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Published September 03, 2013, 09:42 AM

A new apple

The B-51 apple out of Ocheda Orchard south of Worthington will soon get a trademarked name by a Washington state-based fruit cooperative that has purchased the rights to the hybrid.

By: Julie Buntjer, Forum News Service

WORTHINGTON, Minn. — For the past two years, visitors to Ocheda Orchard south of Worthington, Minn., have been able to purchase limited quantities of an apple known only as B-51.

The variety, grown from a Honeycrisp apple seed, is described as sweeter, less acidic and more firm than the much-loved Honeycrisp apple, according to Ocheda Orchard owner and B-51 apple breeder Chuck Nystrom.

Developing a new apple variety began with a lot of trial and error by the fourth-generation apple grower. Nystrom said 99.99 percent of the apples developed by breeders across the country don’t make it to this level.

If one was talking baseball, you might say B-51 has made it to the big leagues.

“It’s kind of fun,” Nystrom said with a grin while relaxing in his office at the orchard Thursday afternoon.

And to think, the B-51 may not have even made it this far if it hadn’t been for a little pressure from Nystrom’s cousin, Dean Langseth.

“I like an apple with a little more acid,” Nystrom said. “It was Dean that identified that as a really good apple. I may have overlooked it.”

A tree nursery recently assisted Nystrom with securing a patent for B-51.

Tested and tasted

Since it takes many years of growth before fruit is produced, Nystrom anticipates the apples will be available on a larger scale in 2019.

“You might find it in Seattle or on the West Coast somewhere,” he said, adding that he’s hopeful some of the fruit will make its way back to Minnesota for market testing in the Twin Cities.

Area consumers don’t have to wait that many years to sample the B-51 variety, however. Nystrom said the apple should be available around Oct. 5 to 10, at Ocheda Orchard, and it will be available elsewhere in the state as well.

The apple variety has been available on a limited scale to regional orchards, who could plant anywhere from 200 to 1,000 trees with the stipulation that the apples be sold through farmers markets on on-site sales. Among those growing the B-51 variety are orchards in Fairmont, Zumbrota and Webster. Nystrom requested orchards within a 50-mile radius of Ocheda Orchard not have access to the variety.

Since the apple is a later maturing variety, Nystrom said it may offer some challenges in finishing fruit before a hard freeze.

He is hopeful the apple will have its new, trademarked name by the end of the year.

For now, the apple will remain known as B-51, or its patented name, CN-121.

Experimentation is key

Nystrom had never really experimented with crossing different varieties of apple trees to come up with his own, unique variety, until about the late 1980s.

“I joined a group called North American Fruit Explorers. The easiest way to describe the group is a bunch of fruits and nuts interested in fruits and nuts,” he said with a laugh. “They’re always out looking for new varieties that are growing wild, as well as those doing their own breeding.”

Group members are encouraged to plant apple seeds — the only way to get new varieties.

“Every seed in every apple is a unique variety,” Nystrom said. “The trick is to identify them and grow the good ones.

“Apple breeding is not any rocket science,” he added. “The breeder has no control over the outcome. Most of the time, (the fruit) reverts back to something poorer than the parents.”

At one time, the University of Minnesota, which has its own breeding program and developed the Honeycrisp apple, said it took the planting of 10,000 seeds to come up with one new apple variety worth naming. Now, the U of M said it takes 20,000 seeds to achieve success.

“When Honeycrisp became the bar as far as quality, they’re planting 20,000 seeds to get one worth commercializing,” Nystrom said.

In the early 1990s, Nystrom created a small plot within his orchard to “play” with, and while he’d tested other varieties, in 1994 he planted 300 Honeycrisp seeds.

“As we started to get some really good varieties out there, we’ve expanded it,” he said. “We’ve had more than the normal success ratio.”

Patents pending

While B-51 is Ocheda Orchard’s first patented apple, Nystrom said getting a patent is “not as impressive as one thinks.”

“You can patent any apple you find growing,” he said. “If it’s grown from seed, it’s considered unique. Anyone can patent because it’s unique, not because it’s going to be successful in the marketplace.”

That said, Nystrom has one other variety, grown from Honeycrisp apple seed, in the process of being patented now. Another apple variety had its patent approved on Friday.

Because the patents are in progress, Nystrom is limited in what he can say about the apple, such as its qualities.

Meanwhile, Nystrom goes out to the orchard every day to inspect his growing crop of tested new varieties.

“I’m not planting the whole orchard (in B-51),” he said with a grin. “We need to save room for some of these up and coming varieties that we think have potential and have an earlier maturity, too.”

Ocheda Orchard is open for the season, now selling Orioles, Sunrise and Monark varieties. Nystrom anticipates an average crop this year.

“I think we were hurt, still, by the drought last year,” he said. “Some things didn’t bloom as well as we’d like, and anything that was a late bloomer didn’t set (fruit) very well.”