I don't know what kind of apples they were, but the tree that grew in my backyard when I was young had the best tasting apples in the world. Or maybe I just remember them that way because back then, there were no Fuji, Gala, Jonagold, Honeycrisp or even Granny Smith apples to tempt our palates.
I remember even the green ones were tasty and we would cast aside our parents' admonitions against eating green apples, not caring that we might later on suffer with ''the bellyache.'' The best time, however, to eat those apples was just about this time of year when the night temperatures were just above freezing and the apples were ice cold and made a loud cracking noise when we bit into them. We didn't even care if we found a worm hole or two. We would simply eat around them.
I used to pretend that Johnny Appleseed planted that tree. I now know that John Chapman planted nurseries, not orchards, for the sole purpose of providing local farmers with cider from which to make applejack, the favored alcoholic beverage of the early 1800s in Ohio.
I love apples, and now I get excited when my favorite, Honeycrisp, becomes available. Honeycrisp ripens early and is one of the first to be gone for the season. I make up for that by buying Braeburn, my second favorite.
Apples are extremely easy to grow. You don't need a large yard or several acres since most trees are dwarf varieties that if property pruned will stay small and compact. I've seen apples growing on city lots. On some smaller lots, you can find espaliered trees growing against a garage wall or on a wooden frame.
When deciding which apple tree to put in your yard, keep in mind that you need at least two trees and they should be of different varieties for successful pollination. It doesn't matter what your second variety is; it can even be a crabapple, which is a true apple, only smaller. If your neighbor has apple trees, you're all set.
Many varieties are available for backyard gardeners, and although apples grow well in northeast Ohio, they can have a host of problems, which is why you should look for varieties that are resistant to the most common diseases and pests. Some of these include: apple scab, cedar apple rust and fire blight.
According to The Ohio State University Horticulture and Crop Science department, the most common disease-resistant varieties for our area are Goldrush, Jonafree, Liberty, Redfree and William's Pride, but this list is not all-inclusive. Check your nursery grower for more varieties. By selecting disease resistant varieties, the home grower has a better chance of success without having to use pesticides.
Fruit trees are grafted. The two parts of the tree are called the rootstock and the scion. The scion determines the type of apple - red, yellow, sweet, tart, etc. The way the tree grows is determined by the rootstock - the season the fruit ripens, early, mid-season or later and the overall size of the tree; dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard size. The two parts work together to give us the perfect plant and fruit for our needs.
You can order one-year old single stem ''whips'' from catalogs or you can buy older, more established trees from your garden center. The older trees can be planted in the fall or spring, but the younger whips should go into the ground in early spring to give them more time to get established.
It is most important not to allow the roots to dry out before planting. For bare root trees, soak the roots in water for 24 hours before planting. Dig a deep hole large enough to accommodate the root system. Put the tree into the hole to get a proper measurement before beginning to fill it in.
The place where the scion has been grafted onto the rootstock is called the "bud union." The bud union should be two to three inches above the ground when the tree is planted. This is important. If the bud union is below the ground, the scion will sprout roots. If this happens, you will not get a dwarf or semi-dwarf variety as determined by the rootstock, but instead will end up with a huge, standard-size tree.
Once the proper depth and width of the hole has been established, you can plant the tree. In our heavy clay soil, the tree should be planted a bit higher than it was in the container if your plant came from a nursery that way. Add about two gallons of water to the planting hole before filling.
The next important step is watering. Newly planted trees should be watered well and often to encourage deep root growth. The rule of thumb is two to three gallons every two to three weeks. You can add mulch in the fall to protect the roots from winter's heaving and thawing, but be sure not to cover the bud union.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.