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:

On the other hand, what about the not-so-good characteristics of 'Liberty' we identified? Unfortunately, there are more than just a few:

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 the fruit.

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.

Jon Clements
UMASS EXT Tree Fruit Specialist
UMass Cold Spring Orchard
393 Sabin St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
413-478-7219 VOICE