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Value of crab apple?

Milan Broz

Joined: Feb 24, 2011
Posts: 87
Location: Croatia
In newly planted food forest I have already several varieties of apple, besides other trees. Is there a reason to include crab apple in design also? I red about it is good for cider, and can't remember what else. But cider can be made from every apple, right? So, does crab apple have any advantage over domesticated apple? Like better pollinator, more frost hardy, more tolerant to poor soil, better for cider, better for jams, wildlife, etc?

Permaculture in Croatia:
Kota Dubois

Joined: Oct 13, 2011
Posts: 171
The true value of crab apples is their prolific production of pollen for your food apples, which are often poor in this field.

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richard valley

Joined: Aug 18, 2011
Posts: 216
Location: Sierra Nevada mountain valley CA, & Nevada high desert
Like to hear more about carbapple and food apple. I thought pollination had to be with the correct apple tree.
Matt Smith

Joined: Feb 04, 2012
Posts: 181
Location: Central Ohio, Zone 6A - High water table, heavy clay.
richard valley wrote:Like to hear more about carbapple and food apple. I thought pollination had to be with the correct apple tree.

My understanding is that as long as they're blooming at the same time, you're good to go.
richard valley

Joined: Aug 18, 2011
Posts: 216
Location: Sierra Nevada mountain valley CA, & Nevada high desert
I think they, crabapples would be good to have in any case, wifey makes great jam with them.
David Goodman

Joined: Dec 14, 2011
Posts: 451
Location: Zone 9a/8b
Crab apples are also good for adding to cider.

I've also heard it said that they have a higher pectin content.

I know they attract a lot of pollinators.

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richard valley

Joined: Aug 18, 2011
Posts: 216
Location: Sierra Nevada mountain valley CA, & Nevada high desert
Well, our new place needs more trees I'll start some and they'll be welcome there.
Kota Dubois

Joined: Oct 13, 2011
Posts: 171
"Like to hear more about carbapple and food apple. I thought pollination had to be with the correct apple tree."

Named varieties of food apples are all clones. As with all clones their viability goes down with each generation. Crab apples are closer to the wild species, and therefore have higher fecundity, which allows them to pollinate the rest of the orchard. Around here the apple growers all have at least one crab apple amoungst their trees.
mike mclellan

Joined: Nov 13, 2011
Posts: 91
Location: Helena, MT zone 4
richard valley wrote:Like to hear more about carbapple and food apple. I thought pollination had to be with the correct apple tree.

The cedar waxwings absolutely tore through my neighbor's remaining crab apples (two trees worth) and then ate most of mine (four trees worth) in early November, 2011. IF for no other reason than that, it was worth it to have the big flocks visit for a few days. Nice to be able to provide for such beautiful birds. They did leave a heck of a mess but shoveling snow a couple of times has removed all the "residue".

I have two very old apples trees (variety unknown) but don't worry at all about pollination due to the pollen provided by crabapples.
Ken Anderson

Joined: Feb 25, 2012
Posts: 11
Location: Millinocket/St. Agatha, Maine
My understanding is that any type of crabapple can be a good pollinator. As for other uses, that would depend on the variety of crabapple you chose. Some of them are good in pies, particularly when mixed with other types of apples, and they are good in pies. Of course, they also attract wildlife, the advantages there being a matter of perspective, i suppose.

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it, unless someone yells at me or something.
Bob Dobbs

Joined: Jan 13, 2012
Posts: 145
One could break the term "crabapple" into two generalizations:
One, the native-type crabapples, or similar hybridized ornamental varieties, which are really cool and pretty trees, great for the birds, but generally only insignificantly edible, e.g you could eat them, but you may burn more calories picking out the seeds than you would gain by eating. The fruit of this type are generally garbanzo-sized or usually smaller
Two, the crabapples with larger fruit, e.g dolgo is a common one with fruit around the size of gumballs. Kids love to nibble them, and they make great jelly/jam/cider. There are also bigger varieties of crabapple, here in the south we have one called craven, that has apples almost as big as a small apple. The jelly/preserves are a delicacy around here, comparable to quince preserves. The trick with crabapples and hard cider too, is that if you naturally ferment the cider, you get something called a malo-lactic fermentation going on. Essentially, you get an apple juice that is barely drinkable it is so sour, but it finishes to a slightly tart dry type cider. Very yummy. Actually most seedling apples are a bit crabby from my experience, and in a historical sense were used for alcohol production.
Rich Pasto

Joined: Dec 13, 2011
Posts: 100
we share a crabapple tree with our neighbor. The blooms are very nice right now, lots of pollinators come by. Lots of birds. When the apples drop, I collect them, mash them and they fuel my compost pile quite spectacularly.
Josh T-Hansen

Joined: Jul 14, 2010
Posts: 143
Location: Zone 5 Brimfield, MA
Curculio is attracted to, among other things, "lush-leafed edible crab apples", (source The Holistic Orchard) thus they could be used as trap trees. This strategy probably makes more sense in community scale food production systems vs. home.

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Donovan Wentworth

Joined: Apr 14, 2012
Posts: 14
Location: Michigan - Zone 6a-5b
"Crab apple" is a blanket term, so I believe the use of a crab apple depends on its species (there are around 35). The crab apples native to Croatia might be completely different from the ones I've encountered in Michigan.

The only crab apples I've ever eaten were growing in my grandpa's yard. They were small, green, and sour as heck! I'm 95% sure they were Malus coronaria, the so-called "sweet" crab apple, which is native to Michigan. I've never had any jam, cider, or butter made with crab apples so I can't comment on their use for that. When Pehr Kalm, one of Linnaeus' twelve "apostles" encountered Malus coronaria, he suggested that they were useless for making anything but vinegar. If you're interested in making your own vinegar, I think crab apples would be a good candidate so you don't have to waste your better-tasting fruits on that service.

However, I've read that most crab apple species taste fine after they've been baked or roasted, so it's completely possible that they could be as legitimate a food source as the domestic apple.
Varina Lakewood

Joined: May 15, 2012
Posts: 116
Location: Colorado
As I understand it, crab apples are generally hardier than regular apples. Many of them are grown for their abundant, beautiful flowers which range from white to dark pink or 'red'. That would be an advantage from a permaculture point of view in attracting pollinators. Crab apples are more often used in jams and jellies and that kind of thing because of their very high pectin content. There are a very few 'large' crabapples that are nearly the size of small regular apples, and those can be eaten (I've heard) or used as candied apples that are very good (I wish I had the recipe, but I did have some once.) Not all crabapples are equal. The ones that grow where I currently live, well, they are only good for compost, but they make lovely, quick decomposing compost.
Most apples will do fine with any pollinator EXCEPT apples that are too closely related (for instance Golden Delicious and Red Delicious do not pollinate each other well because they are both sports of the Delicious apple. They also do not pollinate well with the Gala apple, of which they are close parent-lines of). Only a handful of regular apples are self-pollinating, and I only know of one fully self-pollinating apple. I do not know how crabapples rate at self-pollination.
Apples do not come true from seed, though certain characteristic are more likely to show up if the parent tree had them in seedlings. This is why apples are 'cloned' by grafting scion wood into a different rootstock. Apples with excellent flavor tend to not be as hardy as, say, cider apples, so that is why they are grafted onto hardy rootstock and you will rarely, if ever, find rooted cuttings or own-root regular apples, unless you grow one from seed. All commercially sold apples and even heirloom varieties are propagated this way. Apples and crabapples are not seperate species (for instance, the Granny Smith apple is a chance seedling of a crabapple orchard.)
Crabapples are also sometimes grown as a food source for wild creatures, such as birds and foxes.
John Polk

Joined: Feb 20, 2011
Posts: 6894
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
Only a handful of regular apples are self-pollinating

About a year ago I started a thread about self-pollinating apple species. I have listed about 5 dozen varieties.


wayne stephen

Joined: Mar 11, 2012
Posts: 1793
Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
I planted 3 crab apples around my place and so far 4 apples - I am going to plant more apples. The crabs have long bloom times which have covered the bloom times of the apples and have fruited every year. The apples have not fruited yet at all due to severe weather and age of trees, But the crabs are the same age.
They are also quite nice to look at in the spring

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Tim Crowhurst

Joined: Jun 18, 2012
Posts: 45
Location: Bedford, England: zone 8/AHS 2
I use them for crabapple jelly. You cut them in half and cook down slowly until you have a mush, then strain overnight. The next day measure the liquid and add 1Lb of sugar for every 1pt (UK/Can) or 1.25pt (US) of juice, and cook as you would any other jam or jelly. I usually use crabapple jelly in pork casseroles, especially if I'm also using cider. You need to watch it carefully as it's very easy to overcook it - I did that last year, and the result would have been better suited for construction than consumption - it was like granite!

They're also very good for bramble jelly. Use a 1:6 proportion of crab apples to blackberries, plus the rind and juice of a lemon for every 1Lb of crabapples. You make it in exactly the same way as crab apple jelly. Ditto hedgerow jelly (blackberries & sloes).

If you can be bothered with the fiddle of peeling, coring and chopping them, they're also good for chutneys. I usually use bramleys instead though, since they're easier.
Fred Berg

Joined: Jul 27, 2012
Posts: 6
Location: Connecticut: Zone 6a
I grew up on the shore of Long Island Sound, and we used to use our crabapple tree to remind us of when to start fishing for blackfish (tautog).
When the crabapple blossoms the blackfish start biting, so the folklore goes. Other than that it just made a mess and attracted yellow jackets.
We eventually replaced it with a calendar.
A Philipsen

Joined: Jul 10, 2011
Posts: 57
Location: OR - Willamette Valley
I use them as a base for my hot pepper jelly instead of vinegar when I can get them. They make absolutely killer jelly and you don't have to add any extra pectin.
Brenda Groth

Joined: Feb 01, 2009
Posts: 4433
Location: North Central Michigan
i have a pole crab apple that I moved (had it before our housefire and it was the only moved tree that survived). It has huge crabapples, they are nearly as big as a regular apple, very tasty and nearly black..so definately worth having. It also has the prettiest bright pink flowers in the spring. thses apples are large enough to can for spiced apples


Bloom where you are planted.
After burning through the drip stuff and the french press stuff, Paul has the last, ever, coffee maker. Better living through buying less crap.
subject: Value of crab apple?