Kingston Black – King of the Cider Apples?

Kingston Black is the best cider apple tree there is.  That is the general consensus. No favouritism here even though both it and I come from Somerset (albeit in different centuries). But it is a special apple and well worth highlighting on the Fruit Trees site

When cider is described as vintage, it refers not so much to its age, but to the fact that it is made from a single variety of apple.  In cider parlance vintage equals unblended.  Sort of a single malt.  Opinions vary about the best single malt (my favourite is Glenmorangie) but few argue that cider made from Kingston Black apples stands on its own.  I have heard it described as the Cox’s Orange Pippin of cider apples and the analogy is not a bad one.  The flavour in unrivalled but Kingston Black is also harder to grow than some others and (like Cox’s Orange Pippin) is a modest yielding apple. But balance against that the ideal combination of acid, alcohol, body, fruit and tannin and you can see why this is an apple apart. Which of course is why Kingston Black apples are generally used to improve a blend of other apple juices from heavier yielding trees.

Just like other apples with the word “black” in their name, Kingston Black is extremely dark in colour – deep red turning to dark purple, at times almost black. The apples themselves are short stalked and quite little.  There are lots of them, but they need thinning .  It has a pronounced biennial habit and as hinted above, is a relatively weak cropper which has relatively low resistance to both scab and canker.  This is a tree for an orchard where chemicals are used, or for one where organic practices are properly applied.  It is not really a tree for the kind of orchard you plant and forget except at harvest time.  Having said which it grows wonderfully well for some people who just leave it alone…..

For the reasons of low yield, being disease prone and having a biennial cropping tendency don’t plant this as your only cider tree (there are more reliable vintage varieties).  However, if you are planning to plant an orchard with cider in mind (6+ cider trees) then Kingston Black should be first on your list.  If it grows for you and crops well in a good year, spoil yourself and make an unblended cider from Kingston Black.

Tasting it yourself before offering to share with your friends is a great test of the meaning of the phrase “self-sacrificing”….

Comments 3

  1. John Davies

    I live in North Dorset (SP7 0JF) with a paddock of sand over Blackmore Vale clay on a South East facing slope. The ground is very fertile, the top soil not clay, and many years ago there was an orchard on the site.
    I am thinking of growing Kingston Black cider apples because single variety Kingston Black cider is my favourite. At a spacing of 18 feet apart I have room for up to 12 trees. I have other apples in the vicinity and no worries about polination.
    However I do not want to plant an excessive number of trees, just enough to support comfortably production of one brewer’s barrel (36 gallons) a year. How many trees would I have to plant in order to get a sufficient yield in 5 years?
    John Davies

  2. Julian

    Thanks very much for your Kingston Black post – and for the most difficult question of the year so far.

    For the reasons of low yield etc given above I would always advise not planting this as your only cider tree – recognising it is also the best cider apple there is.

    However, assuming you are set on Kingston Black cider apple trees:

    1. You can expect a Kingston Black to produce 150 – 200lbs of apples when it is 10 years old. They are not heavy croppers – I have heard of someone who claimed 300lbs and was widely disbelieved….

    So, assuming you are planting maidens – at five years I think you will be luck to get 50 lbs of apples per tree, but I have to admit that we have not weighed the crop annually to see how it increases (maybe we should) to maturity, so this number is a rank guess.

    2. Juice yields depend on spring frosts, summer weather rainfall (and sunshine), availability of pollinators, the variety of apple, preprocessing (pulping, chopping etc) press size and type etc etc . A really rough guide would be about 30 pints of juice per 100 lbs of apple. You will need 288 pints of juice assuming you do not dilute or use concentrate which equals 9-10 trees.

    All the above is a best guess and the answer could easily be out by 100%. I do not know what your planting area looks like, but if you have the room you might consider the following:

    1. Plant five or six Kingston Black trees this year and the same year. This will help address the issue of biennial fruiting as you should get net production of about 7-9 trees worth a year. Not quite enough on the face of it, but with good soil and a little help from the odd fruit boosting fertiliser yields ought to creep up. If you produce too many apples, there will be no shortage of takers – any local cider producer will rip your arm off. If you don’t get enough, at least you will have a steady supply as opposed to a glut year followed by a barren one.

    2. Please practice extreme hygiene in the orchard. Scab weakens trees and you will need to spray against it. Make the first spray before it appears. Rake up and burn fallen leaves and prunings. Keep a clear circle of earth around the trunk of each tree

    3. Canker can be a problem with this variety, so use a sharp saw or secateurs for all pruning cuts. Immediately paint the cut with Prune n Seal and, most important, disinfect the pruning blade between EVERY cut. You can use meths, dettol or jeyes fluid – all will kill canker spores. Keep a vigilant eye out for canker, and remove any branch that is cankerous as soon as you see it, well below the canker. (After you have made the cut, the wood should be clear – if there is what looks like a stain across the grain, cut more off).

    Finally, you will need to order relatively soon as no one propagates Kingston Black in large quantities and it tends to sell out quite quickly every season. A google search for something like “kingston black cider apple trees” should turn up a decent supplier. Always buy from one who guarantees their trees.

  3. Thomas ALLISON

    Just to say I have discovered this post. Having been told that Kingstons are “THE” cider apple and having a projet in mind of producing the said projet I have imported some scions here to france.
    This weekend we grafted 15 grafts, (? I don’t know what they whould be called in english) and they have been put into their temporary earthing home today….Fingers crossed that all goes well and that Kingstons can take their place here in the heart of Burgundy…A long side my Bramleys…

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