Traditionally, in Asturias, extensive farming systems are used to grow apple trees to produce cider and to make use of the natural grasslands. Due to the small-scale nature of Asturian farms, this combination of livestock farming and the production of apples to make cider is a good example of the socio-economic characteristics of the country environment in Asturias, providing family farms with additional income while also avoiding the rural exodus by generating an environment-friendly activity that also enables the population to live off their lands.
In spring, from mid-April, the Asturian apple tree varieties covered by the Sidra de Asturias Protected Designation of Origin begin to bloom. The first shoots on the branches announce what will later become the spectacular flowering of the apple trees. Some varieties will already be in full bloom at the end of April, extending this period until the end of May.
The apple tree’s vegetative development takes place in spring and early summer. In this period, the flowers and fruit are thinned to guarantee the quality and to regulate those varieties that tend to have an excessive alternate bearing.
Asturias enjoys unbeatable conditions, from a natural point of view, to have first-class cider apple plantations. Frost and unstable weather can, however, jeopardize the beginning of fruiting in the spring months.
The apples develop during the summer and complete their ripening in autumn. The fruit is harvested from the end of September to the beginning of December, depending on the ripening period of each variety and the weather conditions. The fruit is harvested close to optimum ripeness. Thus, the fruit collected is sufficiently firm, which reduces damage from handling during the collection, storage, and transport processes.
Finally, in winter, the annual pruning process is carried out and the trees are fertilised to provide them with the necessary nutrients to meet their needs.
Traditional farms, as mentioned above, use a mixed system consisting of growing cider apples and natural meadows together. Highly vigorous systems are used (non-grafted or seeds) that result in very long-lived, highly developed and rustic trees that do not produce fruit too early. Square, rectangular or staggered planting layouts are used.
This type of crop is a semi-intensive crop with the preferential use of medium-strength rootstocks (semi-dwarf), type MM106, MM111, M7. The formation system is that of an axis in its multiple variants, the plantation frame is rectangular, and the distribution of the varieties is carried out by lines. This type of arrangement makes it faster to start production and facilitates pruning, maintenance and picking activities.
The apple plantation undergoes a maintenance process every year to favour its correct development and obtain quality products; thus, minimising the incidence of the alternate bearing. The planting line will be maintained for at least the first four years, with no grass, using appropriate management techniques. From the second year onwards, grass will be grown in the lanes. The grass will be cut and cleared at least twice a year.