By Bob Purvis
From 24 to 29 April 1991 i was privileged to spend time with members of the Alaska Chapter of NAFEX. For the benefit and encouragement of those I did not see, I would like to report on progress made by some of our members with various fruit cultivars.
Apples. For Erik Simpson, the low at his orchard in west Anchorage was -28F at the end of November with perhaps a foot of snow cover at the time. Erik had six apples on his ‘Norson’ apple, planted in 1989, in 1990; the tree’s crotch angles are wide, and it is 6-1/2 feet tall. His ‘Summerred’ bore six apples, and they were ripe by mid-September, perhaps a reflection of an unusually sunny and warm summer in 1990. There was no winter-injury on his ‘Oriole’, ‘Roda Mantet’, ‘Parkland’, ‘State Fair’, and ‘Viking’ apple trees, all of which were planted within the past two years. None of these trees has yet borne any fruit. Erik also has trees of ‘Chinese Golden Early’, ‘Rescue’, ‘Westland’, and ‘Norland’ apple.
Tom Marshall, in Anchorage, reported picking apples off a graft of ‘Novosibirskii Sweet’ on his ‘Oriole’ apple tree in early September before they were fully ripe but added that they still had a good flavor. This is a variety which I acquired from the Saanichton Plant Quarantine Station in Sidney, B.C.
Lawrence Clark reported that he had sold 200 lb. of apples commercially from his South Anchorage orchard. He feels that for his location, ‘Norland’, ‘Yellow Transparent’, ‘Westland’, and ‘Jerseymac’ have been the best performers.
In Hope, Sheila Hanson showed me that her ‘Patterson’, ‘Jerseymac’, and ‘Flurry’ apple trees had survived two or three winters. There was no winter-injury visible on any of them; each is now 6 to 7 feet tall and well branched. Her ‘Mantet’, planted in 1988 and injured by the -35F in January 1989, is still alive but has died back more this winter. At Henry’s One Stop in Hope, Henry Mori’s ‘State Fair’ and ‘Norland’ appeared in good condition. The ‘Norland’ bore one apple last summer, which Henry shared with a number of people. Sheila reported that many people in Hope watched the tree intently as the fruit gradually grew and then ripened.
Apricots. In 1988, Henry Mori planted a ‘Manchu’ apricot which I had acquired from Gurney Seed and Nursery in 1987, on a gravelly, full-sun terrace near his store. The tree survived the -35F cold in 1989 and now appears to have blossom buds on some of its branches. The buds were already showing lots of pink as of April 28.
Cherries. Erik Simpson has an ungrafted GM-61 cherry rootstock growing in his orchard. It showed no winter-injury after the -28F there. The ‘Sam’ sweet cherry which he planted in 1988 had a small amount; the ‘Saimo’ sweet cherry planted in 1989 died back to the snow line but is still alive.
Further west in Anchorage, near Sand Lake, Rich Raynor had one ripe Van’ sweet cherry off a tree he had planted circa 1984 or 1985 in 1990. This is probably the first sweet cherry to bear ripe fruit in Anchorage in some years.
Concerning tart cherries, Erik Simpson reported getting 6-8 dozen cherries off his ‘Meteor’ in 1990. They were quite tasty, he reported There was no winter-injury to this tree, nor any on his ‘North Star’ cherry tree Both trees are planted on a slope where the drainage is good—a key factor for cherries on ‘Mahaleb’ rootstocks.
Lawrence Clark has been running trials of the Amur chokecherry, Prunus maackii, for several years in his orchard, to evaluate its suitability as an understock for tart cherries. The graft unions I saw between it and two Anchorage pie cherries (the Hanshew and the Baird) were smooth and well formed; furthermore, growth on them had been 2-3 feet each year.
Pears. On the Ussurian pear tree which Lawrence has had in his orchard for at least twelve years, he showed me grafts of an edible-fruited Ussurian from the Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL (designated 1912-23 S). This acquisition has grown for three growing seasons on the Ussurian; its growth has been vigorous, with no winter-injury apparent. I have tasted this particular Ussurian pear, picked 11 September 1990 from a bearing tree at Whitney’s Orchard and Nursery, Cowiche, WA. The pear was ripened indoors for a few weeks; it was not ripe on that date. While better than the run of the mill Ussurian, it did have grit cells and a bit of astringency; but it would make good pear preserves.
The graft of ‘Summercrisp’ pear which Lawrence made in 1988 or 1989 has grown well on the Ussurian and appears to have fruit spurs on it. Furthermore, it has evidently had little if any winter-injury. The University of Minnesota also has noted that ‘Summercrisp’ grows equally well on European or Ussurian pear rootstocks.
Erik Simpson showed me his two pears, an ‘Arganche’ and a ‘Peter’s Sugar Pear’, both planted in 1989. There was 4-6 inches of terminal growth on the ‘Arganche’ in 1990. Both trees had been directly exposed to -28F, and neither one had suffered any winter-injury on the branch tips from those temperatures. Northwoods Nursery in Molalia, OR was the source of the trees, both of which ripen in July in Oregon.
I also noted that in Rich Raynor’s test orchard in west Anchorage, both his ‘Parker’ and ‘Patten’ pear trees were still alive after at least six winters in spite of poor sun exposure, lots of competition from native trees, and moose browse damage. Unfortunately, the ripening dates for both of these Minnesota cultivars appears to be marginal for Anchorage—probably early October. ‘Giffard’, planted in 1989, is still alive also.
At Joseph and Alice Brewer’s home in Spenard, the ‘Waterville’ and ‘Sauvignac’ pears they planted in 1988 are still alive although growing very slowly. These are cultivars found and sold by St. Lawrence Nurseries Potsdam, NY.
Plums. The ‘Pembina’ plum which Rich Raynor planted about 1984 is still alive in spite of repeated moose-browse damage. From Edmonton, Alberta, NAFEX member Bernie Nikolai reports that ‘Pembina’ ripens twelve days after ‘Noralnd’ apples do, which would suggest a mid-September ripening date in ???? for ‘Pembina’. This plum and ‘Brookgold’ are considered the two best eating plums one can grow in Edmonton.
After the winter of 1990-91, there was no winter-injury to the ‘Sapa’ and ‘Pipestone’ plums in Erik Simpson’s yard. They were planted in 1988 and 1987 respectively; the ‘Pipestone’ has plums on it last summer, but not having been properly pollenized, the plums eventually fell off. The ‘Superior’ plum he planted in 1989 has had winter-injury the past two winters, but less in 1991 than in 1990. About 50% of its 1990 growth was winter-killed.
Henry Mori, like Erik, planted a ‘Superior’ in 1989. It had perhaps 40% of its 1990 growth killed by the cold (about -22 to -24F this past winter); the tree is about 6 feet tall. The tree had what appeared to be fruit spurs on it, but it was not clear whether or not they were alive.
To summarize, it appears that at least some of the members of the Alaska NAFEX chapter are well on their way to demonstrating that not only apples and pie cherries, but also sweet cherries, pears, plums, and even apricots may someday be established and brought into bearing outdoors in Alaska.