We are keen to support low input, no-spray and ‘organic’ production approaches, including those where fruit is marketed fresh from the tree and without prolonged cold-storage. We also hope to assist in the revival and expansion of commercial apple growing in Wales. These aspirations are reflected in our breeding targets listed below.
Early season dessert apples are no longer commercially grown on a significant scale in the UK. The range of varieties formerly grown commercially (e.g. Beauty of Bath, Irish Peach, Scarlet Pimpernel) is limited and generally unimpressive in terms of flavour and/or keeping quality. On the other hand, their earliness appears to make them less susceptible to several important pests and diseases. Traits of interest to us are early ripening, flavour, fruit size and premature fruit abscission. We are crossing within the group of early dessert varieties, and also crossing these with superior flavoured, early mid-season varieties such as Discovery, James Grieve, Lord Lambourne and Baker's Delicious. We are also using Emneth Early, an early ripening, but late flowering, culinary variety.
We aim to produce selections with combinations of distinctive flavours such as peach, strawberry or aniseed, together with intensive flavour produced by high sugars combined with high acids. Our crosses include those between Irish Peach, Discovery, Ellison’s Orange, Honeycrisp, Pitmaston Pineapple, Baker’s Delicious, St Cecilia and Spartan.
Selections with improved flavour and marketability will be sought from crosses made with varieties of Welsh origin (e.g. Monmouth Beauty, St. Cecilia, Baker’s Delicious, Llanerchaeron Beauty, Gwell Na Mil). We are crossing varieties within this group with high quality dessert varieties including Discovery, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Lord Lambourne and Ellison’s Orange.
Triploid and aneuploid varieties often exhibit superior vigour and pest/disease resistance, amongst other characteristics. They are difficult to use in breeding programmes compared with diploid varieties, because they produce (1) very poor pollen, (2) few high quality seeds and (3) mainly poor quality and/or slow-growing seedlings. We are using Bramley’s Seedling, Ashmead’s Kernel and Annie Elizabeth (suspected aneuploid) as female parents in crosses with various diploid varieties chosen on the basis of flavour. Our initial success rates are low. Consequently, we are also growing seedlings from seeds collected from open crosses with these varieties. We are also using Adam’s Pearmain extensively as a male parent .
The climate in West Wales encourages apple scab infection. Over the past twenty years we’ve observed increasing levels of scab in our no-spray orchard on varieties previously scab-free or only mildly infected under our conditions. These include Ida Red, James Grieve, Sunset, Spartan and George Cave. However, fruit on varieties such as Discovery, Lord Lambourne and Adam’s Pearmain have, so far, remained scab free, as have our earliest dessert varieties, and several partially or wholly russeted varieties. Focusing on the varieties showing increasing susceptibility, we are crossing these with a range of dessert and culinary varieties that are relatively scab-resistant under our growing conditions, including Egremont Russet and Rubinola, a variety with monogenic resistance (Vf gene) derived from Malus floribunda 821.
Codling moth is often a serious pest under no-spray production, particularly in mid-season and later varieties, although substantial variation occurs between varieties. Here we see relatively high levels of infestation in Discovery, Ellison’s Orange, Grenadier, Bramley’s, Tom Putt and Winston, but very low levels in Adam’s Pearmain and one or two others. Whilst we are not making specific crosses aimed at improving this trait, it will be scored for when assessing progeny.
Isolated apple trees growing ‘wild’ in hedgerows and other non-orchard/garden locations are a frequent sight in the countryside. Many will have arisen from discarded apple cores. We are interested in their potential as sources of hardiness and resilience, and have grafted scions from a selection of ‘wild’ trees satisfying the following criteria: age > 50 years, profusely flowering, producing non-crab-apple fruit type, and growing in relatively stressful environments (e.g. high rainfall, high wind speed, low soil fertility). Initially driven by curiosity, we intend to cross these with varieties including Ellison’s Orange, Discovery, Beauty of Bath.