Buying Stock in Apple (Not the Corporation) by Mike M.

In my journey as a prepper, I’ve been able to amass quite a bit of bulk food.  Present estimates place the tally at roughly two tons.  As of late though, I can’t help but look upon all that food like sand in an hourglass. It is disturbingly finite and in the grand scheme of things, a fleeting resource.  I come from a large Italian family and I already know that in a post fan scenario I would be shepherding at least 12 family members. My Christian convictions would not allow me to turn them away. This makes a measly few tons of food woefully inadequate for any long term survival situation. I realize that for my family to be truly self sustaining, I must secure a renewable food supply. I have a double city lot (100 ft x 120 ft) on the outskirts of town which doesn’t amount to much arable land. There is an apple orchard about 10 miles from our home where I take my family to pick apples each fall.  During each visit, I’ve always been amazed by the tremendous volume of fruit that can be produced by a single tree.  This was the catalyst that drove me to some exhaustive research on the survival potential of the apple.

Bear with me for a little math as I drive home the value of the apple as a survival crop; the daily caloric requirement necessary to sustain life is a moving target based on your body mass and your base metabolic rate. I’ve seen many figures quoted on minimum caloric requirements, from 700 to 1,200 per day. I’ve read that during WWII, the Jews in the concentration camps were given just over 700 calories per day and we all know the horrible outcome of that scenario. One look in the history books at the gaunt faces and haggard eyes of those poor emaciated souls is enough to convince me that 700 calories is decidedly not enough.  

For the sake of argument, let us assume that a diet of 1,500 calories per day will be sufficient to keep us alive (albeit a little hungry). One “dwarf” apple tree will reportedly produce between 3-5 bushels of apples per year once fully mature. A standard size tree will produce between 5-10 bushels. With a bushel averaging 45 lbs in weight you can expect 135 – 225 lbs per year from a dwarf tree and 225 – 450 lbs per year from a standard size tree. One medium sized apple is roughly 80 calories. At roughly 126 apples per bushel you would net 30,240 – 50,400 calories per tree per year from a dwarf tree. To contrast this, my research showed that one pound of wheat yields 1,429 calories. This means that one dwarf apple tree would generate the caloric equivalent of 21-35 lbs of wheat per year. The average life expectancy of a dwarf apple tree is 15-20 years so that single dwarf tree can be expected to generate 604,800 to 806,400 calories over the course of its life time. A standard sized tree will live much longer (80-100 years) with a productive life of 30-40 years and producing between 1.5 million to 4 million calories over the course its life time for a single tree.  (Did I mention that they only cost about $22, shipped?)

The square footage that would be required to grow the equivalent amount of wheat as the dwarf tree (calorically speaking) would be roughly 1163 square feet (I will spare you the math). I purchased 15 dwarf trees which will be planted in a single row spaced 8 feet apart along the 120 foot stretch of my property line. This small micro orchard will generate between 453,600 to 756,000 calories in a single year and a best case scenario of 15 million calories over an assumed 20 year life span. It would take 10,580 lbs of wheat to generate that many calories. The local LDS cannery sells bulk wheat at 30 cents per pound (not including the cost of mylar bags, O2 absorbers and food grade 5 gallon pails). This would cost $3,174 for the caloric equivalent in wheat. Considering I only spent $336.96 delivered for all 15 trees, it seems like a fair amount of calories for my money. Apples will give my family much needed vitamins which may be deficient in a storage diet comprised largely of bulk staples.  Apples contain vitamin A, vitamin C, B-complex vitamins, as well as fiber which we can all appreciate after a diet of MREs. Apples are also very rich in antioxidants which help to eliminate free radicals (linked to causing cancer and Alzheimer’s). It’s worth noting that calorie crops like wheat also need to be replanted every year and you must set aside a portion for seeding purposes whereas apples are less labor intensive and I can even plant edible crops beneath them as companion plants.

GENERAL INFO: A member of the rose family, there are 7,500 varieties of apples worldwide. Of these, 2,500 varieties are grown in the U.S. and roughly 100 are grown commercially. Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, California, and Virginia produce the majority of the country’s commercial apple crop. I was surprised to learn that most commercial apple trees are actually two separate trees grafted together. Apple trees grown from seed will be genetically unique from the fruiting parent so germinating a seed from a supermarket bought apple could very well yield a crab apple tree. Rather than choosing what’s behind “Door number three”, commercial growers propagate apple trees by grafting a young branch (scion) of a successfully producing tree to a hardy rootstock. There are over 20 different rootstocks for apples. Combine 20 different rootstock possibilities with 2,500 different cultivated varieties (cultivars) and you can see how selecting the correct apple tree for survival purposes can be intimidating.  Let’s distill the issue down to the most important factors you must consider when growing apple trees.

The size of a tree (determined by the rootstock) will have an impact of how hardy it is, how productive it is (lbs of apples per year), and how difficult it is to harvest (you will need a ladder for a standard size tree). Apple trees come in three possible configurations: dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard. A dwarf tree will grow to be about 10 feet tall, a semi-dwarf to 15 feet, and a standard tree to 20-30 feet depending on climate. Colder climates will produce shorter trees.  Most dwarf trees will also need to be staked as their root structure is not as beefy. Dwarf trees seem better for OPSEC as they are easier to hide from hungry passersby (unlike a 20-30 foot standard tree which telegraphs its presence to every hungry maw within line of sight). Dwarf trees also start producing in 3-5 years whereas you can expect a 5-7 year wait with a standard size tree. It will also be much easier to integrate any necessary pest management (IPM) strategies by companion planting directly beneath the dwarf tree or even placing a net over the tree. You can find a primer on the various rootstocks at the Cornell Cooperative Extension web site.

You must ensure you have a rootstock and cultivar that are well adapted to your climate. Thinking that you can go to Wal-Mart and magically pick out a tree that will produce like the ones you see in a commercial orchard is an unrealistic expectation. Remember, there may come a time when you and your family may rely on your micro orchard to stay alive and it would be quite a tragedy to watch your family starve because you didn’t do your due diligence to find a combination that was drought or cold tolerant.

 Many nurseries will rate their trees resistance to the most common apple tree ailments: fire blight, apple scab, cedar apple rust, powdery mildew, and wooly apple aphid. I personally went with Geneva11 and Geneva 16 rootstocks with Freedom, Liberty, and Enterprise cultivars grafted to them. This selection affords me a high level of disease resistance. Pesticides may be hard to come by post fan so disease resistance is a must.

POLLINATION:  Apple trees as a general rule are not self pollinating. This means that you need another variety of apple tree that blooms around the same time so they may pollinate each other. (Side note: this biodiversity also provides added insurance that any diseases contracted may be limited to only one species vice wiping out a homogenous orchard) Some apple tree varieties are useless as pollinators. See the charts here to determine which varieties are compatible pollinators.        

: Many nurseries will rate apple varieties based on how well they keep in storage.  Enterprise apples will store for 6 months after they are harvested (late October). That means you could conceivably eat apples in late April of the following year without dirtying a single canning jar. Beware any cultivar that specifically states “Does not keep”. You can dehydrate and can them in mason jars but several hundred pounds of apples might require more canning equipment then you stock. See the links below for some specifics on cultivars and look for the “K” code to denote a keeper.

MAINTENANCE: Apple trees greatly benefit from pruning. There are entire books on the subject and tons of how to videos online but this skill must be acquired to realize an apple trees full productive potential. The North Carolina Cooperative Extension has a great “how to” on the subject.

Apple trees should be in soil with a pH of 6.5. Nitrogen requirements are higher in young trees as they are focusing on greatly increasing their bio-mass. Older established trees will require less Nitrogen to facilitate fruiting. Either extreme (too much or too little) can be detrimental to the trees growth. The following table shows what to look for to determine if your tree is getting enough Nitrogen:

Indices for Judging Nitrogen Status of Fruit Trees

Index Point

Low Nitrogen

Normal Nitrogen

Terminal growth in non-bearing trees avg. less than 10 in. avg. 10 in. – 24 in.
Terminal growth in bearing trees avg. 4 in. – 12 in. avg. 12 in. – 20 in.

Leaf size

small, thin

medium to average

Leaf color

uniform pale/yellow-green

normal green

Fall leaf drop

early; leaves show red in veins

normal time; leaves green
to light green

Bark color

light to reddish brown

gray to dark gray-brown

Fruit set

poor; heavy June fruit drop

normal; 1-3 fruit/cluster

Fruit size

smaller avg./tree


Fruit over-color

highly colored/earlier


Fruit under-color

yellow color earlier


Fruit maturity



The Phosphorus content of the soil is harder to establish since the trees seem to pull it from much deeper in the soil than annual plants. A soil test is always a good idea to correct any deficiencies you may find.

Potassium contributes to improved fruit size, color and flavor. It is also a major factor in reducing winter injury, spring frost damage to buds and flowers, and helping to stave off disease. Permaculture practices like composting should be employed to minimize fertilizer requirements. Nitrogen fixing plants like beans and peas can be planted around the tree. In a survival situation, human urine can be diluted with water in a ratio of 8:1 and used as fertilizer. Tests show human urine has almost as much NPK as commercial fertilizers. The book Liquid Gold: The Lore and Logic of Using Urine to Grow Plants provides justification of this practice based on scientific evidence.

COMPANION PLANTING: This is also another topic that could command its own full article. Good companion plants for apples are:
Clover– Used to fix nitrogen and attract honey bees which are the prime pollinator of apple trees.
Chives, Garlic, Leeks– Prevents apple scab (chives only), deters aphids.
Peas/Beans– Fix nitrogen into the soil.
Savory, Chamomile, Thyme– Attract beneficial insects.
Comfrey– Compost cover crop.

NOTE: Avoid Black Walnut as its roots excrete a substance that inhibits the growth of other plants and trees to include apple.

In closing, raising apple trees is one of the most practical and cost effective solutions to ensuring our continued survival and that of our progeny.  Even if you have a silo filled with grain you are merely delaying the inevitable. The next evolutionary rung for us as survivalists is to work towards sustainability. Only then will we be able to rest our heads on our pillow at night and sleep soundly, comforted in the knowledge that there is no expiration date on our lives or that of our children.

JWR Adds: Each family should research which apple varieties do well in your particular climate zones. Buy your saplings only from well-established, reliable companies that cultivate top quality rootstock.

To insure rapid growth, invest your sweat equity in digging an oversize hole for each new tree. A familiar old saying is: “Dig a $10 hole for a $5 tree.”

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