Professor Scarecrow Apples

Types History Production Shipping Nutrition
Vocabulary Quiz


Apples are big business in North Carolina. Ranking seventh in the nation in production, North Carolina has over 300 commercial apple operations comprised of over 14,000 bearing acres of apple orchards. The North Carolina Apple Association represents the apple growers across the Tarheel state.

The four major varieties which make up the bulk of North Carolina's production are: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Rome Beauty and Stayman. Over 40 other varieties are grown on a limited basis. New cosmopolitan varieties are Empire, Fuji, Gala, Gold, Jonagold and Mutzu. Antique varieties are still available at roadside stands throughout the area are: Arkansas Black, Grimes, Limber Twig, Wolf River, Cortland, Hoover and Jonathon.

Return to Menu

Apples are celebrated in the United States in the month of October. North Carolina recognizes the apple in the month of September every year.

Ever wonder how apples came to North Carolina? Actually, the farming of apples has been tracked back to ancient times. Experts estimate that the number of varieties that have existed are from 5,000 to 20,000. It is known that apples were brought to North Carolina by early settlers in the 1700's. It is noted that the first European settler in Henderson County set out trees in the Fruitland area. In fact, Henderson County is still one of the main regions where apples are grown in North Carolina.

Apples have always been a mainstay in cooking and snacking. Since being brought to the state, North Carolinians have produced the fruit. Though times have changed and new technologies have changed the way the apple industry is run.

In 1950 modern equipment such as speed sprayers and automatic power pruners were first used. Before this, all work was done by hand. In 1959, the Gerber Production Company came to Henderson County. Gerber practically revolutionized the harvesting of apples in and around the area by introducing the idea of harvesting apples in bins and using fork lifts to handle the boxes in loading them on to trucks. The standard 20 bushel bin or box was introduced by Gerber and is now used by all growers in the area.

1959 also brought about the first cold storage facility to the area. Growers got together to form the Western North Carolina Apple Growers Cooperative when they shared the packing and storage facilities.

Over the years people have increased the amount of apples they eat and buy. This is because with technology apples have better transportation and storage than in the early years of the industry. There are also more people living in the world today than in times long ago and due to this increase and the excellent food value, apples have enjoyed a strong consumer backing.

Return to Menu


Currently newer techniques are being developed as research is done to develop harmless ways to maintain good quality in apples. Also newer varieties are being developed and tested. Research is going on all the time to develop newer varieties and safer methods of growing them.

Apples are grown in the western part of the state (Mountain area). Apples are produced in five areas of the state, which are:
Haywood Area: Haywood, Jackson and Macon counties
Mt. Mitchell Area: Avery, McDowell, Mitchell, Watauga and Yancey counties
Northwest Area: Alexander, Ashe, Stokes, Surry, Wilkes and Yadkin counties
South Mountain Area: Burke, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties
Henderson County Area: Henderson and Polk counties (65%-70% are grown in this area).

Apples can't be grown in another part of the state due to some of the specific conditions they require to grow. The mountain area has the number of cold temperature hours to set bloom in the winter and the cooler temperatures the apples need in the summer. Other parts of the state do not provide the type of climate needed for commercial apple growers.

Ever wonder when an apple's growing season is? Growing an apple takes all year and there is always something going on in an orchard.

During the winter apple trees have no leaves, no flowers and no apples. Just like you sleep every night to store up energy, apple trees sleep all winter to store energy to make apples for the fall.

While the trees are sleeping (dormant), pruning begins. Limbs are sawed off and clipped to allow maximum sunlight into the growing structure. Pruning allows the tree to produce larger, better colored, higher quality and more valuable fruit. Equipment repairs and maintenance occupies the days too cold or stormy to be outdoors, through the winter months.

In the spring apple trees begin waking up. Leaves start growing, reaching for the sun. Fragrant, sweet-smelling white flower blossoms pop out. Honeybees love to visit the sweet-smelling blossoms, spreading pollen from flower to flower. When blossoms fall off the pollinated flowers, baby apples begin to grow in their place. Each blossom has to be pollinated in order for an apple to form. The apples keep growing all summer.

The pace of the farm quickens. The brush from pruning is picked up or mulched back into the orchard soil. Grass that has grown tall is mowed to reduce competition for nutrients and habitat for pests.

During the summer months limbs must be tied up or weighted down to spread the young tree into the perfect shape. By the end of summer mowing is completed and bins (the large bulk boxes picking buckets are emptied into) are positioned around the orchard. Ladders are repaired and the harvest logistics are carefully planned. Storage room must be cleaned and their refrigeration systems tested.

In the fall the apples are fully grown and ripened. When picking begins in August, there is a constant buzz of activity until the last of the fruit comes off the trees near the end of October. Most of our nation's crop is picked by hand to prevent bruising. Extra harvest workers are hired both locally and from other areas and countries to help get the crop in on time. During harvest time, some farms invite the public to come for the fun of picking their own apples (PYO). When the harvest is complete, it is time to prepare again for winter.

Apples do need a certain type of climate. Apples prefer warm days and cool nights. They also like to have full sun. Apples are known as a deciduous tree and they require that dormant season in the winter where they sleep. During this time, it is best if the temperatures get below 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sometimes the weather doesn't cooperate like apple growers would like. In early season when the apples are in bud and when they are very small, windmills and irrigation are used to protect them. In extremely dry weather some growers who are equipped use irrigation to keep the trees watered, so they don't dry out or die.

When a grower is getting ready to plant new trees he/she must take certain things into consideration. Since apples do not grow true to their seeds, young trees that have been grown in a nursery from cuttings are transplanted to the orchard site. These trees have a desired fruit variety grafted onto a root-stock selected for characteristics for size and vigor. Some apple trees planted today are on dwarf stock, allowing for more efficient use of valuable land and labor.

The average apple tree will bear fruit in three years, with full production coming in eight to ten years. A fully-producing apple tree may grow up to 20 bushel boxes of apples a year. The dwarf trees have a shorter bearing season.

Once fruit is picked (usually by hand into buckets) it is emptied into large bulk boxes which are positioned around the orchard. From here apples may be placed into a refrigerated storage room until they are ready to be washed, packed and made ready for delivery.

Apples stored in a commercial refrigerated storage will keep for 4 to 6 months, but for long term storage up to 12 months, growers use CA storage. Apples for CA are picked at their peak of internal quality and condition. They are rushed into a CA storage the day they are picked. The oxygen level is lowered to 1.5 to 3%, temperature is reduced to 30-32 degrees Fahrenheit, carbon dioxide levels are monitored and controlled. This puts the fruit to sleep (stops the ripening process) until ready for use.

There is special equipment used during the whole production process. Tractors, sprayers, mowing machines for grass, fork lifts for loading and big trucks for hauling apples are the most common pieces of machinery used. Before electric machines, hand sprayers were pulled by a team of horses and orchards were mowed by a horse drawn cutter or by hand. Apples were picked in bushel boxes and carried to packing houses before forklifts and trucks.

Like most crops, apples have to be watched to make sure bugs and pests don't damage the fruit. In spring, growers use a type of pest prevention called Integrated Pest Management. This is when growers monitor the weather while hanging various insect traps around the orchard to collect data for the annual spray program. Temperature, humidity and rainfall are recorded in orchard weather stations to predict disease outbreaks and identify effective management tools. Both harmful and beneficial insects are counted to determine spray schedules. When used, spraying is done to protect apples from insects and disease.

Once the fruit is picked and in storage, it must be inspected before it can be sold. Inspections are done on a state level by the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, but they follow federal (United States Department of Agriculture) requirements. When grading is done, the inspectors take a random number of apples and grade them. They do not grade every single apple in a crop.

The inspectors give apples different grades depending on their quality. Apples can have a number one or a number two grade. A number one grade is the best. Apples are graded on their size, their defects and their ripeness.

Once the apples are graded, they are ready to be packaged. Apples are sold in a variety of ways: fresh, canned, bottled as juice and dried. 40% of North Carolina's apples are sold as fresh product while 60% is used in the processing industry mainly as apple sauce and juice.

When sold fresh apples are packaged mainly in boxes and bags while processed apples tend to be bottled, bagged or canned. Boxing fresh apples helps prevent bruising and is an economical way to ship bulk product. Processed product like apple sauce is canned or bottled depending on which company is packaging it.

apple orchard
Return to Menu


Once apples are packaged where do they go? Apples are packaged for fresh market (produce sections of stores), roadside stands, pick-your-own operations and for processed sales. Apples are mostly sold at the wholesale and retail store outlets like your grocery store. Apples are usually sold from the farm to the wholesaler or broker who then sells it to distributors (people who take product from one place to another) or to retail outlets (grocery stores).

When the wholesaler or broker buy the apples from the farm they look for people to buy them. Sometimes the outlets that buy the apples aren't from the United States. Some apples are exported internationally to other countries, though the majority of apples stays in America to be processed (sauce, juice).

Once the apples are sold they are shipped to the buyers. Apples are mainly transported in trains or trucks. Whether it is a train or truck, the area that the fresh apples are stored in must be refrigerated to keep the apples fresh. Processed apples are dumped in truck beds and do not require refrigeration.

Many years ago apples were transported to nearby towns by a horse and wagon. In fact, the first 150 years of the apple industry was very slow due to poor means of transportation. During the 1890's and early 1900's farmers began hauling apples and other produce to nearby Greenville, Spartanburg and other South Carolina counties for sale. After the first railway was built in the early part of the twentieth century, that became a viable way to ship apples out of North Carolina counties.

loading an apple truck apple picture
Return to Menu


Most apples that you will see are in the grocery store. When you go to buy apples you need to consider what you are using the apples for. Apples are good for cooking or eating raw. If you are going to cook with them you should know how much is in one fruit. Here are the measurements: one pound of apples=2 large, 3 medium or 4 small apples; one pound of apples yields 3 cups of diced fruit or 2 = cups peeled, sliced fruit; two pounds of apples=enough for a 9-inch pie.

You also need to make sure that you are buying a fresh apple. Look for apples that are free of bruises and firm to touch. Larger apples should be very firm, since they mature faster than small apples and become soft sooner. Brownish, russetted areas on the skin, usually caused by weather, may make the apple look bad, but it doesn't affect the flavor.

When buying apples you may notice a label on the bags they are sometimes in. When apples are packaged at a packing house labels are required. There is an industry standard for apple labels. This is so that any North Carolina apple that you buy will contain the same label.

Once you take the apples home, you must take care to make sure the apples stay their best. Keep small quantities of apples in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, away from strong smelling foods. The plastic bag helps the apples retain moisture and prevents shriveling. Refrigerated storage life is one to two weeks, depending upon the variety and the maturity of the apple. Larger quantities may be stored in a cool, dark, airy place such as a garage, basement or cellar. Line the box or container with plastic and cover the apples with a damp towel. Apples stored at room temperature will soften about 10 times faster than if refrigerated.

Why should you eat apples? Apples belong to the fruit group of the food pyramid. It is recommended that people eat between two and four servings of fruit daily. Apples are a good choice because they are rich in pectin, high in potassium and low in sodium and fat-free.

     Apples help in three major health areas. An apple reduces the chance of cavities by cleaning the teeth and massaging the gums. Apples also aid constipation and diarrhea by helping to correct them. An apple is your tummy's best friend...its pectin and mild acids help aid digestion, and its bulk peps up the whole system. An average apple has about 85 calories and no cholesterol making it an ideal snack for those watching their weight. It is bulk-producing so it satisfies your hunger while its natural sugars give you quick energy.

Remember that apples are a great choice for eating and snacking! Make sure to check your local supermarket for great North Carolina apples during season. And remember Goodness Grows In North Carolina!!!!

Return to Menu

1. deciduous: a type of plant/tree that loses its leaves at a specific season or stage of growth
2. vigor: strength
3. viable: capable of living

Return to Menu
AG's COOL Commodities Page
AG's COOL Home Page

Other Links:
Apple Outline
The Apple Tree Story
The Little Red House Poem