ROCK ISLAND, Wash. – When it comes to Cosmic Crisp – the hot new apple variety that’s certain to challenge Fuji and Honeycrisp for top ranking – most apple lovers just want to know: “When can we munch one?”

Orchardists, however, have a harder row to how.

Those investing money, acres and years to growing the crunchy newcomer must change both their thinking and orchard practices to ensure peak Cosmic yields, say fruit experts. Think trellis systems, mechanical pruning, robotic harvesting, canopy nets for sun protection and specialized grafting, thinning and girdling.

“There’s nothing all that tricky about growing Cosmic Crisp,” said Stefano Musacchi, tree fruit researcher for Washington State University. “But there are ways to boost production.”

On April 7, about 50 growers and WSU hort students attended a field day at WSU’s Sunrise Research Farm that focused on the best ways to plant, nurture and harvest WA 38 variety, under development for more than a decade by WSU researchers and christened two years ago with its marketing name Cosmic Crisp.

The big, red, juicy apple has high flavor, is slow to brown and – good news from a shipper’s standpoint – maintains flavor and texture for up to a year in storage.

Last year, a lottery allocated nearly 700,000 Cosmic saplings to eager growers for planting in 2017. Standard nursery orders for the tree will begin in 2018. And the first fruit to consumers is expected to hit store shelves in lave 2019.

The field day aimed to “help growers decide how to plant and give tips on how to cultivate,” said Dr. Kate Evans, apple breeder at the WSU Tree Fruit Research Center in Wenatchee. Evans and Musacchi led a tour of WSU’s 1-acre test plot of the Cosmic variety

“One acre, two root stocks, three trellis systems and hundreds of trees,” said Evans. “We’re testing it (Cosmic) under a variety of conditions.”

The Cosmic test plot has assessed – among a handful of goals – the health, growth rates and yield of Cosmic starts grafted onto two root stocks, but no clear preference has emerged yet. It has also gauged the effectiveness of canopy netting on controlling sunlight that reaches maturing fruit. That gets a thumb-up from researchers.

The test plot has also measured similar growth rates and yields of the popular trellis systems, those pole-and-wire contrivances onto which trees are trained to grow. So far, the bi-axial system, which produces two main trees stems rising from each trunk, is recommended by WSU’s Musacchi for growers moving towards mechanized pruning and harvesting.

As for consumers grabbing a taste of the Cosmic, Evans said she hopes a lot of the first fruit harvested remains in the Pacific Northwest for local apple lovers. “After all, residents have heard about this apple for years. It seems only fair they get a chance to try it first.”

Article from the May 2016 Wenatchee Valley Business World