Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

After more than 20 years of testing, you can now grow a Triumph apple tree

Apples on a tree
The Triumph apple tree is the newest variety available for people to purchase and grow in their backyard.
Courtesy University of Minnesota

If you’ve ever wanted to grow an apple tree in your yard, there’s a new tree on the market: The Triumph apple tree is now available to home gardeners.

It’s an offspring of the Honeycrisp apple and it also is disease resistant. Right now is the perfect time to plant a tree.

To share more about this new apple tree variety is David Bedford, an apple breeder with the University of Minnesota.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Well, if you've ever wanted to grow an apple tree in your yard, there is a new tree on the market just for you. The Triumph Apple Tree is now available to home gardeners. It's an offspring of the Honeycrisp. And it's also disease resistant. Right now is the perfect time to plant a tree. To share more about this new apple tree variety is David Bedford. He's an apple breeder with the University of Minnesota. Welcome, David. How are you?

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, thank you. A pleasure to be with you today.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. I know you've been breeding apples for a very long time. And I believe you and I have talked in the past. How many varieties have you been a part of creating over your long career?

DAVID BEDFORD: [LAUGHS]

Well, I'm going into my 45th year. So I've been fortunate enough to be here for the development of eight varieties. Of course, I'm just part of a team that started over 100 years ago working on this project. And so, [COUGHS], excuse me, eight since I've been here. But this is our 28th introduction since the beginning of our program for the University of Minnesota.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. Oh, my goodness. All right, so the Honeycrisp, clearly, it's a great apple. And I'm wondering, what did you have to cross with a Honeycrisp to come up with the Triumph?

DAVID BEDFORD: Yeah, yeah. Well, Honeycrisp has been a wonderful apple. It was a great experience for us when we developed it. And it really moved the apple world forward in terms of texture. And we loved it so much that we thought, well, we have to include those genetics in some new varieties. So in this particular case, we crossed Honeycrisp with a variety from out east that's called Liberty. And Liberty in itself is a nice enough apple, maybe not outstanding.

But what it contributed, it had one of the genes that helps to control a fungal problem that we see quite commonly in the US, in Minnesota, called apple scab. And Honeycrisp also had a different gene for that. So by combining those two, we actually came up for the first time with a variety that has two separate genes to help control that apple scab problem. So that's the real unique part of the Triumph.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. OK, how about the taste? Because I know part of your job involves tasting a lot of apples per day.

DAVID BEDFORD: Yes, it can be an overload some days, I have to say. In the busiest part of the year, I used to have to taste about 500 a day. And the first 100 are fun. But after that, it becomes real work. And so fortunately, Triumph has all of those aspects we're looking for. It has a little more zing to it than Honeycrisp does, for example. Maybe a little bit more like the Haralson, but still well balanced. It has a nice firm to crisp texture and actually stores quite well too. It will store up to six months if it can be kept refrigerated.

CATHY WURZER: Really? OK. Wow, it sounds like a heck of an apple. Well--

DAVID BEDFORD: Oh, it's a dandy, yep.

CATHY WURZER: --I'm presuming that it's taken a while to get this apple to market then.

DAVID BEDFORD: It has, yeah. On average-- and this apple is no exception-- it takes us approximately 20 years from the time of the breeding till the date of release. So it's not something we do overnight. And when we have a new one, we're usually pretty proud of it. So the 20-year work is culminating now.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. So I've often been told, or at least that's my maybe stereotype of apple trees, is that they're kind of finicky, and they're difficult to grow. Now, is this variety, is this fairly easy to grow for just the backyard gardener?

DAVID BEDFORD: It is, yeah. I mean, first of all, it's bred and developed for our climate. So that's the first problem that's solved. When you go to, let's say, a big box store or something and you see apple varieties that aren't developed here, you're never quite sure if they're really suited for our climate. And in fact, in most cases, they're not. So that's the one thing we can say about Triumph. It will grow in Minnesota. The winters, the summers, it can handle all of that. So that's the good news.

In terms of being finicky, I'd say not particularly. I mean, any apple tree prefers full sun. So if you can give it full sun, it will be the happiest. It can tolerate some shade. But again, you just won't have as much fruit and maybe not quite as good of quality fruit. And then beyond that, you have to decide if you're going to control the, [COUGHS], excuse me, insects and diseases.

And we've already solved the major disease problem by having those two genes for disease resistance. There will still be potentially some insects that have to be addressed. But that might not be every year in your backyard. But I think all things considered, we consider this one to be a pretty grower-friendly variety.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, that's a positive. OK. Say, I'm wondering, can folks listening right now, can you run out to a garden store in Minnesota and get the tree?

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, that is the good news is that the trees are available this year. And in fact, we have some problems with that when we release new varieties. Sometimes it's a couple of years before the trees are available. But it just so happens that they are in garden centers this spring. I don't know that there's very many. And I'm pretty sure they won't last long. But technically, they're there.

CATHY WURZER: OK, that also is positive. Now, I'm sorry you're having some problems with your throat. And I'm sorry about that.

DAVID BEDFORD: My fault, yeah.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, no, no, no. Well, it happens. Trust me. So I'm presuming because Honeycrisp has been so incredibly popular, and clearly you were successful with this breeding with the Liberty tree, do you expect to make more offsprings from Honeycrisp?

DAVID BEDFORD: Yes, we have several dozen of them in the works already. Some will be good enough. Some will not. But just to give you an example, in general, for every variety we release, like the Triumph, there will be almost 10,000 trees from our breeding that don't make the grade. So we start out with a pretty big pool. And by the time we end up adding all the criteria that we think are important, we end up with one in 10,000. So, yes, we have a lot more Honeycrisp children in the wings. But how many of them will make it through, time will tell.

CATHY WURZER: Interesting you use the word "children." In a sense, you're the father of a lot of these apple varieties. Is that what keeps you going in this business, the fact that you--

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, I wish I could take credit for it. But as you might imagine, it's a result of teamwork. And we are just the godfathers, I guess, of these varieties. We put the genetics together the best we can. But in the end, the genes fall together in the order that they will. And our job is to sort out the good, the bad, and the ugly and find those one in 10,000 that are good enough. So it's a thrill when we do get one. And as you can see, there's a lot of work to get to this point. But, no, there is some satisfaction in finally reaching the end.

CATHY WURZER: I have to ask you this, David. And I know you're busy, and I'll let you go after this. But since you breed apples for a living, do you actually have apples at your home, on your property? Or is that just too much work to take home?

DAVID BEDFORD: That's a fair enough question. And I can say, yes, I do have apples at home on the property. The one thing I don't do is in the peak of apple season, when all those apples have to be tasted, I don't go home and taste more apples there. The apples that I eat are usually in the offseason. So I still love apples. But there are some cases that even a good thing, you can get too much of. So there is a limit.

CATHY WURZER: [LAUGHS]

Well, I appreciate your time. Congratulations. It sounds fantastic with this brand new Triumph from the University of Minnesota.

DAVID BEDFORD: Well, thank you. Pleasure talking with you. And I hope your listeners will be able to find some of those trees.

CATHY WURZER: We'll see what happens. David Bedford's been with us. He's an apple breeder with the University of Minnesota. We've been talking about the offspring of the Honeycrisp apples called the Triumph Apple Tree.

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