Washington Apple History

In the fertile valleys and plateaus of America’s far west, growers tend orchards that produce the world’s best apples. More than 175,000 acres of apple orchards are nestled in the eastern foothills of the picturesque Cascade Mountains at elevations from 500 to 3,000 feet above sea level. The orchards are irrigated with plentiful and cool mountain water.

The area first became known to American pioneers at the turn of the 19th century and by 1826, early settlers had discovered that the area’s rich lava-ash soil and plentiful sunshine created perfect conditions for growing apples. The arid climate also meant fewer insect and disease problems providing a smooth finish on the apples. Noting the health and vigor of apple trees planted along stream banks, pioneers developed irrigation systems and by 1889, commercial orchards were established. Most apple-growing districts in the State are still located along the banks of major rivers.

The average size of an orchard is about 50 acres, but some cover as many as 3,000 acres and employ 300 or more workers year-round. An estimated 35,000 to 45,000 pickers are employed during the peak of harvest. Washington State growers successfully harvest a wide variety of apples including Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, Jonagold, Fuji, Gala and many others.

Orchardists continually improve growing methods to produce apples that are crisper, juicier, more flavorful and keep better in storage.

New high-density plantings bring orchards into production faster through the use of dwarf trees. These new plantings provide orchardists with a faster return on investment by allowing growers to respond more rapidly to the changing consumer demand for new varieties. The smaller trees improve harvest efficiency because labor is substantially reduced. Because each apple is picked by hand, smaller trees mean less ladder work saving growers time and money.