Some of this horticultural biodiversity, though, has been nurtured by dedicated growers who want to preserve the forgotten flavors and other traits of apples from the past. For example, some of the best apples ever developed for baking pies are no longer grown commercially, experts say, but are still thriving in heirloom orchards. They are an insurance policy against a catastrophe. A burgeoning threat is coming for apples, though, both of the historical varieties and the popular ones grown in the orchards today. A disease called fire blight, easily managed for a long time in apple and pear orchards, is becoming more virulent as the climate changes and as growers alter the way the trees are configured to produce higher yields. Some researrs say newer varieties may be more vulnerable, too. Cox, a plant pathologist who has studied the disease for a decade at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences here.
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Richardson of Tower Hill said. Honey bees and other insects then spread the disease as they pollinate apple blossoms.
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At warmer temperatures, fire blight is much more virulent. Richardson said. Bunker, a long time apple grower farther north in Palermo, Maine, who identifies and preserves forgotten heirloom varieties across the country.
I have preservation orchards all over my property, hundreds of trees and I had never, ever seen it and all of a sudden I was seeing it. What makes the ecology of the disease even more challenging to solve and address is that while a warmer world is a big part of the emerging problem, there are other factors that may be contributing to ideal conditions for an outbreak.
Apple orchards these days are a very different creature than they used to be. They top out at about six to eight feet and are narrow, like a sapling.
Yet, fertilizers can push this waifish modern tree to grow about 50 full-size apples, compared to as many as or so on the old-style trees. But instead of some trees to an acre spaced about 10 feet apart, trees are planted 18 to 24 ins apart and there are 1, or so trees to an acre. The trellis-style orchard increases product and profit. Many more premium apples are produced in the new-style orchard, some experts say.
A few decades ago, apple growers harvested to bushels of apples to the acre and about 25 bushels were the highest grade. The goal now is 2, bushels an acre of premium apples, Dr. The trellis configuration makes it difficult to manage fire blight.
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Managed by cutting out infection, fire blight rarely killed trees in the old days, but now can wipe out hundreds or thousands in a month or two. It can spread from orchard to orchard through the wind or by insects carrying the disease.
Another contributing factor may be that the new apple trees are not as resistant to disease. And because many more trees are being planted, tree growers are rushing to fill orders. Moreover, modern varieties may also play a role.
Cox asked. One answer may be growing in the National Apple Collection, not far from Dr.
Managed by the Department of Agriculture, it is the largest collection of apple genetics on the planet. There are some 6, trees, wild and domestic, with 55 species and hybrids from around the world, including Central Asia where the apple originated.
These genes are so critical to the future of apples that cuttings from the trees are shipped to the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colo. One of the ways these trees may earn their keep is by helping out in the battle against fire blight.