before the ground began to freeze (early November m Edmonton, probably about the same in Saskatoon).
Of “Norda” apple, he commented that some people preferred its taste over “Norland”. A cross of Rescue with Mantet, it combines their qualities of hardiness and flavor and multiplies the keeping ability of them in addition. (“Norda” will keep until February in cold storage.)
Of ‘‘September Ruby”, he said that it would store for 20 weeks, was developed in Beaverlodge, had the quality and hardiness of “Norland”, and was suitable for fresh eating or cooking. “September Ruby” became available in 1990 at the Saanichton Plant Quarantine Station; limited quantities of scionwood may be available from Whitney’s Orchard & Nursery in the spring of 1992. Ripening time in Anchorage would be the end of September, it appears.
“PF 51” (the “PF” stands for Prairie Farms) is a Haralson-Rescue cross, very hardy, reported to be of excellent dessert quality. Size is 6-7 centimeters in diameter; the color is light green streaked red on the sunward side. Ripening season is early to mid-September in Edmonton, implying late September in Anchorage. “922 End” is according to Bernie’s letter, “the absolute best pie apple of any, also very good dessert. It is of small to medium size, yellow withered blush, extremely heavy bearing, and will soon be commercially available.” Bernie obtained scionwood of both these from the Alberta Government Tree Nursery. Ripening date is September 15-22 in Edmonton.
“Improved Battleford” is a seedling derived from an open-pollinated “Battleford” giving much heavier yields better flavor, and more hardiness than the parent “Enigma” is a delicious sweet variety unknown commercially- sold 15 years ago as a “Battleford”, but closest in flavor to a “Carroll” ripening September 15- 22 in Edmonton.
“Valentine” is a huge yellow apple with a red blush, sweet and crisp. It has proven hardy in tests in Saskatchewan and was to be sold commercially by one nursery there in 1991 for the first time. It keeps until St. Valentine’s Day, hence the name. Its apples are huge, yet very good for fresh eating. Ripening date is September 15-22 in Edmonton.
“Oberle” is another apple, bred at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and released jointly by VPI and the Kentville (Nova Scotia) Research Station of Agriculture Canada in 1987. The tree is upright to spreading, moderately vigorous, precocious in bearing; the fruit ripens with or before Yellow Transparent. The fruit is medium to Targe, round, distinctively blotched; the flesh is cream-colored, crisp, tender, juicy, of high quality.
With regard to pears. “Ure” is their best but he said that “Sauvignac” (available from St Lawrence Nurseries) was “really tasty”.
The wife of a nurseryman friend of his calls the fruit from the M.604 apricot “the best”. During the past five (5) years, the nurseryman had one (1) heavy and one (1) light crop off his trees; the other three (3) years, there was no crop there in Edmonton, where bloom date for apricots is late April to early May (versus May 6 as the average date for the last spring frost).
Bernie said that “Harrow Diamond” peach has been fully winter-hardy in shoot and flower bud in Quebec for NAFEX member Ken Taylor, in zone four (4). It is hardier than “Reliance” and excellent in flavor. As such, it might be a worthwhile candidate for a greenhouse in Anchorage, and it is now available from Saanichton.
Bernie rates “Pembina” and “Brookgold” plums as outstanding in flavor. “Pembina” ripens 12 days after “Norland” apples in Edmonton (September 3 versus August 21). “Pembina” and “Brookred are both late-blooming, “Brookgold”, early-blooming, according to what he has heard. Regarding “Dandy”, a very hardy prairie plum, he commented that his dad has two (2) trees of it at his home near Winnipeg, Manitoba. The skin is tart and thick; the flesh sweet and orange. It is best for preserves.
(Editor’s note: Although this article was written almost a year ago, it has some valuable information to offer.)