May 26, 2020
I'm a beginning orchardist looking to expand my production of interesting, small batch, dry ciders. I live in east/central Ohio, coincidentally not far from where Johnny Appleseed eventually settled down and grew his own trees. There are historical markers around here that let me know this fact.. and boosted my confidence.
I'm also a brewer/fermenter, and after about 5 autumns of making cider using the apple juice from a number of local fruit farms, I couldn't help noticing that my results were hit and miss. My ability to make a drinkable hard cider apparently depended on the variety of pressed apples I could get my hands on, and that was limited to what any of these nearby sellers of sweet apple juice had on hand.
Hence, I began growing my own.
I now have 20 trees on dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks, ranging in age from 1 to 4 years and representing 15 different varieties. I've been calling this my "experimental" orchard. I think I'm getting the hang of pruning and shaping, and so far I've managed to keep them disease and pest free.
Next year I'd like to expand my operation considerably. I'm having a hard time, though, choosing which varieties to grow since my experimental trees haven't started producing yet. No micro-local data to go on, but I don't want to wait to get trees in the ground. I'm not getting any younger. I have beds prepped for 20 dwarf apple trees with room for future expansion. I've bought most of my trees from Cummins Nursery in the past and planned to do so for my next order.
So I was please to find this website and forum. Maybe some more experienced growers can help.
Here are the two questions I need to find satisfactory answers for:
1. What varieties on which rootstocks will grow well in my area?
2. Of these, which varieties can be expected to make decent ciders?
[Almost forgot to mention: I'm trying to produce my cider apples organically! So far so good, but because of this I'm thinking I should consider disease-resistant varieties first.]
May 26, 2020
I'll try to remember to add details of my decision-making as my research progresses. As I begin I've started two lists:
Apples that grow well in humid Ohio (?possibly): Melrose, Ralls Janet, Fuji, Pixie Crunch, Goldrush, Liberty, Enterprise, Freedom, Chehalis
Cider varieties to try: Redfield, Golden Russett, Arkansas Black, Goldrush, Grimes Golden, Harrison, Roxbury Russett, McIntosh, Ashmead's Kernel, Ribston Pippin, Gravenstein, Mutsu, Baldwin, Newtown Pippin
March 16, 2015
Welcome to the HOS forum.
People seem to have different preferences in ciders. SOme like "dry" ciders. Others like "sweet" ciders. Some mix of sweet, sour, bitter and bittersharp lead to many mixes.
I am lucky that I prefer to eat apples that tend to make a cider on their own, because they have complex flavors. THey tend to have strong sweet, strong sour, and strong other apple flavors. These are generally not the varieties that you see in the grocery store. Some varieties are "spitters", meaning you wouldn't want to eat that apple as a fresh apple. They tend to be a valuable part of cider, however, though not too much-15%?
You have some good varieties. I would be careful about Fuji. Although it is a very popular apple to eat, it tends to be bland. Not a good quality in a cider. I would aim for a mix of about 40% sweet, 40% tart, and 10% each the other two, and go from there. Others know more about cider than I do. Hopefullly, they will throw in their 2 cents.
June 17, 2015
I too am entranced by the prospect of producing my own hard cider; however, I don't have any intention of making it for anyone but myself,... and maybe a small number of adventurous friends. If you are very serious about making hard ciders, and you don't mind getting reasonably involved in the chemical aspects of the process, then there is no other book that I would recommend for an all-encompassing view of the process and a much greater chance of success than just experimentation. The book is: The New Cider Maker's Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for Craft Producers, published in 2013. The author is Claude Jolicoeur, and the publisher is Chelsea Green Publishing in White River Junction, Vermont. Anyone can press apples for apple juice (--car tires can do that--), but pressing apples for a tasty fermented product is a different animal.
I will confidently say that you will not find a better modern introduction to hard cider making than this reference.
As John indicated above, for a hard cider that's well-balanced in flavor, etc., after the fact of fermentation, one needs an appropriate balance among the in-going apples of: sugars, acids, and tannins. The tannins are a very important part of the fermentation process and help to provide "body" and "mouth-feel". ...That's a very weird sentence for me to type, but believe me... I'm not into crystals, pyramids, astrology, or voodoo.... : )
The fact is that like so many things that require craftsmanship, producing a decent-quality hard cider is both an art and a science. It requires a knowledge of the apples that are going into the mix -- whether sharp, sweet, or "puckery" (--for lack of a better word at the moment--), and the proper balance among them requires experience and observation.
In France and England, especially, there were selected traditional varieties that provided the tannic acid content for the fermentation mix. Some of these are available in the US and Canada if you can find a source.
My recommendation is that you start by acquiring and reading the reference book above, because it will give you the best, broadest overview of the process. Read it once. Read it twice. Highlight in it each item that you didn't know and find to be a useful fact. (Easy on the highlighters, though.) : )
I hope that this helps at least a little bit. I too am experimenting, but my trees are still young and not all are blooming yet. Get a good sense of which apple varieties may be useful to you will help you to decide future acquisitions. Best wishes for "good batches".
June 17, 2015
....and of course I have to add an addendum, because I was only thinking along a particular line:
...Of the specific apples that you listed, I believe that Goldrush should do well as an ingredient. Apparently it is gaining a reputation as a good hard cider apple. Your climate with high heat units is quite different from mine. I lived in central west Ohio '67-'69....Heat, high humidity, etc. Go with those cultivars that are well-adapted to your Ohio climate but, by all means, do your best to select varieties that are known to be disease-resistent in your area, most especially those known to be less susceptible to fireblight.
Of the varieties that you mentioned (--and be assured that this is ALL remote speculation if I were there--), I think that I'd go with Ralls Janet, Liberty, Chehalis, Golden Russet, Arkansas Black (one of my faves), Grimes Golden, Harrison (--a classic American cider apple--), Ashmead's Kernel, Newtown Pippin and Baldwin. I'd avoid Ribston Pippin at the outset until you get a broad range of diploid apples with strong/good pollen. We all love Ribston Pippin, but it is a triploid apple and it can be difficult to find a diploid apple that will successfully pollinate it to produce fruit. (I briefly thought that I was going to get my first Ribston Pippin apples this year, but... no such luck. Ribston is notoriously finicky.)
I wish that I could be more helpful, but if you can find some like-minded folks with more experience in your region, perhaps they could give better first-hand information. I'm glad that you found this website, but you might also potentially be able to get more local information from the North American Fruit Explorers (NAFEX) which is largely centered in the Midwest. Their membership is nationwide (--I was a member for many years and quite enjoyed it).
We're all rootin' for ya! Let us know about your successes!
May 26, 2020
John and Reinettes,
Thanks for the input! Much appreciated.
After I typed my post last week, I left the internet for my usual 5-6 days (my homestead is in a very rural part of Ohio. No broadband, wi-fi, cell service, etc.) And since I'm in the midst of making this decision about what to plant next spring, I picked off my bookshelf some of the reference books I purchased 6 or 7 years ago when I got the bug to try my hand at hard cider. Early successful batches got me excited to keep going. Subsequent bad batches motivated me to try harder. So I read a few of the books I'd seen recommended here and there.
The thing is, when I started I wasn't thinking much about growing my own trees. So I skimmed over the chapters on apple selection and cultivation and went straight to the chapters on fermenting the juice I could get my hands on. But now, going back and rereading, the chapters on establishing one's own orchard are a revelation! In particular, 'Cider: Making, Using, and Enjoying Sweet and Hard Cider' by Annie Proux and Lew Nichols provides the exact kind of details I was looking for, at least as to the selection of varieties to make a well-balanced drink.
So I'm feeling more confident than I did even a week ago that I can select varieties in the right proportions to make better ciders more consistently. What I'm less sure about is my skill at growing them organically. For the past couple years I've been reading books on orcharding and have often felt daunted that I'm up to the challenge. Every book spills a lot of ink on pests, diseases, weather, and location challenges. They give the impression that threats to apples are numerous and omnipresent. But gradually, it's dawning on me that with care and attention, I can probably grow any of the about 8-10 varieties I'm considering. I know it's likely not all of them will thrive. But probably some will, especially if I choose those with some disease resistance, on rootstock adapted to my area, a piece of info I hope to determine from the OSU extension, or local growers they can refer me to. Your suggestions as to varieties to avoid (e.g. Fuji and Ribston Pippin) further confirm this dawning suspicion of mine. There are fewer apple types to avoid than kinds to try growing.
Anyway, as promised, I said I'd keep anyone following this thread updated on the varieties I'm leaning toward planting. In addition to Goldrush, the latest possibility is Rome Beauty (per advice in the Proux and Nichols book) for a base apple.
And Newtown Pippin keeps popping up for it's multiple uses in balancing cider (tartness, aroma, and astringency.)
Last, thanks for the suggestions not only on varieties, but also the Jolicoeur book and NAFEX site. I'll definitely check them out!
June 17, 2015
I don't know whether you'll see this, but It's nice to see your enthusiasm!
Perhaps I'm only responding here out of spite that I loaned my Annie Proulx book to my neighbor across the street about 6 years ago and still haven't gotten it back... It's OK; I'm not holding a grudge... . I don't know whether he has attempted to make any hard cider, but each autumn for the last 3 years he's had an apple-pressing at his place with a press that he built to which my wife and I have been invited. He's a good kid; his dad was my closest friend here locally. ...Just wish that kids now-a-days would return borrowed things.
Gawd! Have I become an old grouch, or what?! Yeah, OK. I always wondered what made "old folks" so gol'dang grouchy.
For your cider-making efforts, try to hook-up with some local folks who have more local apple-growing experience, and absorb what they have to say, and then continue to refine your assessments based on what other local folks say, and then be willing to experiment on your own. The apple varieties that you ultimately end up having success with will be your own combination of varieties that do well for you, specifically, and provide the hard cider that best fits your own personal tastes.
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