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Turning crabs into full-sized apples

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There’s a reason crab is a four letter word and if you own one or more of these hardy trees then you know exactly what I mean.


In the springtime, the fragrant blooms can be breathtaking. Generally, the more spectacular the springtime show, the more bountiful the impending harvest — and therein lays the problem.


If the crabs are not harvested they will eventually fall on their own accord and proceed to rot where they lay. This progression is thoroughly appreciated by the squirrels, raccoons, deer, wasps and other wildlife but not so much by the homeowner.


Crab apple trees are a very hardy bunch and are well suited for Winnipeg’s harsh climate. Many crabs are planted for their showy blossoms, others as service trees, providing cross-pollination for larger apple varieties. But what does one do with all those crab apples?


Crab apple jelly, wine, juice, there are many recipes out there but the fact remains that the abundant tiny apples can be a pain to harvest.


Organizations such as Winnipeg’s popular Fruit Share can attest to this. Fruit owner registration has almost doubled over the past year, yet of the 284 fruits registered with Fruit Share this year, 122 are crabs. Unfortunately, with that many trees awaiting harvest, it is unlikely that there will be enough volunteer pickers who can or want to harvest that many crab apples. That leaves homeowners holding the bag of crabs, generally destined for the compost pile.


The organization has resorted to group crab apple picking/juicing efforts. They have also developed workshops solely to promote the use of crabs and are open to any suggestions as to how to attract more crab apple pickers.


More than a few homeowners, at their wits end, have resorted to cutting down their crab. Before you do, bear in mind the repercussions of such a drastic and irreversible measure. If you or a neighbour has a full-sized apple tree, your crab may be the prime source of cross-pollination.

If this is the case, cutting down the crab may affect the apples produced by the full sized apple tree. Reduced flavour and dwindling harvests are usual, but it could even cause the full-sized variety to cease production altogether.


Do you ever wish that your crab apple tree bore full-sized apples?


Grafting is an option. Crab apple trees are quite similar to larger apple varieties and are labeled crabs mainly because the tree produces smaller fruit (less than two inches). Did you know that it is possible to graft a branch from a full sized apple tree on to an existing crab apple tree and it will bear full sized apples on that branch? Due to the mixed variety, it will also cross pollinate without the need for a second tree. A Google search or a trip to your local tree nursery can provide you with the information and tools to accomplish this.


While you may not be able to turn your crab into an apple tree, you may be able to produce enough full sized apples to make the harvest a little more enjoyable.


Christine MacKinnon is a Riverview-based writer.


Neighbourhood Forum is a readers’ column. If you live in the Sou’wester area and would like to contribute to this column, contact jim.timlick@canstarnews.com.

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