Of all the fruits the apple has developed the largest number of varieties, American lists totaling more than 2,500 and European countless others, with new ones being introduced annually. More than 7,500 apple varieties are grown throughout the world. Of the domestic kinds scarcely more than 100 are commercially prominent. For home gardeners, however, where high eating quality rather than heavy bearing or mere appearance and shipping quality of the fruit is the important factor, many other varieties are well worth consideration.
For the home gardener none but the choicest dessert varieties (an apple best suited for eating fresh or “out of hand”) should have a place; garden space is too valuable to devote to culinary (cooking) apples since these may be purchased in unlimited supply in the markets and stores. Dessert apples never reach the market in condition comparable with that of home-grown fruit. They are gathered before they have developed the fragrance and flavor which characterize full ripeness and which are easily attained in the home garden.
One method of growing choice dessert apples is an Old-World technique of training fruit trees known as ‘espalier’. The word ‘espalier’ is French which is derived from the Italian word ‘spalliera’, meaning “something to rest the shoulder (spalla) against.” Espalier fruit trees are trained on walls or fences for the purpose of decoration or for fruit bearing. Fruit trees so trained are protected from winter cold, and the fruits are better distributed, less coverage in leafage, and receive greater warmth and sunlight than when grown free standing. Espalier grown fruit trees produce larger fruit and of a finer quality.
Bailey Nurseries of Minnesota has developed ‘Hat Trick’ a three-tiered espaliered apple tree that produces ‘Honeycrisp’ on the bottom tier, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ in the middle and ‘Zestar!’ apples on the top tier. The three hardy University of Minnesota cultivars pollinate one another so no other tree is necessary. ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is an old variety introduced nearly 40 years ago, and has a distinct yellow flesh with a sugarcane or cherry candy flavor. An outstanding dessert apple, ‘Sweet Sixteen’ can also be used as a culinary apple. ‘Honeycrisp’ was introduced 25 years ago this year and is known world-wide for its exceptional dessert apple qualities. ‘Zestar!’ was introduced in 1999 and is an excellent flavorful early dessert apple. ‘Hat Trick’ will provide ripened fruit for nearly a month. ‘Zestar!’ ripens in late August to early September; ‘Sweet Sixteen’ is ready to harvest in mid-to-late September and ‘Honeycrisp’ later that same month.