Why do they call me 'Mr Liberty?'*
* Subtitle: "Everything you always wanted to know
about 'Liberty' but were afraid to ask."
While a field research technician and member of the University
of Vermont Apple Team from 1989 -- 1998, I was involved in
a multidisciplinary, USDA SARE funded research and extension project
evaluating the potential of scab-resistant apple cultivars for
commercial production. From the beginning, we had a keen interest
in 'Liberty', a multiple disease-resistant apple cultivar introduced
in 1978 by the New York State Agriculture Experiment Station at
Geneva. In fact, 'Liberty' appeared to perform particularly well
in the Champlain Valley of Vermont -- in most years, high quality
fruit could be produced with absolutely no fungicide sprays. Liberty
is 100% resistant to apple scab, the primary disease problem of
susceptible varieties such as 'McIntosh.' And although 'Liberty'
is subject to summer disease problems, such as sooty-blotch and
flyspeck, these are generally not a problem in the cool-summer
growing climate of northern New England.
So, we focused considerable applied research effort on 'Liberty'
-- including fruit quality at harvest and during storage; fruit
thinning; tree training and pruning; production efficiency; harvest
windows; susceptibility to other diseases; and marketability.
The longer I worked with 'Liberty' in the field and laboratory,
the more I liked it, and I wrote several articles expounding upon
its' various virtues. Soon, a friend and colleague of mine, Win
Cowgill coined the name 'Mr Liberty,' which has since stuck with
me. Now, colleagues, growers, and friends all think of me -- for
better or worse! -- as 'Mr Liberty.'
But what does 'Mr Liberty' really think about 'Liberty?'
Well, like every apple cultivar, it has good and bad characteristics.
Among its attributes are:
- precocity -- 'Liberty' will begin fruit production at an
early age, often in it's second or third leaf of planting
- annual bearing -- it's hard to slow 'Liberty' down once it
starts fruiting; in fact it's one of the most dependable bearer
of consistent, annual crops I have ever seen
- productivity -- 'Liberty' sets heavy fruit crops; clusters
of three to four fruit on spurs 3-6" apart are commonplace
throughout the tree
- training and pruning --' Liberty' is 'grower friendly' in
terms of training and pruning. It is easy to develop a well-structured,
sturdy tree (although I recommend staking for M.7 size and smaller
- winter hardiness -- I have seen 'Liberty' survive through
some very cold winters in Vermont (-30F.) and Minnesota, which
is actually much colder than Vermont! Clearly, 'Liberty' will
survive all but the coldest winters in the coldest apple growing
- fruit quality -- 'Liberty' is a very tasty apple when --
pay attention here! -- picked fully ripe. It has a flavor
reminiscent of freshly-sqeezed apple cider, and is hard to put
down when you start eating one. I sometimes refer to it as the
'cider apple.' I suspect it has inherited some of it's great
flavor and crunch from 'Macoun,' which if you are not familiar,
has developed a 'cult-like' following in some areas of New England.
'Liberty' also makes excellent fresh and hard
On the other hand, what about the not-so-good characteristics
of 'Liberty' we identified? Unfortunately, there are more than
just a few:
- potential for 'runting-out' -- because 'Liberty' bears early
and heavily, trees can easily 'runt-out' early, thereby reducing
final tree size and overall productivity. 'Liberty' needs to
be lightly to moderately cropped (at the most) during the establishment
- fruit thinning and sizing -- is tricky. Fruit clusters need
to be thinned to one fruit per spur (tops) to get decent fruit
size, which has a tendency to be on the small size to begin with.
Although semi-spur in fruiting habit, 'Liberty' has plenty of
spurs that like to set clusters of three to four fruit. Adequate
chemical or hand thinning is essential to get decent fruit size
- narrow harvest window -- 'Liberty' has a very short harvest
period wherein fruit quality is acceptable -- I'd estimate it
to be less than a week, centering around October 1 in most years
in northern Vermont. Pick too early, and you're eating a 'green'
apple (yuck!). Wait too long, and it rapidly becomes soft and
off-flavored (double yuck!). Win Cowgill has experimented with
ReTain in New Jersey as an attempt to prolong the harvest widow
and improve fruit quality of 'Liberty.'
- susceptibility to summer diseases -- in the Hudson Valley
of New York, David Rosenberger showed that unsprayed 'Liberty'
are susceptible to flyspeck and sooty-blotch, resulting in a
large percentage of the fruit being unmarketable. Farther north,
I've seen where frog-eye leaf spot (from the black rot fungus)
and burned-out rust lesions cover a significant portion of the
leaf surface on no-fungicide sprayed trees. What impact this
may have on the long-term productivity and vigor of an unsprayed
'Liberty' orchard is up to debate. My gut feeling is that it
is going to be difficult to produce high quality fruit every
year on 'Liberty' without at least a minimal fungicide program
to minimize these diseases.
- plum curculio magnet -- although mostly anecdotal in terms
of evidence, it appears 'Liberty' fruitlets are particularly
attractive to plum curculio, and unless well protected during
the PC immigration period, significant injury will result
- consumer acceptance -- although we did several taste and
marketing trials with 'Liberty,' and the results were generally
positive, it's still questionable whether consumers would choose
'Liberty' over a more well know variety such as 'McIntosh,' 'Cortland,'
or 'Empire' --all fruit that is harvested within two to three
weeks of each other. Sure, when presented with just 'Liberty,'
the average consumer would say they like it, but will they really
purchase a relative unknown given more familiar choices?
- storability -- 'Liberty' does not store particularly well.
In refrigerated storage, I would give it no more than 4-6 weeks
before the skin becomes greasy and the flesh becomes mealy. Expect
somewhat longer life in CA, however, the limited research into
CA storage of 'Liberty' that has been done by Autio and Costante
showed that 'Liberty' readily developed browncore upon extended
Who then, given it's pluses and minuses, who should consider
planting 'Liberty?' No doubt, it is an attractive, tasty apple
when picked ripe -- roadside stands with an upscale clientele
will sell them. At the University of Vermont Horticultural Research
Center in Burlington, VT, we developed a limited but healthy demand
for 'Liberty,' largely amongst well-educated University personnel.
'Liberty' is also probably best adapted to northern growing areas
(New Jersey northward) as reports of insufficient color development
and overall poor fruit flavor have been reported from more southern
growing areas (Although George Green in Pennsylvania was once
quoted as saying he actually had a 'Liberty' that was "not
too bad!") In addition, the farther south you go, the more
likely you are to have problems with summer diseases. And finally,
'Liberty' is particularly well suited to backyard and/or hobby
orcharding, wherein the advantages of a minimal spray program
are always appreciated. Of course the commercial orchardist who
wishes to reduce their reliance on chemical sprays is advised
to plant 'Liberty' too if they can develop a market for
I guess that is all I know about 'Liberty' -- which may just
be about all that is worth knowing too! But, if you have any comments,
questions, or suggestions, don't hesitate to get in touch with
me, 'Mr Liberty!'
Update, August 2015: My friend Kevin Hauser of Kuffel Creek Nursery in Riverside, CA has told me that Liberty does great in the heat and low chilling hours of southern California.
UMASS EXT Tree Fruit Specialist
UMass Cold Spring Orchard
393 Sabin St.
Belchertown, MA 01007