By Gary Abdullah and Chuck Gill, Penn State
UNIVERSITY PARK – With the arrival of apple-harvest season, researchers and extension educators in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences have teamed with counterparts from across the country to establish a new online resource about growing apples and apple production.
Designed for commercial apple producers, home gardeners, nursery professionals and anyone interested in growing and eating apples, the newwebsite provides research-based production information on the care and nurturing of the popular fruit. The site is part of eXtension.org, the online component of the national Cooperative Extension system, which is an educational partnership between land-grant universities and federal, state and county governments.
Researchers and extension educators from several universities have provided information to help apple growers select rootstocks and cultivars, locate tree nurseries, plan and manage planting, identify and manage diseases and pests, and more. Home growers and consumers will find the information accessible and interesting while it helps them successfully grow apples.
Richard Marini, professor and head of Penn State’s Department of Horticulture, helped to spearhead the site. He andRobert Crassweller, Penn State professor of tree fruit, have been involved in multi-state apple research projects for nearly 30 years.
“These projects generated a tremendous amount of information about apple rootstocks and cultivars, but the information was mostly published in scientific journals, or it was presented at commercial grower meetings,” Marini said. “Previously, most extension fruit programs have concentrated on commercial growers. This project makes information available to Master Gardeners, nursery owners, and home gardeners, as well as commercial fruit growers.”
Two years ago, Marini joined with Emily Hoover, horticulture department head at the University of Minnesota, to initiate the effort to make this research information more widely available online.
“Over the years, we’ve worked with most of the fruit researchers in the country, so we recruited those who we felt would contribute to the project in a timely manner and also who were located in diverse growing regions,” he said. “We enlisted Rob Crassweller because of his great experience with both rootstocks and cultivars.
“Now that this site is functional, Pennsylvania residents will be able to get the latest information on apple rootstocks and varieties,” Marini said. “Currently, the information is fairly generic, but within a year the information will be more specific to individual states and even regions within a state. There are also a number of FAQs where people can get answers to common questions.”
Pennsylvania ranks fourth among states in apple production with more than 10 million bushels most years. About 60 percent of the crop is grown for processing (sauce, juice, slices and vinegar). The major production area is Adams County, but apples are grown in many parts of the state. Leading varieties for processing are York Imperial, Golden Delicious and Rome Beauty. Important varieties for fresh consumption include Gala, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Honey Crisp.
The new website includes articles and photos covering many facets of apple production; a rootstock database with traits, descriptions and photos of rootstocks either currently available or part of promising research trials; links to regional resources; videos from apple researchers and educators; and access to experts via “Ask an Expert” and on Facebook.
Researchers and extension educators continue to develop additional resources, including a detailed cultivar database, interactive features, self-guided courses and more content for consumers. The core team was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
The eXtension network is comprised of researchers and educators from the Cooperative Extension system who provide unbiased information in more than 40 resource areas, including agriculture and animals, community and economics, energy and environment, home and family, and yard and garden. Because it’s available to students, researchers, clinicians, professors and the general public — at any time from any Internet connection — eXtension helps solve real-life problems in real time.