The Niagara Escarpment is known for it’s towering cliffs, beautiful scenery, and great recreation opportunities. But did you know it’s also a fantastic place to grow apples?
The major apple producing areas in Ontario are found along the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and Georgian Bay. These large, deep bodies of water have a moderating effect on the surrounding temperature, resulting in slow changes to air temperature. In areas such as the southern shores of Georgian Bay and in Halton, Niagara and Peel Regions, the cliffs and hills of the Escarpment act as a protective boundary that confines the lake-warmed air along the shoreline. This creates a microclimate with a reduced chance of late spring or early autumn frosts.
When coupled with great soil conditions, these microclimates just so happen to be perfect for growing apples.
There are an estimated 700 apple growers in Ontario. There are a few large orchards, upwards of 40 hectares (100 acres), but the average orchard size is 8 ha (20 acres). Over the years, orchards have become increasingly efficient. Older orchards are being converted from traditional standard sized apple trees to closer planted rows of dwarf trees. This allows a higher number of trees per hectare and also allows the apples to be picked with minimal use of ladders.
In the last few years the annual apple crop has averaged 250,000 metric tonnes, or 13.7 million bushels of apples! Around half of these are sold as fresh apples, while the other half are sold for processing for apple juice, apple sauce, slices, and pie filling. Other specialty apple products include cider and apple butter.
The most common apple varieties grown in Ontario include McIntosh, Empire and Red Delicious, although more than 20 different varieties are grown. Most varieties are available throughout the fall and winter, although some, such as red delicious and red prince are available throughout the spring and into June.
There is a surprising range of apple varieties, and not only in terms of red or green. While most apples can be eaten fresh, the properties of different varieties make them suitable for different cooking purposes. For example, Spartan apples are good for pie filling and sauce, whereas Fuji and Gala apples are perfect in salads, and Crispin and McIntosh are great for any use including baking.
You can often purchase Ontario apples at your local grocery store – just look for the Foodland Ontario label. They are also available at farmers’ markets or for purchase directly at the farm gate. Advances in apple storage also allow you to buy apples year-round but there is undeniable appeal to getting them fresh from the orchard.
How many apple varieties have you tried? Check out this list of varieties from Ontario Apple Growers – why not try them all?