Since ancient times, people ate apples and stored them for the future: during the excavation of some sites dating back to the Stone Age - for example, in Switzerland - many charred fruits of wild apple trees were found. As a cultivated plant, the apple tree was grown in ancient Egypt and Babylon (in the hanging gardens of Babylon, it occupied not the last place). Descriptions and names of apple varieties are in the writings of the Greek philosopher and naturalist Theophrastus and the Roman writer and agronomist Cato.
The oldest legends created by man are also associated with the apple tree: recall at least the parable of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or the Greek myth of the apple of discord, which was the cause of the Trojan War.
The earliest information about cultivated apple trees in Russia, which came to us in the annals, dates back to 1051. In the XIV-XV centuries large apple orchards surrounded Moscow, Novgorod, Pskov. Kursk, Tula and Oryol gardens were famous for their fruits. Many foreigners traveling around Russia at that time were amazed at the special Russian “bulk apples” that Western Europe had never seen. Folk breeders, who remained unknown, created such excellent varieties as Antonovka, Aport, White filling and many other apples, which are now world-famous.
In Russia was the world's largest apple orchard. On the island of Valaam, located in the northwestern part of Lake Ladoga, about 400 apple trees of eighty-six varieties grew on granite rocks.
Under Peter I, in the St. Petersburg Summer Garden, among other ornamental plants, there were apple trees. Several herbarium specimens are now stored at the Botanical Institute. V. L. Komarova in St. Petersburg. About twenty varieties of apple trees are known - Ruby, Yakhontovy ... - with bright red and purple flowers. In spring, these trees seem to be engulfed in flames. There are apple trees with double flowers and even with flowers resembling a rose in miniature.
Now apple trees are grown all over the world, with the exception of tropical areas. The world apple crop is more than 23 million tons per year. It is second only to the products of citrus crops. Almost every country has its own national varieties, but there are international ones that can be found in Europe, America, Australia, Jonathan, Red Deliches, Golden Deliches and others. They are always appreciated for sustainable large yields, taste, quality and keeping quality of fruits. And in all, more than 15 thousand varieties of apple trees and several million hybrid selection seedlings are known. Their fruits vary in taste and aroma, in color, shape and size. There are apples, the pulp of which is red, like a cherry. There are pear-shaped ones. The smallest fruits - the Siberian apple tree - the size of a stick. Karl Linney dubbed her “baccate”, which means “berry”. But the largest fruits - the varieties Knysh and Rambour - more than 900 grams. However, for consumers the optimal weight of the apple is 120-180 grams; anything larger is usually recycled.
Brightly colored apples, mutants of the main industrial varieties, are now in great demand on the world market. For the first time, a mutation affecting the color was discovered in the well-known variety Delishes, whose fruits are usually covered with a small striped blush. Once by chance a branch with brightly colored fruits was spotted on a tree. Cuttings from this branch gave birth to a new brightly colored type of fruit, called Starking. Nothing other than color, Starking from Delicious is no different. Subsequently, similar mutations were found in other varieties of apples - because in the garden they are easier to notice than a mutation that affects, say, taste. Now brightly colored mutants have supplanted weakly colored precursors on the world market. It is on them that modern industrial gardening is oriented.
In the old traditional gardens, apple trees were usually planted on seedlings of very tall game. The trees grew tall, so they were planted at a distance of about ten meters from each other. One hectare of the garden usually housed about a hundred apple trees. They began to bear fruit in the eighth to ninth year. Harvest of such a garden - thirty tons per hectare. Now vegetatively propagated dwarf and semi-dwarf rootstocks are planted: up to 420-500 trees already fit on a hectare. In apple trees, the height of the trunk and the volume of the crown decreased, it is easier to care for them, it is easier to harvest. Low-growing trees bear fruit already in the fourth or fifth year. But the main advantage of such a garden is that productivity increased to 50–70 tons. New Zealand holds the world record: 150 tons of apples per hectare of orchard. That is what a favorable climate, fertile soil and the absence of diseases mean! No wonder these parts are called the "apple paradise."
And the record in “single skating” belongs to the 27-year-old apple tree of the Sarah synap variety growing in the Crimea: 2 tons of apples were removed from its branches.
In the late fifties spurian mutations were discovered in apple trees; they give dwarf or semi dwarf trees that do not need to be grafted onto dwarf stocks. In spurs, the internodes on the shoots are much shorter, therefore, the foliage is thicker than in ordinary trees. This is not just a curious fact: the more leaves there are on a tree, the more it bears fruit.
With the most optimal selection of apple varieties and the most rational scheme of their placement in the garden on one hectare of land can fit no more than 600 trees. This limit depends on the biological capabilities of trees: crowns need light, darkening the crown reduces yield. Hence the conclusion that it is more rational to grow apple trees without crowns at all, like wheat: in the spring to sow seeds, and in the fall to mow the harvest with a combine. Then it would be possible to increase the density of planting, but at the same time it would be easier to collect the fruits.
The first step in this direction was made back in 1968. A garden meadow was created at the Long Ashton Experimental Station in England. Dwarf rootstocks were planted at a distance of 30 cm from each other, placing about 100 thousand plants on one hectare. When the annuals reached a height of 80 cm, they were sprayed with a retardant - a substance that can inhibit the growth of shoots in height, but stimulates the formation of a large number of flower buds along the entire length of the shoot. The following year, in spring, the shoots bloomed profusely. By autumn, they were dotted with apples. When the fruits ripened, they started the harvester, which mowed the plants and separated the apples from the shoots and leaves. And next spring, new shoots grew from hemp.
Such a garden-meadow bears fruit once every two years, but abundantly: 90 tons of apples per hectare.
Now the breeders of the whole world are faced with the task of preserving the whole variety of apples without losing a single variety. When new varieties come to the garden, old ones, if not taken care of, can die forever. But sometimes a small, nondescript, tasteless apple carries the genes necessary to improve another variety.
In our country, many varieties are growing that are unparalleled on the planet. This is explained by the variety of climatic conditions in the country and the large species and species diversity of wild apple trees. In Siberia and the Urals, the most frost-resistant varieties in the world bear fruit; in Turkmenistan, the most drought-resistant and heat-resistant varieties. An apple tree is also grown in the mountains: perhaps the most “tall” cultivated trees in our country - in the Western Pamirs, in the village of Lyangar, at an altitude of about 3000 meters above sea level.
It is not surprising that the world's largest collection of apple trees blooms in the gardens of the Institute of Plant Production named after N. I. Vavilova - 5500 samples. It is replenished from year to year after expeditions both in our country and abroad. This apple tree gene pool is an invaluable selection material. Today and in the future.