Scientists believe that the earliest apples grew wild first in the mountains of southwestern Asia, probably in the area between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. But Minnesota’s apple roots are far younger.

The first Minnesota full-sized apple variety to withstand cold winters, bear fruit regularly and have good keeping qualities and flavor was developed in the 1860s by Peter Gideon. He lived near the south shore of Lake Minnetonka, moving there from Illinois in 1853 to take up a 160-acre claim. A self-educated horticulturist, he brought with him a bushel of apple seeds, and for the next 45 years worked to develop apples that could withstand the cold northern climate.

Gideon’s famous apple named Wealthy, after Wealthy Hull, his wife, was introduced in Minnesota in 1873. The Wealthy, an early apple ripening in late August, is still widely grown. This variety is good for fresh eating, pies and sauces.

Since the introduction of the Wealthy apple, other horticulturists in Minnesota have developed many varieties.

More than 100 apple varieties now are grown in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota Department of Horticulture has introduced numerous apples in the last 100 years, including Haralson (1922); Beacon (1936); Regent (1964); State Fair (1977); Honeycrisp (1991); and SweeTango (2009).

Now is the time to visit farmers markets and buy some great early apples.

I just had a conversation with Denny at Havlicek Orchard near New Prague. He is picking Mantet, Oriole and State Fair and will sell these early season apples at Minneapolis Farmers Market this weekend. Mantet trees, developed by Manitoba, Canada breeders in 1928, produce apples that are sweet, tangy, juicy and fragrant.

Jim Gilbert taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.