The planting season is fast upon us and all looking to grow fruit are busy researching what to plant. For my money, one of the first choices for Apples should be the Empire Apple.

Starting with the McIntosh Apple and Red Delicious Apple first crossed by Lester C. Anderson at Cornell University in the early 1940’s which resulted in thousands of seedlings that were planted in 1945 to be grown and tested by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station of Cornell University in Geneva NY. Over the next 20 years, the Cornell team tested and eliminated thousands of seedlings - finally resulting in the introduction of one: the Empire Apple in 1966.  

Today, as reported by the US Apple Association, the Empire is one of the top 15 most popular apple varieties planted in the United States.

But unless you happen to visit Orchards that grow it or Farmers Markets where it is available, many home gardeners may not be familiar with this tremendous home garden selection, due in part to the popularity of other apples such as Fuji, Gala and Honeycrisp that so often consume the limited space on the Supermarket shelves and make up for 90% of all apples sold.

The strong appeal of this fruit is the wonderful McIntosh Flavor in a variety that can be grown almost anywhere.

The flesh of the Empire apple is firmer than the Mac in warmer climates such as California, where it dependability produces year after year in zones 8-10. Though the versatility of the Empire makes it a first choice for the colder zones 4-7. 

In the Central Valley of California, I have enjoyed The Empire in Zone 9b for many years and on a recent trip to Vermont, I enjoyed the Empire in Zone 4b. 

For first-time fruit growers or people looking for a variety that is easy to grow, Empire is again the top choice. Mostly disease free in all climates or at the very least much less susceptible to common Apple problems like Mildew, Fireblight, Cedar Apple Rust, and Scab. This keeps the need for excessive use of chemicals to a minimum.

The Empire is partially self-fruitful so in most cases will not require a pollinator, although the addition of another mid-season blooming variety or adding the Empire to an already existing group of Apples will only improve the set. It is a surprisingly early ripening variety in the warmer climates, whereas in the cold regions it is a late ripening variety.

With all the attributes of the McIntosh, bright white flesh, snap to the skin and dessert quality flavor, it is a wonderful variety for fresh eating, cooking and baking. Also great for Cider, and for a real treat try dehydrating or drying the Empire - wow, good!