Our lovely Evergreen State, Washington, produces around 2.5 million TONS of apples per year. That’s a lot of apples. And it’s a lot of orchard acreage as well, around 175,000 acres to be exact. So, while we produce 60% (if not more) of the nations’ apples- it kind of leads one to ask themselves, “how did it all begin?” and “what’s up with our love of apples?”
Here, is a sweet little guide to Washington State apples.
Washington state was first put on the map by American pioneers at the turn of the 19th century, though we had Native inhabitants before that. But it was around 1826 that settlers realized Washington was rich with lava-ash soil.
The lava-ash soil that the pioneers discovered is actually called Tokul Soil. It also happens to be our state soil (now there is a fact you’ll never need). Tokul soil is unique, as it is generally found on lowland plains & glacially modified hills or mountains. Thanks to our many active and non-active volcanoes and their past eruptions and subsequent ash fall, we get this fertile soil that is ideal for growing apples. And lucky for us, because Tokul covers about 1,000,000 acres of land in four different counties in the state!
Fun Fact: “Apples originated in Kazakhstan and were carried east by traders on the Silk Road.”
Combine this golden soil with our abundance of sunshine (West siders may be laughing, but in Central and Eastern Washington- the sun is real!) and you get the perfect combination. Another addition of what seems like pure apple-growing-luck, we have an arid, or dry, climate. This means there are fewer problems with insects, and in turn the diseases that they potentially carry. With less insects and diseases to worry about, our apples have a higher quality and taste delicious.
By the time 1889 rolled around, commercial orchards were being set up along stream and river banks, where most of the orchards still are today.
Fun Fact: The only apple native to North America is the crabapple.
Nowadays, the average orchard size is 100 acres (some are up to 5,000 acres!) and produces a mixture of Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Honeycrisp, Fuji & Gala. Of course, hybrid mixes and other varieties can be found, but these are the “classics”.
How do they get harvested?
Bet you’re wondering how the 2.5 millions tons of apples get harvested. It takes an estimated 35,000-40,000 pickers in peak harvest (August- November) to collect all this delicious fruit. Lately though, Orchardists have been working on combo high-density plantlings and dwarf trees to make picking the fruit both easier and faster.
Fun Fact: “If you put all of the Washington State apples picked in a year side-by-side, they would circle the earth 29 times.”
Where in the state are the apples grown?
In our vast state, there are five major growing regions. These include: Okanogan county which has shorter growing days, and cooler temperatures. This is ideal for producing a wider variety of apples. Then we have the Lake Chelan area, with a temperate microclimate thanks to the lake cooling the summer days, and warming the winter days. Apples grown here are known to be a bit heartier.
Next up is the Wenatchee Valley, with rushing rivers that help produce all kinds of apples! The Columbia Basin is rich with that Tokul Soil we talked about earlier that helps grow larger and later-maturing apples. And Finally, the Yakima Valley. Here we can enjoy the wonder of irrigation systems that water their earlier (and longer) growing season!
If you’re hungry for more information, head over to https://bestapples.com and feast on tons more information.