Influence of soil nutrients on fruit flavor?

Me thinks you need to do more research and less complaining. I can understand if the information doesn’t apply to you but it applies to me, and on an open conversation about the effects of nutrients on fruit production I can only talk from my perspective, not yours.

But in the general topic of apple growing I stand by my statement: excess nitrogen affects taste, color and the keeping qualities of apples. This has been extensively documented. Feel free to look it up.

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Yes, I need to do more research because the research you supplied apparently didn’t contain the info you described.

Like I said, I’m just trying to keep this real and the one thing this means is that I will question claims made on this forum that aren’t based on either research or personal anecdote. Why do you claim what you say is extensively documented, then provide links unrelated to your claims and tell me to search up what you say is extensively documented?

How is this helpful to people trying to learn best methods of growing great fruit?

Clarity is the point, not confusion. This process isn’t fun for me, but I hope it’s worth it. People often get offended when they are challenged, but how else can we get to the substance of the matter. If you are irritated, please do your own search and prove your point. I’d love that. I don’t WANT anyone to be wrong but me- honestly. Then I’ve learned something.

Weird, I thought that providing a fully sourced research paper on the effects of nitrogen on hard cider fermentation went a long way towards showing the hard science conducted on the effects of nitrogen on hard cider.

Again; just jumping up and down saying that it doesn’t apply to you robs you of the opportunity to spot something that may apply to you. You may never care to make cider, but there is probably better research on this field than on growing apples in general because of how fermentation concentrates flaws in a way that may be irrelevant on table apples. Heck did you know that little things like nitrate availability (specific forms of nitrogen) has a measurable effect on tartness?

The point still stand: nutrition has a measurable impact on the end result.

Not to say that most of it would matter for table apples, some of the practices promote small ugly apples that cider makers find superior, we are weird that way.


Point taken. Really, it’s the same point ‘organic’ gardeners make for expending the trouble to improve their soils. Nutritious soils do affect, at least a little, the quality and nutritiousness of the harvest.

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OK, I misunderstood what you were saying about sweeter cider, you mean that inadequate N. in the apples leads to poor fermentation that leaves less sugar utilized in the production of hard cider and a sweeter, lower alcohol product. .That is interesting, thanks. Why do some apples produce apples with too little N for proper fermentation? Is it the direct result of deficient N in the soil?

Yes, that is weird because if an N deficient tree produces small ugly apples it would seem to damage the ultimate product due to inadequate sugar to create high quality cider- Don’t the best cider apples tend to have high brix? Unless the apples are small because of deficit irrigation, and therefore high brix apples and not the result of anything to do with N but entirely to do with deficit irrigation. Here, drought years tend to produce the highest quality (highest brix) fruit. I was told that 30 years ago by commercial growers and experience since has clearly confirmed it. I just can’t sort out how much of it is the result of water deficit and how much to more sunny days. I believe both have an affect, but I’m unsure of the ratio.

Does that make sense to you?

Of course brix levels have at least as much to do with variety of apples (or any other tree fruit I grow) as with anything else.

Do you know of any lists that evaluate relative brix of various apple varieties? I generally only find out by trial and error- and that is with all the species of fruit I grow.

Naturally as a farmer we tend to sell our very best looking fruit and keep the ugly fruit for ourselves. This is worth bringing up because nutrient level is not always strictly connected to soil. Nutrient levels and appearance can be connected. Small ugly or scarred fruit is frequently higher in nutrition. Organic growers sometimes grow healthier fruit for reasons not well understood. This forum has many topics on this


I’ve even read that scabby apples are more nutritious because of tree responses to the scab and infusing more nutrients into the fruit as part of their chemical arsenal of defense. Not a highly researched subject, I’m sure, but certainly N and water pumped vegetables tend to be lower in nutrients. Compost tends to provide all the micros that plants and people need that might not reflect in how fast plants grow.

Vegetables and fruits are sold without labels that tell nutrient content.



You have long been an advocate of organic fertilizers such as wood chips. There is merit to using manure , leaves, woodchips, compost etc… I’m not suggesting your a strictly organic farmer. There were times over the years you mentioned that your soil got to high in built up soil nutrients and you had to backoff using so much woodchips around the trees. This article is very interesting Here's the scoop on chemical and organic fertilizers | OSU Extension Service


Here’s the scoop on chemical and organic fertilizers

(Here's the scoop on chemical and organic fertilizers | Servicio de Extensión de OSU)

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Spring is the time for thinking about fertilizers. Organic options are a great way to go.

Organic fertilizers such as manures, compost or bone meal are derived directly from plant or animal sources, according to Ross Penhallegon, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. Inorganic fertilizers such as ammonium sulfate or ammonium phosphate are often called commercial or synthetic fertilizers because they go through a manufacturing process, although many of them come from naturally occurring mineral deposits.

Inorganic fertilizers usually contain only a few nutrients – generally nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur and sometimes micronutrients, either singly or in combination. These nutrients are in a form readily available to plants. However, since they are lost from the soil quickly, you may have to fertilize plants several times during the growing season unless you use a specially formulated, slow-release type.

Some nutrients, such as nitrate, are quickly available for uptake by plant roots, Penhallegon said. If you need only a certain element such as nitrogen and want it to be quickly available to your plants, an inorganic fertilizer such as ammonium nitrate might be in order.

Organic fertilizers usually contain plant nutrients in low concentrations. Many of these nutrients have to be converted into inorganic forms by soil bacteria and fungi before plants can use them, so they typically are more slowly released, especially during cold weather when soil microbes are not as active.

But organic fertilizers have advantages. They don’t make a crust on the soil as inorganic fertilizers sometimes do. They improve water movement into the soil and, in time, add structure to the soil. Organics feed beneficial microbes, making the soil easier to work. But they may cost more than chemical, or inorganic fertilizers, because they are less concentrated, supplying fewer nutrients pound for pound.

Since many chemical/inorganic fertilizers are concentrated and very soluble, it’s easier to apply too much and damage your plants. Fresh, non-composted manure can damage your plants as well, because some manure contains harmful amounts of salts. They can also be a source of weed seeds.

Penhallegon has collected information about the nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) content of many of the organic substances commonly used as fertilizer in Oregon.

“One of the most difficult things to determine for an organic gardener is how much organic fertilizer to use, say on 1,000 square feet of garden,” said Penhallegon. "For a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 12-11-2, this means 12 percent is nitrogen, 11 percent is phosphorus and 2 percent is potassium. In simple terms, this means each 100-pound bag of the fertilizer would contain 12 pounds of nitrogen, 11 pounds phosphorus and two pounds nitrogen.

“For example, using 12-11-2 fertilizer, if we knew we wanted to apply one pound of nitrogen, we would use 1/12th of 100 pounds,” he said. “This equals about 8 pounds of this fertilizer applied to get one pound of nitrogen out there in the soil.”

Blood meal (12.5-1.5-0.6) releases nutrients over a period of two to six weeks.

Burned eggshells (0-.5-.3), fish emulsion (5-1-1) and urea (urine) (46-0-0) are the fastest-acting organic fertilizers, lasting only a couple of weeks.

To boost the nitrogen content of your soils, apply nitrogen-rich urea (42-46 percent N), feathers (15 percent N), blood meal (12.5 percent N), dried blood (12 percent N).

Organic amendments highest in phosphorus include rock phosphate (20-33 percent P), bone meal (15-27 percent P) and colloidal phosphate (17-25 percent P). High in potassium are kelp (4-13 percent K), wood ash (3-7 percent K), granite meal (3-6 percent K) and greensand (5 percent K).

To make soil less acidic, gardeners want materials rich in calcium, including clamshells, oyster shells, wood ashes, dolomite and gypsum (all are at least 30 percent calcium carbonate or straight calcium).

Many garden centers and feed stores carry organic fertilizers and amendments for gardens."

There has for a long time been a debate over organic versus non organic ferilizers

I’m not advocating either one only bringing up the differences as they impact application. Most people use organic when they can i feel and chemical when they need to. That is what i do on my farm. On my farm normally chemicals are not needed for soil fertility for fruits. I’m suggesting soil trace nutrients are higher in a farm applying compost and woodchips to their trees instead of chemical npk.

The best tasting fruit I’ve grown has been on soil that receives very little fertilizer and no organic amendments for the past 18 years. The soil is naturally low in organic material. This is in my greenhouse with in-ground trees. The soil is covered with weed barrier and has been for 18 years. Even the leaves are removed. Not because I want it that way but because that’s easiest for an old man.

Bare soil in there would be dusty and grimy. I tried that one year and didn’t like it. An organic mulch would be a little better but would be expensive and a lot of work to apply and maintain.

There is a black weed barrier to suppress weeds and on top of that a white fabric designed to reflect light back up into the canopy.

IMO rich soils are best used to grow vegetables. Fruits, mostly stone fruits, don’t need rich, high organic soils to grow great tasting fruit. No evidence just my experience.

By the way soils were my first love. I was a soils major at Univ. of Illinois for one year before moving to plant science. I love the rich deep loess soils in Illinois used to grow corn and soybeans. I’d love to have that here. But it won’t improve my fruit crops compared to our poor, low organic, well drained, desert soils. The best Illinois soil for corn, Muscatine silt loam, isn’t the best Illinois soil for stone fruit. A better soil for stone fruit would be more sandy/silty, better drained, and less fertile.


Yeah, the whole point of going into the cider tangent was not to state things you could use, just to illustrate how nutrition does affect the apples themselves. The only way to create apples with low N is to have a soil with low N. For market apples this is to be avoided as it would have a horrible effect on the overall “quality” of the end product. Quality stated in quotes because the quality of a cider apple has different goals and as such the trees are fed differently. As a general rule older trees on orchards that have not been fertilized in ages produce smaller apples with a higher concentration of sugars and acidity. Largely not because the lack of N produces more sugar, but because the cell structures hold less water. It would take more apples to fill a bushel but the bushel itself produces a more concentrated juice.

The thinning of the cider crop itself serve different goals. It is less concerned with the cosmetic and size of the final product (table apples you may want to thin them enough so you don’t end up with a bunch of small apples). The trees instead are allowed to carry as many apples as it is healthy for the structure of the tree, another reason why we end up with smaller ugly apples.

And of course there is the apple itself. One that I’m very excited about is the Franlkin cider crab. It is certainly a spitter; most people would take a single bite and not even try to swallow it because tannins and acidity are orders of magnitude higher than on your standard table apple. Heck the sugars are also high but you can even taste them; your average Honey Crisp has a BRIX of 12.6, my beautiful crop of Franklin crabs came around 18.6 BRIX.

A hard cider made of just Honey Crisps would have alcohol but no mouth feel whatsoever, mediocre by any definition of hard cider. Blended with a good amount of Franklins it would improve significantly but honestly the Honey Crisp (as good as an eating apple as it may be) lacks real flavors and nuances that would make it into an outstanding cider. Apples that exhibit strong interesting flavors become the better candidates regardless of what the apple looks like. Heck I wanted to blend some Kerr crabs with Franklin crabs to see what the end result would be like (Keer juice is ruby red and tastes more like cranberry juice than apple juice) Sadly my daughter who doesn’t like apple juice drank it all.


I think of woodchips primarily as a great way to hold useable raiinwater that would otherwise seep below the rootzone and a a weed barrier. However, they also contain lots of other nutrients which is highly variable depending on the size of the wood and whether there’s was lots of small branches and leaves put through the chipper, but regardless, woodchipped mulched plants probably never suffer from K deficiency. Repeated mulching will gradually bring in N fixing bacteria and provide N even beyond what is in the wood and leaves, especially leaves. Of course, initially all but chips with a high percentage of leaves will pull N from the surface of the soil to help micro-organisms digest the high carbohydrate wood.

If you live in the humid region, annual spread of wood chips can become too much of a good thing in obtaining highest quality of fruit- probably because of how the humous it becomes holds so much available water. Don might suggest that it is also the result of those N fixing bacteria.

I’d love it if you gave one of those old trees an average dose of N and compare its brix level from the year before. Half my business is managing century and more old apple trees and my observations here don’t match yours there.

I’m not saying I don’t respect your opinion, you certainly seem to know what you are talking about.

Richard, I’ve had a quarrel or several actually but it mostly over one sided ‘moderation’ before he gave up that gig. I look at it that he can run his business as he sees fit, so long as his customers are happy.

So, I take them if he offers good advice, and ignore if it’s not helpful. Sometimes you can learn from people you don’t consider your buddies.

So, all the best. Enjoyed your perspective…too bad I see it just got flagged!!

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Let’s keep things focused on fruit things and not pluses/minus of fruit personalities, thanks.


It has been tested quite extensively on the scientific literature. Remember, different goals altogether so things that makes absolutely no sense to test on table apples are actually tested for on cider apples. See if you can get a hold of a comprehensive apple cider book, if nothing else you may find it an interesting read.

I do have table apples I love, I would not dream of depriving them of macro nutrients, they would be of lesser quality as far as table apples are concerned.

Also while I do use a lot of so called organic fertilizing with compost and mulching (great for soil conditioning) I have zero issues with manufactured fertilizers. My raspberries, gooseberries, and currants, are voracious feeders.


Since you didn’t post anything, I did a search and you are right based on this study. Cool- I’ve learned something.

Shoot now I have another study specifically about apple production for cider that seems to have come to the opposite conclusion. Yeah you said N would improve fermentation but the study also suggests it doesn’t damage taste.

And this Cornell study suggests cider improvement through supplementary N.

I’m still a bit confused- but that’s horticulture for you. Maybe you, as a cider expert, can help me understand what I’m reading better.

Wait, this is a summary of many studies that all seem to confirm what you have said about high N rates damaging the quality of many fruits, including apples, but I cannot find anything about N deficiency increasing brix.

I will keep looking when I have time.

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i forage for all my apples i get for applesauce. i use
any and all . most people wouldnt pick what i pick due to their looks. but its the variety thats in there that makes the sauce so good. all come from trees abandoned and neglected for many decades. been throwing in a couple cups of aronia per batch the last couple years. makes beautiful, tasty purple sauce. :wink:


Technically it’ is not an increase of brix, but an increase of water in the presence of excess nitrogen. This watering down is what leads to less sugars by volume. Hence apples that are deprived of nitrogen end up with a more concentrated juice.

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So are you saying brix reduction is caused by both increased irrigation and increased N or that the brix reduction is only the result of increased irrigation involved in N application?

At any rate, I’m still thinking that old trees with small fruit don’t have higher brix apples from deficit N. The research I posted suggests that high application levels of N damage fruit quality, not moderate ones, so it seems to me it comes down to the old adage- fruit growers need to find the goldilocks balance of water and nutrition that inspires moderate growth- not too “hot” and not too “cold”.

I came into this discussion unsure that excessive N, in itself, could reduce brix. Now I’m pretty sure it does, so it’s been a useful exchange for me. Thank you for bearing with me and trying to help us come to an understanding.

It can be aggravating when people assign negative motives when I express opinions contrary to their own. If I was to assign a motive, I would say that some people are more annoyed at being contradicted than others. But I don’t even know what goes on in my wife’s mind sometimes, let alone the minds of almost complete strangers.


This topic has been an interesting read. The problem with the research is that there is seldom or never enough money to test all the possibilities. The interaction of temperature, sunlight, water, soil ph, soil organisms, genetics and the many chemicals used by plants, that can effect the conclusion of a study, make it almost impossible to have the result of a study be universally true for all locations.