North American Tree Co. 1996. D.B.A. Portland Nursery, 5050 S.E. Stark, Portland, OR 97215; (503) 231-5050. 286 pages, hardcover. $34.95 plus $4.00 S&H.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)
With an excellent background in horticulture, agronomy and botany, Manhart has spent over 30 years evaluating over 140 apple varieties and has distilled a list of the best 50 for all climates, ranging in age from 300 to those that are so new they still bear the breeder's numbers instead of names. His choices are based not only on fruit quality, but on tree characteristics and the particular conditions they require to produce their best fruit. Equally important, he chose only easy-to-find varieties rather than obscure, uncommon ones. Certainly experienced apple growers may find favorite variety excluded, but most likely there will be another variety listed that fills the same niche.
Other than the main 50 varieties, a number of promising new ones are mentioned, plus some apple breeding programs worth keeping track of for future releases. Both American and Canadian seed sources are listed, too.
The descriptions are strongly reminiscent of the classic, The Apples of New York (no longer in print), which is no accident; Manhart used that famous work as a model for his book. Along with each variety's virtues, any faults such as disease susceptibility and physiological storage disorders are also described in detail, as well as any special maintenance duties required by specific trees to bear the best fruit possible.
There are also sections with information not usually included in books for home growers such as correcting physiological problems like bitterpit, which occurs in stored apples. You will also find data on small-scale commercial growing for local markets and detailed descriptions of rootstock varieties, even the newest ones.
The frosting on the cake is the excellent color photos of each variety, even the ones that haven't been released yet! At the risk of sounding strident, if you are intending to plant apples, get this book! Not only will you learn a lot, you'll save quite a bit of time and trouble in the long run.