When and How to Harvest Apples - Backyard Boss
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When and How to Harvest Apples

Apples are one of the most popular fruits in the world, which is no surprise considering they’re a delicious and healthy snack. But, knowing when to harvest apples is the key. If you pick too early, you’ll pick sour and hard-to-digest fruit.

Keep reading to learn when and how to pick ripe apples!

Materials Needed

Apple picking in an orchard
Image credits: lumix2004 from Pixabay

Make sure you have all the materials necessary before harvesting the fruits of your labor:

  • Ladder
  • Wooden crate or bucket
  • Knife

When Is the Best Time to Harvest?

Apple tree
Image credits: Isaac1984 via Canva

Since each apple cultivar produces fruit at different times and seasons, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to when apples are ready. Apples are usually ready to be picked early to mid-fall, but some apple trees produce apples in the summer, and others produce late in the season. Below you can find a list of popular cultivars and the season that they generally come to maturity:

  • Gala– Late July to early September
  • McIntosh–  September
  • Granny Smith– October
  • Fuji– Mid-to-late October.

While immature fruit does continue to ripen off the tree, it’s a complex process to achieve at home. If you delay picking until your fruit is ripe, you’ll get larger apples, sometimes with a sweeter taste. Not ripe fruit tends to bruise easily and can rot and shrivel when placed in storage for an extended period.

On the other hand, you shouldn’t let your apples sit on the branch either, as they degrade from old-age breakdown. Picking an overripe fruit can mean picking fruit that has already passed its peak taste and texture.

How to Tell Your Apples Are Ready

teenage girl is standing in the garden with a basket full of ripe apples, the concept of picking fruit and harvest
Image credits: KlavdiyaV via Shutterstock

There are several ways to check to see if apples have reached maturity. Some are specific to the apple cultivar, such as observing color and size. In contrast, others are universal qualities of mature apples.

1. Color A-Peel

The first thing to do is observe an apple on your tree and examine its color. The apple variety will determine the color you want to see. Not all apples are red in their mature stage, so make sure you know which cultivar you have.

However, if your apples are discolored and bruised, they may be overripe.

2. “Twist and Lift”

Once you’ve examined the outside of the apple, use the “twist and lift” technique: Twist the apple and lift it. Mature apples should come right off the branch with the stem intact. If the apple doesn’t come off easily, that can indicate the apple isn’t ripe.

3. Seed and Flesh Test

Now that you’ve picked your test apple, move on to examining its inner color. Ripe apples have white, cream-colored flesh, and their seeds will have turned brown.

Note: Be cautious of using this as your only indicator. Some cultivars continue to have light white or beige seeds into maturity. For example, early cultivars, such as gala, may have ripe flesh but white seed casings.

4. Taste Test

Of course, one of the major indicators of a mature apple is how it tastes. Underripe apples are starchy and sour. Their flesh is hard, and it’s difficult to sink your teeth into it. Instead, a mature apple has delicate flesh which is easy to bite into, with a sweet/tart taste depending on the variety.

They can become crumbly and gritty if you wait too long to pick your apples, and they’re overripe.

How to Pick Apples

Farmer picking red apple from tree. Woman harvesting fruit from branch at autumn season
Image credits: encierro via Shutterstock

When harvesting apples, it’s important to handle them gently since they bruise easily. Apple picking tools, which resemble a wire cage on a broomstick, are popular but can lead to damaged and bruised fruit.

Instead, use the hand-picking technique to pull apples down from the tree. Avoid dropping them, as this can also lead to bruises and damages. There are two ways you can hand-pick your apples.

  • Twist and lift: This technique is quite simple. All you do is twist and lift the apple upwards to release the stem from the branch.
  • Eye to the sky: This method involves rotating the apple upside down and twisting it slightly around the branch.

Storing Apples

Apple sauce
Image credits: congerdesign via Pixabay

Freshly picked apples last between three and four months and do best when kept above freezing. Summer apples usually have the shortest lifespan compared to cultivars that mature late in the season. Below you can find a list of some common cultivars, as well as their longevity, once picked:

  • Gala– Two to four weeks.
  • McIntosh– Three to four months.
  • Granny smith– Three to five months.
  • Fuji-Three to six months.

When you’re storing apples, check to see if any of them have gone soft or have visible bruises, and separate them from the other apples. (If you do have bruised apples, you can turn them into juice.)

As apples ripen and even degrade, they release ethylene, which will cause the fruit around them to ripen more quickly, so the adage “one rotten apple can spoil the bunch” is true.

Store apples below room temperature. Keep them out of direct sunlight and if possible, try to store them at 90% humidity, which can help prevent the apples from drying out. If you want to extend the life of your apples longer, you can turn them into sauce and store them in mason jars.

An Apple A Day!

There is nothing like biting into a ripe apple and tasting its delicious juice. Most apples are ready to be picked in early September, but there are many ways to tell if your apple is ripe, such as examining the color of its skin, flesh, and seeds, as well as how it tastes!

Do you have any apples in your yard? If you have any tips and tricks for harvesting apples, share them in the comments below!