Fruit Forum

Icelandic Apples

James Crowden author of Ciderland reports on apples grown in a garden in Iceland that are perhaps the most northerly fruiting trees in the world.

Apples grown in Iceland
Apples grown in Iceland

Some time ago I spoke to a friend of mine who has lived in my Somerset village for a good number of years, Sigrun Appleby, (aptly named) and she told me that her uncle was growing apples back home in Iceland. My ears pricked up as I had no idea that the apple, hardy as it is, could survive in those latitudes and produce eating apples. My grandfather had been based in Iceland during the 2nd World War on convoy duty and his memories were that the landscape was quite bleak, to put it mildly.

True I had seen apples growing in the Afghan Hindu Kush and deep in the Himalayas so I thought I had better investigate. I therefore sent a copy of Liz Copas's book Somerset Pomona out to Iceland, as I had heard that the apple grower already had a copy of Joan Morgan's excellent book on apples. Sure enough a few weeks later an e-mail appeared about the story of this northerly apple propagation and the gist of it is reproduced below.

04 May 2009 Message from Saemundur Gudmundsson alias Saemi:

‘Apple growing in Iceland is difficult at least for me, where I am not a learned gardener. When I started in 1993 I didn’t have any experience of growing anything except vegetables for common home use. My mother used to grow her own vegetables. Sometimes when apples were bought for Christmas ( they were rare at that time) I usually got the pips. Sometimes they germinated and became a small tree of 100 cm in height. They never flowered and sometimes they had frost damage. That was it at that time.

When I retired I chose to continue this childhood game of mine. I bought four trees from Norway - Savstaholm and Haugman. I knew from books that they where hardy. Five years later it paid off . They flowered and in late September I got seven apples from Savstaholm and Haugman gave me four apples. They tasted like other apples but better as home grown always does. It has been difficult to buy the right varieties here in Icelandic nurseries so therefore I have imported from Norway and Canada, as well from Britain. I have some trees from Agroforestry Research Trust, but now they don’t deliver trees to Iceland, only to EU countries. To name one variety, Emneth Early, which I examined yesterday:

it didn´t have frost damages nor signs of disease, and the buds are swelling, and seemingly it will flower after 10 days. I can say the same about another variety, George Neal: it is healthy and looks strong. Canadian varieties Carol and Mantet are fine.

Hella, the village where I live is located about 100 km east of Reykjavik in the southern part of Iceland .It is a very sheltered place. I hope this informs you about my experiments with fruit growing in Iceland.

With Blessings, Saemi'

Further notes and pictures came from Saemi:

’I have been gathering some information about Hella and Merkihvoll, where I am experimenting with apples. Hella is about 100 km east of Reykjavik located on the south bank of Rangá river which comes from north west side of Hekla mountain (volcano) and its north west and north area of Hekla.

Hella, the village is about at 20m elevation, and 65 -70 km in a straight line from sea. It is open for north and north-east wind direction. The mountains, Hekla and Búrfell to north west of Hekla form a sort of funnel so these winds flow to south west over Hella to the sea. The north bank of Rangá river is higher than the south bank and forms some shelter for Hella, but the place is rather windy. The average temperature during the summertime from April through September is 10 C°. The growing season is about 141 days. About 80 to 90 days is just a breeze or no wind. Average downfall is about 1229 mm over the year.

The soil here at Hella is more or less clay mixed together with sand and one must add compost and other nutrients to the soil. It takes the trees about four years to adapt to the soil and climate (the hardiest one). There is never a harsh frost at Hella but we have ever changing weather from snow to rain and frost to frostless. That brings strain on the trees except the hardiest.

I have rated Icelandic climate as zone 3; in Canada zone 4 is marginal. I read an article in RHS Plantsman, where various zones where described and when compared I found it of good use. From the beginning I have grown my trees close to the house walls facing south to south west and on the northern border of my garden I erected a shelter fence about 30 m long; it is very sunny side and warm. I have a black soil cloth around the stem and keep it down with thin stone slates, this both protects the root system and gives warmth. I have also used cocoa rugs for the same purpose, but it is impossible to get them now. I have covered the trees the first winter and it seems to me not necessary now. The climate is getting warmer.’

Ranga River
Ranga River

Are these the most northerly apples in the world..??

Hella can be found on Google Earth. It looks a fertile river valley which runs south west. It is on approximately the same latitude as Trondheim in Norway, Archangel in Russia and Dawson City in the Yukon, Canada: 64 degrees north, ie about 200 miles south of the Arctic circle. Hella is a small agricultural town on the banks of the River Ytri Ranga which appears to be about the size of the River Wye at Ross. It is the centre of a famous horse breeding area. Just west of Hella is a farm with 12 artificial caves believed to have been lived in by Irish monks and to the south another farm called Oddi which is the site of an ancient monastery where two of the most famous Icelandic sagas of the 13th Century were written: Snorri Sturluson’s Prose Edda and Saemundur Sigfusson’s Poetic Edda. So apples may well have been grown there in the past. The heart of Icelandic culture: horses, poems, sagas and apples. What more does a girl need? apart that is from an Irish monk…

James Crowden