Article - Apples

Apple Article in Grass Roots Magazine 182 July/Aug 2007

Heritage Fruits for Southern Australia.

by Peter Allen (AKA Pete the Permie)

Its winter again and down here and all we can think about is the bare root season, time to plant new fruit trees or graft old varieties onto the ones we planted previously. As a Permie I am interested in all the old varieties that used to be grown but we are no longer a minority. Here on our property at Monbulk in the hills above Melbourne we have over 500 fruit trees, Silvia and I continue planting productive trees each year here at Telopea Mtn Permaculture farm.

Many people from the country or the suburbs are now coming to ask for apples so they can make their back yards into productive food spaces again, the difference today is the availability of many dwarfing rootstocks to manipulate the size of an apple tree. While most trees on “Granny Smith” seedling can reach 6m x 6m in size(and fill a backyard) the same variety can be kept to just 2.4m high. These rootstocks have imaginative names like M9, M26 & MM102 but they make up for this in what they can do for you such as give disease resistance or better suitability to soil types and conditions.

  • An apple on M9 will grow to around 2.4m max height but often needs a stake for support if windy.
  • M26 will give you a 3m tree,  no support is needed and it can have a couple of varieties grafted.
  • MM102, MM106 are good for espaliers as they have more vigor, they can grow to 3.6m as an orchard tree these can take multiple varieties.

Australia previously had over 1000 named apples last century so it is gratifying as the convener of the “Heritage Fruits Group” to see the renewed interest in the old varieties. Our collections currently have over 419 apples, 150 plums, 23 Nashi, 100+ pears, also cherries, figs and berries. We have grown in recent years to duplicate the Govt collections of 200 peaches, 140 nectarines and 67 apricots, these are to be bulldozed soon and once gone are lost to Australia. This group which is a non profit organization and part of Permaculture Melbourne run grafting days throughout Victoria and there is a similar organization in South Australia.

Pete’s top ten apples for the home gardener.

  1. Blenheim Orange- Late- Dual purpose-Orange red flushed- crumbly texture taste of nuts
  2. Snow Apple (Famuse)( Pomme De Neige)- Late-Dessert-Deep red “bleeds” into white flesh. 
  3. Belle de Boskoop – Late- Dual purpose-  Orange red flush- Firm juicy sharp flesh.
  4. Opalescent- Mid- Dessert- Red with russet bumps- fairly crisp white-cream flesh sweet taste.
  5. Pine Golden Pippin- Late- Dessert-  Full russet- hint of pineapple flavors, juicy, crisp.
  6. London Pippin ( 5 Crown)- Late- Cooker, drying- Green to yellow- sweet, keeps shape.
  7. Cox’s Orange Pippin- Late- Dessert- Orange red flush, red striped, favorite of the UK.
  8. Bramley’s Seedling- Late- Cooker- Large Greenish yellow- UK’s favorite cooker cooks to puree.
  9. Prima-Dessert- favored by the Organic grower with resistance to disease.
  10. Kinston Black –Mid to late- Cider- “Bitter sharp” plenty of tannin, acid and sugars for a full cider.

Fruit trees are an investment with most living productively well beyond 25years, I have pictures of a 600 yr old pear in England and 1000 year old olive trees in Cyprus. So it is worth doing some good ground work and not just buying a tree on impulse in the nursery.


1: Don’t put a “$20 tree in a $5 hole”, dig a good deep hole and add organic matter (compost or old manure and straw down the bottom), back fill the hole and plant in the top with the soil level as high as the old planting mark on the stem. I often prepare the spot in Autumn using a “Dingo” to dig 50 holes in 2 hours, 1mtr deep and 500mm wide, I put two shovels of compost in the hole then back fill them this gives a food reserve for next year.

I then plant my bare rooted trees in the soil and mulch it using about 1 bale for every 3 trees and water in.

Tip: leave the bales out in the rain for weeks before so they are soaked and don’t blow away.

2: Prune the tree to match the amount of roots that were cut back when it was dug up.

3. Get in early so you can buy a tree to fit the shape you want it to be ie. Vase, Central leader, Espalier.

4. Prune the tree to get the shape you want, I find people get hung up on pruning and end up afraid to do anything, you don’t need this tree to produce the maximum fruit it possibly could (like an orchardist wants to) you are better applying the organic approach to get 80% and leave some for the health of the tree, so prune to what pleases you, take out branches that rub or are broken or dying, then cut the ones going in the direction you don’t want them to.

You can always consult the books or internet if you want more technical advice.


The tree pictured with Silvia in the middle is a “Blenheim Orange” on M9 and is 10 years old, it is 2m tall and has not been watered since its planting day, it took 5 years to fruit but it has produced 55kgs in each of the last 3 years (even in the drought)


With the warming climate temperatures are rising down South so our opportunities are increasing to growing more sub tropical fruits, but unfortunately at the same time the opportunity for growing the cool climate fruits like apples and pears are reducing as you move north. The other dramatic effect with the resulting less rainfall is the birds attack on fruit, as I move around I am seeing more netting being used both commercially and in the home orchard.

What netting to buy.

Black nets blend better reducing the visual effect on your the neighbors or your own view.

White nets may stand out more to the birds and act as a better deterrent.

Permanent nets cost about twice the price but they come in 7m, 10m, 13m & 20 m widths, these are much hardier even when used in yearly tree covering, cost up to $1/m2.

 The cheaper vine nets have torn even as early as the first year as they are not meant to go on the stiffer fruit trees with fruiting spurs to snag on (vines are all first year wood).

You can make a permanent structure using the old steel hills hoist, just remove the winding mechanism and replace with a long steel pole up the middle; this can serve one tree or extend it by using poles out further to place the nets over. This are is also good for growing veggies under the trees bird free Do this for the first 3 years, the mulch, weeding and watering for the veggies is ideal for the new growing tree.


All our low grade/surplus & dropped apples end up as Scrumpy or Cider this reduces pests by removing spoilt fruit, plus we have over 20 varieties of the olde English/French cider types, eg. “Kinston Black” supplies all the tannin, acid and sugars needed to make a single variety cider all on its own (like grapes do) but all apples can be used. See more about Cider on our Snake Gully website.


Next time: Nashi & Pears.


Contacts: that may help you.

Peter & Silvia “Telopea Mtn Permaculture” or 0418 665 880

Cider, Scrumpy & cider making.

Fruit trees variety info or


Heritage Fruits Group(Vic) grafting day dates for Apple, Plum, Nashi, Pear & Cherry trees,

Buying trees on dwarf rootstocks. By mail order

Mark- “Strezlecki Heritage Apples” (03) 5659 5242 mail order. Bagged Apple trees:

“Diggers Seeds” dwarfing Apples, Pear & Cherry (03) 5987 1877, Fax (03) 59814298

Clive-“Badgers Keep” grafts apples (600vars) –(03) 5472 3338 mail order email.

“Bob Magnus Fruit Tree Nursery” send 4 stamps for booklet to PO Woodbrige, Tas.6162

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