APPLE is basically a fruit of the colder areas. It originated in Central Asia in the mountains of Kazakhstan. Its farming started in the cold regions of the world. And it has been going on for centuries. Himachal Pradesh also started cultivation of apple as a temperate fruit.
However, the situation is changing now as fruit scientists have made apple cultivation possible in other areas too. It is therefore no more just a temperate fruit. Apple trees can now be planted under other climates. In India, the apple trees are growing not only in places like Delhi and Chandigarh, but also in tropical parts like Karnataka and Kerala. Apples are being successfully cultivated in Batu area of Indonesia, which is located on the equator.
The growers have refined their techniques so much that now they get two crops from a single tree in a year and that too at the time of their convenience. Apple cultivation has also begun in African countries like Uganda, Zambia, Kenya and Rwanda. Therefore, apple farming is no longer what it used to be 80 years ago.
Efforts to extend apple cultivation to mild winter areas in Himachal Pradesh were started 60 years ago. A research station for working exclusively to select apple varieties for low-altitude areas was started at Bagthan (Sirmaur). A trial with 50 varieties, which included low chilling varieties from Israel and the US, was started in the mid-1960s. Former HP Chief Minister Dr YS Parmar, who hailed from this place, took interest in this project. Unfortunately, this station was shut down by the horticulture university (named after him) and the work could not continue further.
Apple and other trees which shed their leaves during winter are called deciduous trees. As winter begins, complex physiological changes start taking place within the trees and they shed their leaves and stop growing. The growth starts again when the weather warms up during spring. This period of inactivity is called ‘dormancy’. It is an arrangement by nature for protecting trees from winter. These trees need to be exposed for a certain duration (measured in hours) at a temperature below 45°F or 7°C. Only then their dormancy will break and the spring growth will restart. The duration of this exposure or ‘chilling hours’ varies from one variety to another. The requirement for chilling hours of different apple varieties ranges between 150 and 1,500. Lower areas receive fewer chilling hours because of mild winter and the high-altitude areas receive more. So, for lower areas we need varieties needing fewer chilling hours. The chilling requirement of the Royal Delicious apple is 900-1,000 hours.
Apples can now be successfully cultivated not only all over Himachal Pradesh but also in parts of Punjab and Haryana. The apples from these areas begin ripening a month earlier in June, so they sell at a good price. Another advantage is that these trees, even on the seedling rootstock, start bearing from the third year. So, the waiting period is very less.
The following three varieties can be planted in warmer areas:
Anna: It was bred at the Ein Shemer kibbutz in Israel by Abba Stein in the 1950s. Anna requires only 300 hours of chilling and can therefore be grown in the whole of Himachal Pradesh. Anna fruits look like the Golden Delicious variety.
Dorsett Golden: This apple was noticed by Irene Dorsett in the Bahamas among her Golden Delicious trees. Therefore, she named it Dorsett Golden. It needs only 150 chilling hours and thus can grow nearly at every place. Dorsett Golden also looks like Golden Delicious and is becoming very popular all over the world.
Hariman or HRMN 99: This is a variety from Himachal Pradesh. It is a chance seedling which was noticed by a Bilaspur farmer, Hariman Sharma, about 10 years ago. Sharma multiplied a few plants from this seedling and planted the same at his farm. These fruited very well not only at his farm but also elsewhere in Himachal. So, Sharma started multiplication and distribution of plants of this variety on a commercial scale. Now, nearly 5 lakh trees of HRMN 99 have been planted all over India. Besides India, plants of this apple have also reached Nepal, Germany and South Africa. Fruits of HRMN 99 are green or greenish yellow. These ripen in mid-June.
‘No winter’ areas
Apples can also be cultivated in a tropical climate where there is ‘no winter’ and the minimum temperature does not fall below 12°C. The chilling requirement has no role here and any variety, even the high chilling Russian or Canadian varieties, will grow. The ‘deciduous’ apple plant turns evergreen and keeps growing all the year round.
To achieve this objective, plants are lifted from nurseries in Himachal Pradesh in mid-February when they have met their full chilling requirement. These are then airlifted and planted at their new destination in Karnataka within 3-4 days. As these plants have already met their chilling requirement at the nursery, so they immediately start growing in Karnataka or any other place with a similar climate. As there is no winter at these places, so there is no ‘dormancy’ and leaf fall after this and the growth is incessant. The ‘deciduous’ apple tree becomes ‘evergreen’ like other tropical trees and continues to flower and fruit throughout the year. The flowering is then regulated by defoliation and one can have fruits at the time suiting the grower. Two crops can be taken from a single tree.
Apple cultivation on this pattern has been successfully tried at many places in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Goa and Kerala. Now, thousands of new trees are being planted in these areas.
A question frequently asked is whether these fruits will have the same quality as apples from the conventional areas. The answer is that these apples may not be as delicious as those from Kotgarh or Kinnaur, but these will certainly be saleable and bring money. The ultimate goal of the farmer is to get income from his orchard and not to win prizes at exhibitions.
The writer is a senior fruit scientist based at Mandi, HP
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