Evaluation of apple and pear varieties for cold humid climates under certified organic management

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2014: $14,828.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Todd Parlo
Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apples, pears, general tree fruits


  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research, study circle, workshop, youth education
  • Pest Management: biological control, botanical pesticides, cultural control, integrated pest management, mulches - living, physical control, sanitation, mulching - vegetative, weather monitoring
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: soil chemistry, organic matter, soil physics, soil quality/health

    Proposal summary:

    The aim of this project is to establish an extensive review of apple and pear cultivars for successful organic management in cold humid climates of the U.S. Specifically, an established block of apple and pear trees, representing over 400 distinct varieties, will be assessed as to their commercial feasibility to certified organic orchardists and diversified farms. The fact that cultivar choice has great influence on the success rate of the farming venture, there is little room for error. Available information on plant stock for the cold humid areas of the country is inadequate, and information regarding organic management is further lacking. There is little information available to the public from universities and extension services, a formerly common vehicle for dissemination. Our extensive research over the last 15 years, has found scant (unbiased) cultivar reviews, most being antiquated or presented by nursery catalogs and other partisan sources. Organic fruit growers in the northeast are at a competitive disadvantage with the milder growing regions of the U.S. and overseas. Although the cold and humid climate of this area presents more difficulties for organic tree fruit growers, there is great opportunity if a proper cultivar choice is made. A thorough study of varieties, as we propose, will create a pool of choices that will allow growers to capitalize on new trends in the market like heirlooms, hard cider cultivars, red-fleshed varieties and other specialty types.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Our primary objective in the project is to give the public (specifically organic cold climate orchardists and diversified farms) a single, exhaustive representation of the choices available of pome fruits. We mean to assess record and report the successes and failures of nearly 500 pear and apple varieties, as they performed under certified organic management in USDA Plant Hardiness zone 3.

    Conditions: All trees/ material in the study will receive the same treatment unless stated otherwise. Some applications will be made as conditions mandate, all in keeping within certified organic protocol. Farm philosophy dictates as little inputs/application as necessary to produce a saleable fruit or healthy orchard. Since nearly all farm work is by hand, mention will be made in the assessments on labor involvement for each cultivar (especially as it affects profitability).

    Record Keeping: Each variety in the study will be addressed on several occasions throughout the growing season. Information will be gathered via notebook and transferred to a data file. Periodic reports may be listed on the research section of our website. Still digital photos and some filming will be done, as needed to document the information.

    Observations: It must be stressed that the objective is to observe the results of casual infection and attack from pests in the study location, since plants will not be inoculated directly with pathogens, or pests brought to the location. This will be of merit, since the primary issues organic apple and pear growers in northern New England face is with a small very apparent subset of the many diseases and pests that affect these plants. For example, apple scab is the single largest hurdle for organic apple growers and so great attention will be given to its assessment, and can easily be reviewed since our orchard has heavy scab pressure and spores can travel great distances.

    Disease Assessment:  Of greatest concern to organic pome fruit growers is apple scab, which will represent the bulk of the monitoring. Not only are there to date very few cold hardy scab resistant varieties, but our own research has found misinformation regarding those advertised as such. All detected infections of other pathogens will be noted.

    The larger scope or disease monitoring will encompass apple scab fungus (venturia inaequalis), fireblight (erwinia amylovora), anthracnose (Cryptosporiopsis curvispora ), perennial canker (various fungal species), flyspeck (Zygophiala jamaicensis fungus), sooty blotch (Peltaster fructicola, Geastrumia polystigmatis, and Leptodontium elatius fungi), black rot (Botryosphaeria obtusa), nectria canker (Nectria galligena). These pathogens are widely distributed in our region and will make for a good general assessment of susceptibility. Not all potential diseases will be discussed; Cedar apple rust for instance, cannot be investigated as we have no natural intermediate host in the area. Varieties will not be directed inoculated with pathogens; casual infection will have to occur.

    Insect pest damage on each variety will be noted. Although little resistance has historically been shown with respect to insect damage on fruit, monitoring will still be done. Wooly Aphids resistance in northern spy and apple maggot resistance in denser late apple cultivars are two examples of varietal resistance to insect damage.

    Methods for disease and pest identification:

    1. Project manager during rotational monitoring will record instances of infection, including severity. Where warranted, samples and photos will be taken and sent to a lab or entomologist for identification. Some samples will be sent to the state pathologist when aid or confirmation is needed. Leaves, wood, bloom fruits, if present, will be observed.
    2. At least one yearly visit by a plant pathologist and entomologist will aid in the experiment.

    Physiological attributes: Growth rate, general health, branch crotch angle, caliper, fruiting, bloom, and cold or frost damage will be investigated.

    Fruit Qualities: On the varieties that are fruiting, a report on the general quality will be given. Brix reading, texture, sugar, tartness, and tannin will be discussed. Date of ripening, and length of keeping in cold storage. A general narrative may be given as to the merits of the fruit. Degree of salability (perceived packout as dessert quality) will be of importance.

    Recording: Done by myself (Todd Parlo, project manager). Visiting 1000 trees (in general two examples of each cultivar), will involve 5 minutes average per tree plus another 5 minutes write-up or photo documentation. This will result in approximately 167 hours for each round. At least two rounds will be required each year for a good assessment. Fruit assessment (on fruiting varieties) will result in additional time for review. In 2013 we spent on average 30 minutes for each variety to assess and write out a good description of its qualities. We expect to have 150 varieties fruit in the 2014 season. This would extend to 75 additional hours. Total expected hours for information gathering and initial recording is 409 hours. Assuming additional visits to some trees as is warranted, sending out samples and/or accompanying other advisors to the orchard we would like to round this up to 450 hours.

    Reporting: All information, including notes, photos, and film footage will be re-recorded into a database and reformatted. The results will be published on the website, in press releases, and interested groups, and articles. We estimate it should take 45 minutes per cultivar, which would amount to 375 hours plus 10 hours to do all the publishing/releases.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.