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Growing Apple Trees from Seed Naturally

 
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Have you wanted to try growing apple trees from seed and create your own new variety?

Then let's grow some apple trees together!

So why grow apples from seed when there are numerous good existing varieties?

Most of the modern apples aren't adapted to my particular climate and also aren't resistant to our local pests and diseases here.

Growing apple trees from seed creates the possibility to create totally new types of apples that are more vigorous growers in your climate, more resistant to pests, and match your specific taste preferences!

If you'd like to stay up to date with the latest videos, you can subscribe to my Youtube channel HERE by clicking the red subscribe button and click the bell to get email notifications for each new video! I'd love to have you join me for this journey!
 
Steve Thorn
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Here's a quick video of the apples I've selected, some of the rationale behind why I chose them, and some tips to help you select the best apples for your area!



If you'd like to see all the updates from this experiment, you can go to my Youtube channel at this link https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrRCqBr9G8JObD-cxQG8s5A and hit the subscribe button!

There's a lot of information out there that says apples grown from seed won't taste good, but I think that is according to the standards of the massive fruit industry, which has selected outer beauty and shipability, over flavor and vigor. It also has a lot to do with the genetics of the parents, because if you have good parent trees, there is a higher probability the new apple variety will be of high quality.

There are two main ways you can get apple seeds to plant.

1) Buy apples from the grocery store, or preferably a local permaculture or natural orchard in your area if possible

2) (Preferred option if possible) Get seeds from your own apple trees that are thriving in your own climate, or if that isn't available you could get them from someone you know nearby that let's you tour their orchard and taste the different varieties

Option one can be an easy place to start if you currently don't have any trees growing or don't know anyone nearby that is growing them, but it also has a lot of unknowns, like who was the other parent apple tree, was it possibly even a crab apple, was it one that would grow well in your area, is it resistant to pests, is it a vigorous grower?

Option two can be a little harder to come by, but it can really increase your chances of success!

I will hopefully be trying option number two next year, maybe partly this year. I will be doing mostly option one though this year.

Both Fuji and Golden Delicious apples, which are the ones I bought from the store, are known to be widely adaptable, and Golden Delicious has a long list of good varieties that are descended from it.

What apple seeds do you have access to or are going to purchase to plant? Have you tried growing apple seeds before? What were some of your successes and failures in growing them? Did you create a new good variety?

So what do you say, want to grow some apple seeds together?!
 
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My plan for this is to collect seeds this Fall (from local orchards or online).  Then stratify outside, over winter, in local soil (no amendments), in a pot with good drainage and wire mesh to keep animals out.

Not sure yet if I will plant the seeds directly in spring, or try to grow seedlings out first.  I've heard different arguments there.
 
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Here's a whole bunch more apple genes to toss into the mix:  https://sheffields.com/seeds-search/s_genus/malus/characteristics_sum_type/1

 
Steve Thorn
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Josh Garbo wrote:My plan for this is to collect seeds this Fall (from local orchards or online).  Then stratify outside, over winter, in local soil (no amendments), in a pot with good drainage and wire mesh to keep animals out.

Not sure yet if I will plant the seeds directly in spring, or try to grow seedlings out first.  I've heard different arguments there.



Sounds like a great plan Josh! I may try both planting methods to see which will work best!

Would love to see pictures once you get it going! Happy planting!

 
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Apple seeds are super easy to start.   I have done the soil in a jar method, and the wet paper towel in a plastic container method.  The paper towel method was more effective for me.   This fall I planted seeds directly in the ground.  
In the beginning, I planted a small number of seeds. Now I plant as many seeds as I can get my hands on.  I will do this with everything moving forward.   If it's good, it stays, if not it's biomass.

Started apple seeds from Orchard apples, purchased apple trees from Starks and this year sprouting the Kazakhstan apple seeds.  Of all the seeds planted none of the baby trees have shown disease resistance, so I yank them. (orchard apples from my area)  The orchard seeds are from sprayed orchards.

In the beginning, I started gung-ho and planted heirloom varieties on various rootstocks with the necessary pollinators. You know Jefferson's favorite apple, the apple from the 1600s, etc.   I dreamed of big juicy apples, cider making, and some delicious baked goods.   Imagining the perfect apple is no longer the goal.   Now, Disease

Resistance is a priority.  Tannic hard cider from edible crabs is better than zero harvests.  Increasing the available flowers and fruit for the critters is the short term goal.  

My area has cedar apple rust. The rust absolutely decimates the heirlooms in place.   Because of this pernicious pest replanting is in order.

Liberty apple which is very rust resistant is now the main apple.  They did really well last year and seemed to be fast growers — no apples as of yet.  The Liberty apple is a strain that comes from the Kazakhstan/Silvestri apple.

The problem with liberty is finding pollinators that are also resistant to rust. (Liberty is a triploid)

What I feel in my bones is that cloned apples are sick apples.  They have almost no stamina. I will not spray my trees...period.   Seeds are the future and in my humble opinion are more in-line with permaculture values.  That's not to say I don't have clones, I do. You work with what you have.  I'm not judgemental on this; it's just my take on it
.   I'm all for seeds, it is something to strive for.  Even if you're

entire orchard is cloned it might be a good idea to start a tree or two from seed.  Even knowing you may no reap what you sow so to speak.

  Recently received 75 Silvestri seeds (Kazakhstan Apples)  and I'm going to start planting these in a micro orchard along with edible crab apples, and the Liberties.    

Out front, I have a pear tree that is close to 100 years old. Last fall I started about 100 seeds from this tree.  

So the goal is to plant as many seeds as possible and select the best of the bunch and see what happens.  Any seeds that make it and show signs of rust resistance will stay in the ground.  As the trees mature, I will use the bad trees for woodcraft or compost.  So I guess my dreams of having a thriving apple orchard are not a

short-term goal.  Hell, I may be dead but I figure having the genetic diversity in the ground and growing is something I can do for a future generation.  

My go-to fruit will be pear and fruiting bushes.  I will not give up on apples but it's definitely an act of patience.
 
Steve Thorn
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Scott Foster wrote:Apple seeds are super easy to start. I have done the soil in a jar method, and the wet paper towel in a plastic container method.  The paper towel method was more effective for me.   This fall I planted seeds directly in the ground.  
In the beginning, I planted a small number of seeds. Now I plant as many seeds as I can get my hands on. I will do this with everything moving forward.



The methods I've done so far are the paper towel and planting them outside. Sometimes I eat an apple and tuck the seeds into partly bare patches of soil near some of my perennials on the way out the door.

If it's good, it stays, if not it's biomass.

Of all the seeds planted none of the baby trees have shown disease resistance, so I yank them. (orchard apples from my area)  The orchard seeds are from sprayed orchards.



I always struggle killing seedlings, but like you mentioned, it can at least go to biomass. I'm going to try to cull the seedlings heavily, so as to only keep the exceptionally strong ones, because I know it'll pay off in the long run.

My area has cedar apple rust. The rust absolutely decimates the heirlooms in place. Because of this pernicious pest replanting is in order.

Liberty apple which is very rust resistant is now the main apple.  They did really well last year and seemed to be fast growers — no apples as of yet.  The Liberty apple is a strain that comes from the Kazakhstan/Silvestri apple.

The problem with liberty is finding pollinators that are also resistant to rust. (Liberty is a triploid)



That's really interesting.

In my area powdery mildew has been the main disease problem here. It wiped out both Gala apples I planted pretty quickly.

As far as pests, codling moth and plum curculio are the ravagers of a lot of my fruit crop.

I'm looking into planting different types of herbs around my trees this year, as discussed in this thread https://permies.com/t/106903/Herbs-fruit-trees-repel-pests as I've heard they can help repel pests with their strong odors.

What I feel in my bones is that cloned apples are sick apples.  They have almost no stamina. I will not spray my trees...period.



Yeah, I think they have been super inbred with no concern for disease or pest resistance, relying on the chemicals to do that, and like you mentioned, I won't ever spray my trees either.

Seeds are the future and in my humble opinion are more in-line with permaculture values.  That's not to say I don't have clones, I do. You work with what you have.  I'm not judgemental on this; it's just my take on it. I'm all for seeds, it is something to strive for.  Even if you're entire orchard is cloned it might be a good idea to start a tree or two from seed.  Even knowing you may no reap what you sow so to speak.

Recently received 75 Silvestri seeds (Kazakhstan Apples)  and I'm going to start planting these in a micro orchard along with edible crab apples, and the Liberties.



I totally agree. I think of how awesome it would be if people all over the country planted seeds and we got a new wave of brand new awesome disease and pest resistant varieties with real flavor, like during the 17 and 1800's!

Out front, I have a pear tree that is close to 100 years old. Last fall I started about 100 seeds from this tree.  

So the goal is to plant as many seeds as possible and select the best of the bunch and see what happens.  Any seeds that make it and show signs of rust resistance will stay in the ground.  As the trees mature, I will use the bad trees for woodcraft or compost.  So I guess my dreams of having a thriving apple orchard are not a short-term goal.  I may be dead but I figure having the genetic diversity in the ground and growing is something I can do for a future generation.  

I will not give up on apples but it's definitely an act of patience.



That is awesome!

I have an apple tree that I started from seed from a grocery store Red Delicious apple, I think I planted it about 15 years ago, that I'm going to hopefully root a cutting from this year and plant at my current home. It is currently growing where I used to live, and I still have access to the property.

It was the lone survivor eventually out of about 15 trees, mainly due to my negligence, but compared to the other ones it did amazing!

This poor tree survived being planted in very poor soil (almost pure sand), getting stepped on by neighborhood dogs twice, when it was extremely young, which broke it off to ground level each time, and also being transplanted to a location where it gets only an hour of direct sunlight each day.

It has survived our humidity and being in the shade like a champ, with no disease issues whatsoever, and has grown to over six feet tall even in these horrible growing conditions.

I'm going to hopefully get my first apples from my own trees this year, and I'm excited to plant those seeds since I know the parents produce good apples and do well in my climate. Hopefully the offspring will take after them a little bit and do even better!  

I'm not counting on my old apple tree to produce great fruit, but it would be a great surprise if it did! I think it will really grow quickly once I plant it in a much better spot, and i think it could provide some good genetics for future generations for disease resistance and vigorous growth!

Hopefully it might even taste good too!

Great information Scott, and best wishes planting your apple seeds!
 
Steve Thorn
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Here's a photo of a branch from my old apple tree seedling mentioned in the post above. It's starting to leaf out this year, with pretty vigorous growth too. I'm going to try to take a bud graft to graft on an apple tree at my current property that's in a better location, it may be too late in the year, but I'm going to give it a shot.
Tough-little-apple-seedling.jpg
Tough little apple seedling
Tough little apple seedling
 
Steve Thorn
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Here's a quick video of how I planted some of the apple seeds in a seed tray! I saved up a lot of seeds before planting them so that it was easier in my opinion.



You can also plant them directly in the ground. I'll have another video out soon about some exciting results from this method also soon!
 
Steve Thorn
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Here's a photo of some of my baby honeycrisp apple seedlings that I planted a little over a month ago!

I planted them one apple at a time as I finished eating the apples that I got from the grocery store. I took the seeds and planted them along the edge of a blueberry plant in open bare patches of soil that I found.

They're growing really fast and each one already has a few leaves!

Honeycrisp apples don't grow very well in our area, so I didn't expect them to turn out this well. If they don't end up doing well I'll graft them into something different.

I think I'm going to plant my next batch of Fuji and Golden Delicious apple seeds directly in the soil outside also since these turned out so well!
Baby-honeycrisp-apple-seedlings-.jpg
Baby honeycrisp apple seedlings!
Baby honeycrisp apple seedlings!
 
Steve Thorn
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I'll definitely be direct seeding going forward.

It was a lot easier, quicker, and I had good results.

I'm hoping to plant some Fuji apple seeds soon along with some other  types of apple seeds.

Here's a quick video on my experience of planting in a seed tray versus direct seeding.

 
Steve Thorn
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Some of the Honeycrisp apple seedlings are doing ok, and some of them are struggling, which I kind of expected since Honeycrisp is a very cold loving variety, and our summers get extremely hot and humid.

It should be interesting to see if any survive the summer gauntlet here.
Honeycrisp-apple-seedlings-starting-to-grow.jpg
Honeycrisp apple seedlings starting to grow
Honeycrisp apple seedlings starting to grow
 
Scott Foster
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Hi, Steve  It is helpful to plant trios with little trees.  If you have wood chips consider chipping an area around them, so they don't have to compete with grass in the early stages.  

I see firsthand the difference between planting things close and together versus on their own.  Even black locust do better planted with some trio.  

I've planted comfrey, mint and garlic chives, Korean hyssop, etc. etc. around most of my apples and it seems to help keep the ground cool.   There were a couple of trees that I meant to get back to and didn't so I just pushed in a bunch of bush bean seeds. It's nice to see that you have some baby apple trees growing.
 
Steve Thorn
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Yeah Scott, I need to add some mulch, hopefully will be putting some down soon.

For my food forest and other woody perennials, I like to use mostly leaves and a few sticks and decaying logs that I lay on the surface of the ground. I chop up the leaves with a lawnmower for the newly planted areas so that it breaks down quicker and the nutrients can be absorbed sooner by the young plants, and then put a light layer of whole leaves on top. For longer established areas that already have some of the mulch breaking down, I just use whole leaves.

I'll probably be transplanting these to a permanent location this Fall, and will probably add some blueberries and other things around them for some good polyculture.

How has the Korean hyssop grown for you?
 
Scott Foster
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Steve, sounds like a good plan.

The first year the Korean Hysopp was tiny.  The seedlings were so small I lost a lot of them in a cover crop of clover.   So the first year they did very little but I'm seeing this with just about every perennial I plant.  They seem slow the first year.

I have two or three Hyssop that didn't get mowed or yanked and they are well over 4ft.   From the tiny acorn, a giant oak. I think that applies to Korean Hyssop.   I started another pack of seeds this year but they are still tiny.  
 
Scott Foster
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Steve I went out and took some shots of the Korean Hyssop.  IF you want something that explodes and is good for the beneficials check out Yarrow.  Mine is even competing with comfrey.
IMG_8782.JPG
Korean hyssoo
IMG_8783.JPG
Korean hyssop flowers
IMG_8784.JPG
tall white flowers
IMG_8786.JPG
flower mix
IMG_8791.JPG
comfrey flowering
IMG_8793-(1).JPG
purple Korean hyssop flower
IMG_8794.JPG
Korean hyssop flowers
 
Steve Thorn
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They look awesome Scott, those are some great photos!

I'm going to look into getting some yarrow too, it looks great, and I love that it attracts the beneficial insects!
 
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Here's an update on my Honeycrisp apple seedlings.

There are 5 that are still hanging in there through our last few weeks in the 90's with very little rain.  One very small one at the front looks like it is about to throw in the towel, along with the shorter one on the left. The shorter one on the right is very full of healthy leaves and seems to be doing very well. The two tallest in the back look like they're doing well, with the one on the right looking a little better than the one on the left.

I'm really impressed that they've made it through the heat so well, especially despite being planted in a less than ideal location and right on top of one another.

Does anyone else have any apple seedlings growing? I'd love to see some pictures!
Honeycrisp-apple-seedlings-in-mid-summer.jpg
Honeycrisp apple seedlings in mid summer
Honeycrisp apple seedlings in mid summer
 
Steve Thorn
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Starting to save some Fuji apple seeds to direct sow outside soon from some apples I've eaten.
Fuji-apple-core-with-seeds.jpg
Fuji apple core with seeds
Fuji apple core with seeds
 
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Some apples have only one or two seeds, but some have a lot more!
Fuji-apple-seeds-to-plant-soon-.jpg
Fuji apple seeds to plant soon!
Fuji apple seeds to plant soon!
 
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Two of the Honeycrisp apple seedlings have grown over a foot tall this first year, which really surprised me due to Honeycrisps not growing great here and they were planted in a less than ideal location with pretty wet soil, and the soil also wasn't very fertile.

I will probably transplant them soon to a better location, where I can observe them further. One other small seedling also survived, located in front of these two seedlings, but it didn't grow very tall at all, and I'll probably cull it.

It was interesting to me how the leaves of the seedling on the left turned a deep red color this Fall, while the leaves of the seedling on the right remained really green.

The trunk of the one on the left seems slightly red also. Should be interesting to see how they turn out!
Honeycrisp-seedlings-with-green-and-red-leaves.jpg
Honeycrisp seedlings with green and red leaves
Honeycrisp seedlings with green and red leaves
 
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i might try to buy/ask for fruits which are on the ground in orchards for the purpose of spreading around with the hope that they may sprout
 
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M. Phelps wrote:i might try to buy/ask for fruits which are on the ground in orchards for the purpose of spreading around with the hope that they may sprout



Sounds like an awesome idea!
 
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Out of the multiple seedlings that originally came up, 3 have survived and seem to be doing well after the first year.

The tallest one definitely had the largest root system.

The smallest one surprised me, its roots are slightly larger than the second tallest one.



I'll be keeping all three of these and transplanting them into the food forest! I may graft a branch from them onto an older apple tree to try to see how the fruit is sooner. I'll probably just leave them though and let them produce fruit.

I've planted them near some other apple trees, and these can be removed eventually if the fruit isn't good, or I could also graft them over to something else.

It should be interesting to see how they turn out!
 
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The three apple trees grown from seed that I transplanted into the food forest earlier this year, are doing awesome so far!

Nothing has been done for them and they haven't been watered at all, and they are almost completely disease and pest free so far!
20200624_202741.jpg
Tallest apple seedling
Tallest apple seedling
20200624_202725.jpg
Shortest apple seedling
Shortest apple seedling
20200624_202637.jpg
Medium apple seedling
Medium apple seedling
 
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I planted about 100 apple seeds about two weeks ago, sowing them directly in the ground. It would have been ideal to have done it at least a month earlier, probably more, but too much to do and too little time.

About 10 of them had already started to grow roots, so I tried to plant those gently with the root tip pointing down. These were harder to plant and took more time. It was much easier to plant the ones that hadn't sprouted yet.

I hope the germination rate will be good!
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Apple seeds ready for planting!
Apple seeds ready for planting!
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Apple seed with root sprouting
Apple seed with root sprouting
 
pollinator
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These are apple tree seedlings from the 2019 pressing event we had at the crescent city food forest; some core members of the team at the 2020 pressing; and some of the mash i spread at my place. Dozens are just sprouting, even though they simply got covered with wood chips after being scattered on rocky soil that is itself covered with more rocks. I am looking for hardy stock amongst thousands of seeds. I also planted about 120 of the apple seedlings from the first picture (2019 harvest) around the community and my property in the hills. They would have been removed or thinned anyways, and many of them had 18”+ taproots I could pull entirely out cleanly from the hugels i spread the mash on last year. It’s my interpretation of the Holzer method, and this way I can get a well adapted tree in the spot i spread the mash, and by thinning get hundreds of trees planted with about five minutes “work” per tree, spread over a 18months. If I don’t like the fruit, I can always graft from freely abundant scion wood. I’d like to do this with other trees, but the cider pressing event is such a good way to accumulate locally adapted seed stock Maybe a pie baking event with rocket or earthen ovens?
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hand sickle
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Apple press
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Apple mush
 
Posts: 87
Location: PA, zone 6a
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Sheffields has decent amount of crab apple species. If you are growing from seed for diversity, adding in some different crabapples could create some vigorous generations in the future.

Malus sargentii is a shrub growing to around 6ft tall. Could be nice for a small apple project.

Malus coronaria and Malus ioensis are native to the United States.

Other notable types on there as well.
 
Steve Thorn
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It's been almost three weeks since I planted the apple seeds, and some are starting to sprout!
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Apple seedling sprouting
Apple seedling sprouting
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Apple seedling breaking through
Apple seedling breaking through
 
pollinator
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Location: Missouri. USA. Zone 6b
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Last year I also grew a Fuji apple seedling from seed. By 4 months old, black spots started developing on leaves and finally killed the young tree. Eastern red cedars are everywhere here, so I am wondering if that's the cedar rust disease.  
 
pollinator
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We've been harvesting local apples here and saving the seeds in order to try growing new apple trees that are hardy in our nearly arctic climate. It's surprising that we have so many apple trees in the area that do produce abundantly, and I hope we can expand on the varieties. Steven Edholm of Skillcult has been very inspiring.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL60FnyEY-eJAMOPvU-yyF4JfuW5ocJvC4
 
Steve Thorn
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May Lotito wrote:Last year I also grew a Fuji apple seedling from seed. By 4 months old, black spots started developing on leaves and finally killed the young tree. Eastern red cedars are everywhere here, so I am wondering if that's the cedar rust disease.  



Sorry to hear it didn't make it. If the spots had some orange, I bet it was. If they were mainly black, it may have been apple scab. I've heard that disease can be bad in your region, and Fuji is supposedly susceptible to it.

That's awesome that you grew that seedling though!

I'd bet the offspring will turn out better if you decide to plant some more from a variety more resistant to scab and cedar apple rust.
 
Steve Thorn
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Michael Helmersson wrote:We've been harvesting local apples here and saving the seeds in order to try growing new apple trees that are hardy in our nearly arctic climate. It's surprising that we have so many apple trees in the area that do produce abundantly, and I hope we can expand on the varieties.



That's awesome! Would love to hear and see how they turn out.

Steven Edholm of Skillcult has been very inspiring.



Yeah, he's done an awesome job of busting the myth that it's not worth it to grow apples from seed.
 
May Lotito
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I should've started with more seeds then selected the strongest one. Lessons learnt. I know someone got a quite productive apple tree in his yard. I will check that one out and try again next year.
 
Michael Helmersson
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5 years ago, I got a hold of some Antonovka seeds. I was even more of a newb back then, so most didn't sprout. One that did sprout popped up on the same day that our friends' first child was born, so I was very careful to keep it marked and to protect it. It was still tiny when winter came so I overwintered it by sinking the pot into the ground and covering it with 4inches of styrofoam. The styrofoam was held up by a section of plastic bucket so as not to crush the seedling(s). There were two of them that made it through the winter just fine. I was nervous when the snow melted and I was able to peek in on them. Success! A week later, I lifted the styrofoam off so I could bring the seedlings indoors to get a head start, only to find that a vole had found them. It chewed the styrofoam enough to get at them, nearly destroying the 2nd seedling but only slightly injuring the "birthday seedling", which is now growing in the back yard of the young boy it shares a birthday with. Both have grown reasonably well, despite our climate.
 
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Just had to share my apple growing with everyone. It's one of my favorite seeds to sprout. Whenever our grandsons finish one of their favorite apples they give me the seeds to plant. I had successfully transplanted a Red Delicious , a Granny Smith & a Pink Lady. A very hungry rabbit got to them all this past winter. Ate the Granny Smith to the ground!! The others were over 3 yrs old., and had never been bothered by any varmit! Great news, the Granny Smith has survived and has many new leaves!! Now have a newly sprouted Gala apple to replace the Red Delicious. Later this year I am starting lots of transparent apple seeds from my own tree that is well over 60+ years, or more!
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Gala apple
Gala apple
 
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This is a great thread. Last fall I planted most of my seeds at the base of my hugelkultur beds. I also made a hugelkultur filled primarily with apples. I have at least made the ants happy with that one. I have not noticed any coming up yet, but it's still early. I have also planted many other seeds including other fruits, so identification is tough for me
 
Steve Thorn
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That's awesome Justin!

Hope your fruit seedlings sprout soon!
 
Justin Gerardot
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This podcast about wild apple trees is informative and entertaining.

[url=https://www.wild-fed.com/podcast/046]Scrump! Your Guide to Foraging Wild Apples
[/url]

This podcast covers domestication of apples, Johnny appleseed,  getting yeast from apples, foraging wild apples, and more. An apple tree grown from seed, whether planted by humans or wildlife, is known as a pippin.
 
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