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Get Growing: Apple season

Apple season has arrived with a plentiful crop in home orchards and commercial nurseries. There are so many different varieties it is hard to know which to choose.

At Atkins Farms Country Market in South Amherst they post a chart showing the best uses: eating out of hand, pies, applesauce, cider. It’s such a delight to sink one’s teeth into the first crisp apple of fall that pies can wait a bit.

There are many well-known popular varieties available at markets like Atkins but even more unusual ones at farmers markets and specialty nurseries. Last week, at Cold Spring Orchard, the horticultural research center of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in Belchertown, I saw three relatively new kinds: Sansa (about which I have rhapsodized in the past) Akane, a parent of Sansa, and, a new one to me, Zestar.

Zestar was developed at the University of Minnesota in the late 1990s and is well-adapted to growing conditions in New England. It ripens in late-August and early-September and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months. It is just as crisp and juicy as its publicity avers and I liked it perhaps even better than Sansa. However, home growers should be aware that Zestar is susceptible to apple scab and some other diseases, which mean spraying with fungicides unless you can tolerate lots of damage.

Akane is an old Japanese variety introduced in 1937. It, too, is an early apple, but has a relatively short storage life — only a week or two. That unfortunate characteristic is also bred into Sansa, so if you want to try these, you should buy them soon and eat them quickly. Akane’s sibling Mutsu, a greenish-yellow apple usually of large size, is a much better keeper. Akane is recommended for eating fresh and for cooking.

Clarkdale Nursery in South Deerfield also has these three varieties. But get to Belchertown or South Deerfield soon: these cultivars won’t be available for long.

GARLIC CHIVE: Years ago friends warned me against planting garlic chive (Allium tuberosum) because it seeds prolifically in the garden.

Yet, I was tempted — and I don’t regret it.

Right now there are several small and large clumps of this starry white perennial in my front garden. They contrast nicely with butterfly bush, anise hyssop, black-eyed Susans and asters just beginning to bloom (despite the woodchucks). The blossoms are long-lasting as cut flowers and the gray-green strap-like leaves are tasty in salads and they’re good for cooking. If I am alert, I will cut the flowers before they go to seed, thus ensuring the plants won’t take over the garden. Some of the clumps should be removed entirely; there are more this year than I anticipated. I was pleased to read online that Barbara Damrosch, gardener extraordinaire from Maine and columnist for the Washington Post, loves garlic chives, too.

TREE PLANTING: The ongoing Amherst town program of planting street-trees in neighborhoods continues tomorrow from 9 a.m. to noon at the corner of West Street and Potwine Lane. Bring a shovel and gloves. Sponsored by the Amherst Public Shade Tree Committee. Call 461-6832 for information.

OLD GROWTH FORESTS: Last Sunday’s Boston Globe had a fascinating article on the resurgence of forests in New England. Learn about old growth forests, the ones with trees dating back hundreds of years, during a walk through Monroe State Forest tomorrow from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bob Leverett, director of the Eastern Native Tree Society and an expert on old growth forests, will lead the walk, which is sponsored by the New England Wild Flower Society. Fee is $58. Register by calling Call 508-877-7630, ext. 3303.

GO BOTANY: Learn how to use the new Web tool, Go Botany, by the New England Wild Flower Society with a National Science Foundation grant, at a free program Sunday, 1-3 p.m., at Nasami Farm in Whately. Pre-registration is required. Call 508-877-7630, ext. 3303. Presentation by Elizabeth Farnsworth. Bring your computer, tablet or iPhone and get hands-on training.

ROSE SHOW: The Yankee District of the American Rose Society will hold a fall rose show Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., at Tower Hill Botanic Garden. A lecture on winterizing roses by David Cannistraro, past president of the rose society, will be held, 1-3 p.m. Admission to the show and lecture is free with garden admission. For more information call Teresa Mosher 978-689-3735, purplerosesinbloom@yahoo.com; or Craig Dorschel 508-853-0069, craigdorschel@verizon.net.

ORCHID SALE: The annual Amherst Orchid Society plant sale is Sept. 15, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Hadley Garden Center, Route 9 in Hadley. Indulge in blooming orchids grown by local enthusiasts. Society members will be there to give advice on maintenance and getting them to bloom again. For information call Leilani or Harold Norman at 267-5124.

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