When to pick apples?

How to Tell When Apples are Ready to Pick

By Erin Huffstetler | 08/24/2016 |

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Apples often look ready to pick long before they are, so how do you know when they’re really ready? Here are some ways to tell when your apples are ripe:


Some apple varieties have an all red skin or an all yellow or green skin, but most apples have multi-colored skins. Look at the base (or ground) color of your apples. If the base color is green, your apples aren’t ready yet. If the base color is yellow, they are.

How Easily They Come Off the Tree

Apples are easy to separate from the tree when they’re ready. To test their readiness, hold an apple in your hand, lift it towards the stem, and twist. If it comes off easily, it’s ready. If it requires a good bit of yanking and tugging, it isn’t.

Color of Seeds

Cut an apple in half, and look at the seeds. If they’re dark brown, the apple is ripe. If they’re white or light brown in color, the apple still has some ripening to do.

Number of Days from Bloom

Make a note of when your apple trees bloom each spring. Then, count out 160-185 days to determine the approximate harvest time for your trees. If you’re growing more than one apple variety, be sure to record the bloom time for each variety; it’s likely to vary some.

Note: While this is good way to predict the harvest date for your apple trees; it’s just that – a prediction. The weather could speed up or slow down this date, so start watching for other signs that your apples are ripe in the weeks leading up to the expected harvest date.

Don’t Go By …

what your neighbors are doing. Some apple varieties ripen in July, while others ripen in November. Your neighbor’s may not have the same kinds of apples as you, so don’t pick your apples just because you see your neighbors’ picking theirs. Do ask your neighbor for advice, though. If they’ve been growing apples for a while, they may be able to help you determine when you should pick yours.

And Don’t Freak Out If …

apples start to fall off your trees. It’s perfectly normal for some apples to fall off the tree before it’s time to harvest. Sometimes they fall off because they’re damaged, and sometimes they’ve simply ripened before the rest of the tree. If the fallen apples don’t seem to have any problems, take it as a sign that the rest of your apples are almost ready, and start watching them for signs of ripeness.

Apples on the Same Tree May Ripen at Different Times

Apples on the outside of the tree tend to ripen first, as do apples on the southern side of the tree, so don’t just assume that all of the apples on the tree are ready because you’ve found some that are. Pick what’s ready, and give the rest time to catch up. If you pick apples at the right time, they’ll be sweeter and they’ll store better, too.

Also Check Out:

  • Cheap Organic Pest Control for Fruit Trees
  • Crockpot Applesauce Recipe

Tips For Harvesting Apples And Post Harvest Apple Storing

The old adage “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away” may not be completely true, but apples are certainly nutritious and are arguably one of America’s favorite fruit. So how do you know when to pick apples and exactly how do you harvest apples and then store them properly?

When to Pick Apples

Harvesting apples at just the right time is key, not only to obtaining the highest quality fruit but also to maximize the storage life. Each variety of apple has its own maturation time and can be dependent upon weather conditions during the growing season. For example, apples will ripen earlier if there is a mild, sunny spring which kick starts the tree’s fruiting cycle early. Because of this, you should gauge harvest time through other indicators rather than a specific date on the calendar. That said, early maturing apples called “summer apples” such as Honeycrisp, Paula Red and Jonagold reach their peak in August and early September.

First of all, mature apples are firm, crisp, and juicy with good color and a developed flavor characteristic of the variety. In red varieties, the color is not a good indicator of maturity. Red Delicious, for example, will turn red well before the fruit is ripe. Seed color is also not a reliable indicator. Most apple varieties have brown seeds when mature, but the seeds may also brown weeks before it is really time to harvest.

Premature apple picking may lead to fruit that is sour, starchy and generally unpalatable while harvesting apples too late results in a soft and mushy fruit. However, if you have a sudden freeze and have not yet picked the apples, as they didn’t seem ready, you may still be able to do so.

Apples freeze at 27-28 degrees F. (-2 C) depending upon the sugar content. Apples high in sugar and ripe fruit freeze at a lower temp. Once the freeze breaks, allow the apples to thaw on the tree. Unless the temperature dipped below 22-23 degrees F. (-5 C) or lasted an extended period of time, it is quite likely the apples will survive for harvesting. Once the apples thaw, inspect them for damage. If they are not browning or softening, harvest immediately.

Apples that have been frozen have a shorter shelf life than their counterparts, so use them as soon as possible.

How to Harvest Apples

If you’re planning on storing the apples, they should be picked when mature, yet hard, with a mature skin color but a hard flesh. Gently remove the apples from the tree, keeping the stem intact. Sort through the apple harvest and remove any apples that have insect erosion or signs of disease.

Separate the apples by size and use the largest apples first, as they do not store as well as smaller ones. Apples that show signs of damage can be used immediately after cutting off the spoiled bit, either eaten fresh or cooked down.

Post Harvest Apple Storing

Apples should be stored between 30-32 degrees F. (-1 to 0 C), especially if you want to store them for an extended period of time. Apples stored at 50 degrees F. (10 C.) will ripen four times as fast as those at 32 degrees F. (0 C.). Most cultivars will store for six months at this temperature. Store the apples in baskets or boxes lined with foil or plastic to aid in moisture retention.

It’s very important to sort the apples prior to storage. The saying “one bad apple spoils the barrel” is true. Apples emit ethylene gas, which hastens ripening. Damaged apples give off ethylene more quickly and can literally cause a batch to spoil. You may also want to keep some distance between stored apples and other produce, as the ethylene gas will accelerate the ripening of other fruits and vegetables. If apples are stored in plastic bags, be sure to poke some holes in them so the gas can filter out.

Relative humidity is also an important factor in the storage of apples and should be between 90-95 percent. A cellar, basement, or unheated garage are all some storage area options.

Too many apples to store? Can’t give them away? Try drying, freezing or canning them. Also, the local food bank will likely be happy to have a donation of sweet, crisp apples.

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A weekly trip to the grocery store is not an uncommon occurrence. However, we’ve heard from many of you that visiting the produce department can be quite stressful – how do you know if you’re choosing the best-quality product?!

If you’re looking for apples, you typically know the flavor or texture you want (unless you’re feeling adventurous and are trying out a new variety.) You probably already know if you want sweet or tart, crisp, juicy, etc. Once you’ve decided that….

Here are our best tips for how to select, store and prep your fresh apples!


Look for apples:

  • That are firm to the touch
  • Have a good aroma
  • Are free of skin breaks and bruises
  • Place your apples in the refrigerator ASAP for best quality.
  • Refrigerating slows down the ripening process and maintains flavor.
  • Properly refrigerated apples can keep anywhere from 4−6 weeks.
  • Store apples away from strong−smelling foods to prevent them from absorbing unpleasant odors.
  • They won’t stay crispy and crunchy for long when kept at room temperature!
  • Wash each apple under running water and dry with a clean paper towel.
  • Washing with soap or detergents is not recommended.

Does the size of the apple matter? Nope! Size does not determine whether or not the apple you have selected is better or more ripe than another apple on the shelf. All apples -small, medium or large – are equally delicious!

Selecting Good Apples

It seems every fall we have new varieties of apples to choose from. Some are very good, and some are OK. I think the Gala apple is the best to be marketed in a long time.

My all time favorite is the Red Delicious. But, all Red Delicious apples are not the same. Growing conditions affect the color, texture, sugar content, etc.

My favorite Red Delicious apple hails from Washington state. These smaller than ‘standard’ Red Delicious apples are packed with lots more flavor than you’ll find in the larger apple. Big things come in small packages? Yes!

On my last visit to the neighborhood grocer, I saw two varieties new to me. I bought one of each. So far, I’ve tried just one.

The name Sweet Tango is a misnomer. These apples probably do have a high sugar content, but it is overshadowed by tartness.

This apple is so tart, it reminds me of a Granny Smith. I’m thinking, if one likes Granny Smith, but wishes it wasn’t quite so tart, Sweet Tango would be for them. I’m also thinking it would be great for pies if not cooked for very long, (it is an eating, not cooking, apple).

One thing this Sweet Tango apple does have going for it is crispness. It is absolutely the crispiest apple I have ever encountered, bar none.

If you like an apple with a lot of flavor and a double portion of ‘twang’, check out this Sweet Tango. It’s right puckerified!

Harvesting and Storing Apples

In order to obtain the highest quality fruit, apples must be harvested at the proper stage of maturity. Once harvested, proper storage is necessary to maximize storage life.

The harvest period for apples varies from one variety to another. For example, Jonathan apples are normally harvested in mid to late September. The harvest season for Red Delicious apples is normally late September to early October. However, the harvest period for apple varieties is strongly influenced by weather conditions during the growing season. (This year most apple varieties are maturing about 10 days earlier than normal because of our early spring.) Gardeners, therefore, should base the harvest time on the maturity of the apples rather than a specific calendar date.

There are several indicators of apple maturity. Mature apples are firm, crisp, juicy, well- colored, and have developed the characteristic flavor of the variety. Red color alone is not a reliable indicator of maturity. Red Delicious apples, for example, often turn red before the fruit are mature. Fruit harvested too early are astringent, sour, starchy, and poorly flavored. Apples harvested too late are soft and mushy.

When harvesting apples, pick and handle the fruit carefully to prevent unnecessary damage. Sort through the apples during harvest. Remove and promptly use bruised or cut apples. Also, remove apples which exhibit insect and disease problems. Separate the apples by size. Use the largest apples first as they don’t store as well as the smaller fruit.

Once harvested and sorted, store the undamaged apples immediately. The temperature and relative humidity during storage are critical for maximum storage life. Proper storage conditions for apples are a temperature near 32Å¡F and a relative humidity between 90 and 95 percent. Apple varieties, such as Red Delicious, stored under optimum conditions may be stored up to 3 to 5 months. Apples stored at a temperature of 50Å¡F will spoil two to three times faster than those stored at 32Å¡F. If the humidity during storage is low, apples will dehydrate and shrivel.

Small quantities of apples may be placed in perforated polyethylene (plastic) bags and stored in the refrigerator. Perforated plastic bags maintain a high relative humidity, while they prevent the accumulation of excess moisture inside the bags. Apples may also be stored in unperforated polyethylene bags. Do not tightly seal the unperforated bags. Simply fold over the ends of the bags after the fruit has cooled down. Golden Delicious apples store best in polyethylene bags because of their tendency to dehydrate and shrivel. Most other apple varieties also store well in polyethylene bags.

Storage sites for large quantities of apples include a second refrigerator, cellars, unheated outbuildings, or the garage. Place the apples in polyethylene bags or plastic-lined boxes. The apples should be moved from unheated storage facilities prior to extremely cold weather as storage temperatures may drop well below freezing. Apples will freeze when temperatures drop below 30Å¡F. Frozen apples deteriorate rapidly once thawed.

If you have more apples than can be properly stored, the surplus can be dried, frozen, or canned.

This article originally appeared in the September 15, 2000 issue, p. 112.

We’re noticing this year that people are picking apples much earlier than usual. Is that because the fruit is ready much earlier, or are people getting anxious and picking too early? Here are some pointers we thought might be useful:

Apples are ripe at different times, depending on the variety. You get early, mid and late varieties. Discovery is one of the earliest, usually picked in mid to late August. D’Arcy Spice is a late variety, at its best when picked in November and stored till after Christmas. The majority of apples are usually ready to pick in October.

Different varieties are ready to pick at different times

Everything earlier this year

The time to harvest does vary from year to year though. It depends on what the weather was like in spring, and how early the trees formed blossom and were pollinated. This year in the south of England for example, apples do seem to be ready earlier than usual. We have already noticed in London that Discovery was ready in late July. The National Fruit Collection at Brogdale in Kent told us that “everything is ready two to three weeks early this year”.

Crapes Fruit Farm in Essex started picking Arthur Turner in August (normally ready in September), and plan to pick Ribson Pippin (normally late September/early October) by 14th September. Read their blog here.

How can you tell when ready?

You know when an apple is ready to pick when you cup it in your hand and give it a slight twist, and it comes off in your hand. If you need to give the fruit a yank, or it leaves its stalk behind, or even a bunch of leaves, it is definitely not ready!

You can also look at the pips to check if the apple is ready – they should be brown if the fruit is ripe, and will be green if unripe.

Fruit on the ground

Apple trees do shed some fruit early, particularly if they have a codling moth caterpillar or sawfly grub inside. So the sight of apples on the ground does not in itself mean the apples on the tree are ready to pick.

Beating the competition

One reason people may be tempted to pick fruit early is to beat others to it. This is especially the case if you have a problem with parakeets, who can strip entire orchards. It is also sad that some people strip community orchards of all their fruit before they are ready. You can try putting up signs indicating when the fruit is likely to be ready. And you can ask people to wait until your community harvest day.

Of course if you pick apples before they are ripe, you may be able to eat them or cook with them, but they will not taste their best.

If you want to get involved in any of our harvesting days in London, you can find out the details here.

Idared will have best flavour when picked late in season

Predicted 2019 apple harvest dates

The predicted harvest dates are now available at all locations on the Michigan State University Enviroweather website. Once again, we have experienced a cool to cold late winter climate that delayed the development of spring buds. Most of the state experienced a late bloom except the very southeast part of Michigan. In general, 2019 predicted harvest dates are roughly a week later than normal. Southeast Michigan is only a few days behind normal.

As always, the weather seems to be unusual each year and 2019 was no different. It began with another very late spring. Most areas bloomed quite late except southeast Michigan areas. Cool to cold weather persisted well into June. In general, apple blocks have a mix of cropload, some light and some heavy areas, but mostly moderate croploads. Blocks with light croploads will mature three or four days sooner then the predicted harvest dates. Heavy croploads will mature seven days later than the predicted dates. If hot, stressful weather occurs in August or September, apple maturity will be advanced.

The 2019 predicted harvest dates are listed in Table 1. This year, we are about a week behind last year and a week behind normal. Table 2 lists this year’s predictions compared to normal and last year.

The normal harvest dates for other varieties are listed in Table 3 for the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area. This year’s predicted dates for other non-modeled varieties are a rough estimate based on the McIntosh, Jonathan and Red Delicious predicted dates. Other areas of the state should adjust non-predicted varieties based on their own history.

ReTain application should be applied 30 days before harvest. Harvista can be applied three to seven days before harvest. Use Table 3 to time ReTain applications and adjust for varieties and locations.

Table 1. 2019 predicted peak harvest dates.

Full bloom date 2019

Predicted harvest date 2019










May 15

May 16

May 17

Sept. 16

Sept. 30

Oct. 7

Bill Shane


May 9

May 11

May 12

Sept. 9

Sept. 25

Oct. 5

Bob Tritten


May 16

May 17

May 18

Sep. 16

Oct. 1

Oct. 7

Bob Tritten

Peach Ridge

May 19

May 21

May 22

Sept. 20

Oct. 6

Oct. 11

Amy Irish-Brown


May 25

May 25

May 26

Sept. 26

Oct. 10

Oct. 17

Amy Irish-Brown


May 29

May 30

May 30

Sept. 30

Oct. 11

Oct. 21

Nikki Rothwell

Table 2. 2019 predicted peak harvest dates compared to normal and last year.

Days behind normal

Days behind of last year











Peach Ridge



Table 3. Normal and 2019 peak harvest dates for varieties for the Grand Rapids area.


Normal date

2019 predicted date


Aug. 24

Aug. 30


Aug. 26

Sept. 1


Sept. 10

Sept. 15


Sept. 15

Sept. 20


Sept. 18

Sept. 23


Sept. 24

Sept. 30


Sept. 26

Oct. 6


Sept. 26

Oct. 6

Golden Delicious

Oct. 2

Oct. 8

Red Delicious

Oct. 5

Oct. 11


Oct. 10

Oct. 15


Oct. 15

Oct. 20


Oct. 25

Oct. 28


Oct. 25

Oct. 28


Nov. 1

Nov. 3

Apple Ripening and Storage

  • Introduction
  • What Variety of Trees Should I Plant?
  • Squeezing All This Into Your Back Yard
  • Preparing the Soil and Planting
  • Establishing the Trees and the Initial Pruning
  • Summer Pruning
  • Pests and Diseases
  • Apple Ripening and Storage (this page)

How Do I Know My Apples Are Ripe?

You are indeed fortunate when a fruit source is actively growing just outside your door. Not only are you able to access a healthy food source, you may also choose to eat that food when it suits you. Apples on the same tree ripen gradually, generally from the sunnier areas to the shady side and from top to bottom, so you can be very selective and harvest only those that are at the peak of their excellence. If you have no harvesting experience or if you are trying out a new variety, a little trial and error will give you all the information you need to determine when to lift that apple off the tree. And that, by the way, is an excellent method of determining when many apples are ready for picking, just lift the fruit sideways. Many apples, if they are ready for harvest, will then detach from the bud. If an apple puts up a fight, leave it there. Try not to pull the bud off the branch because that is where next year’s apples will come from.

At this point it may appear that the little stem is just holding the apple to the tree and is waiting to dry enough to let go, but do an experiment. Note the difference in temperature of a just-picked apple to one that’s been off the tree for some time. There’s a lot going on inside that skinny brown stem.

Do Apples Ripen After Picking?

Apples continue to ripen after they leave the tree. When fully ripe they become mealy. Many people prefer to eat them prior to that, and some prefer them even more green. The taste of an apple changes as it matures, and this may become a factor when using them for drying, for applesauce or cider, or in recipes. Every variety is different, and the only way to determine what you and your family prefer is to experience them in different ways.

Many apples will begin drying out immediately after picking and some may lose their quality in just days. The store fruit that we are accustomed to has been waxed to keep its moisture level sealed. With your trees, selective harvesting is good.

The following list of varieties were chosen to give a long window of ripening fruit in Fortuna. These were chosen mostly for fresh eating (from late July until Christmas!) and the making of applesauce:

  • Gravenstein. Ripens mid summer. Good for applesauce and baking. Crisp, juicy, flavorful, tart. Does not keep well.
  • Gala. Late summer, early fall. Wonderful dessert apple from New Zealand. Crisp, nice blend of sweetness and tartness, rich flavor.
  • Golden Delicious. Early fall. Long-time favorite for its sweetness and flavor. Pick only what you can eat in a week, this apple dries out quickly after picking.
  • Jonagold. Mid fall and a Humboldt County star. Superb flavor and connoisseurs’ choice. Crisp, juicy, sub-acid, all-purpose apple.
  • Fuji. Late fall. California’s favorite apple and from Japan. Sweet, very crisp and flavorful, and an excellent keeper.
  • Braeburn. Late fall. Superb late season fruit: very crisp and tangy, more flavorful than Granny Smith. Excellent keeper. Throw a cover over the tree if faced with a hard December freeze, the fruit will turn to mush below 25°F.
  • Waltana. Late fall. This one also needs protection against freezing, but the taste and versatility of this apple have earned it a place in the little orchard. Another good keeper.

According to this short list, early apples do not store well, while late apples are excellent keepers. This holds true for most varieties.

Apple Storage

A hundred years ago, apples grown here on the coast were packed in sawdust-filled barrels and shipped off to San Francisco by steamer. Closer to home, we would pack apples in newspaper and store them in the root cellar. But since it is so convenient to purchase food from the store, even the phrase ‘root cellar’ has pretty much disappeared from modern usage. The last two we built (in Michigan) consisted of sections of drain pipe three feet in diameter and five feet long that we had had sunk into a hillside. They had wooden lids and were lower in the back for drainage. We used them mostly to store boxes of root crops, and when the ground froze hard we would cover the lids with hay bales so we could still have access to our food supply during the coldest part of the winter.

But root cellars are not a good option here on the coast because of our copious amounts of rain and the high winter water table. But then, neither are coolers that rely on electricity. You could store your apple harvest in a cool garage or a shaded outbuilding. Try to keep them cool and moist while keeping the funguses at bay.

Apples today are shipped in boxes with cardboard separators that look like an oversized egg carton. That’s what we like to use. The grocery store disposes of those, ask and ye shall receive. These are ideal for storage since they keep the apples from touching. Use only ‘perfect’ apples for storage. Store them flat and in single layers, stacking them makes inspection too difficult. Remove immediately any fruit that shows signs of spoilage, and clean up any liquids. We’ve been able to keep a few until mid-January.

NEXT: Back to the Introduction.

Cooking For Engineers

One question that I keep getting asked (and that I keep asking myself when standing in the produce section of the market) is whether or not a particular type of fruit will ripen at home. It turns out there are only a handful of fruits which get sweeter after being picked: apples, bananas, kiwifruit, mangoes, and pears. There are a dozen additional fruits that continue to ripen (through aroma or textural changes) and all the rest do not. I put together the following chart listing the fruits which do ripen after being picked as well as those which do not from a variety of sources including but not limited to On Food and Cooking, Cookwise, Modernist Cuisine, and The Science of Good Food.
Like most things we try to classify one way or the other, there tend to be some exceptions or outliers. Apples, for example, ripen after being picked and increase in not just sweetness but also get softer over time. Most people prefer apples underripe (since the varieties generally eaten uncooked tend to be fairly sweet right off the tree) and do not prefer them at full ripeness due to how soft (and mealy) the flesh becomes. (Because apples do ripen after harvesting and we don’t often allow them to reach full ripeness, if you’ve got an apple in your house, it’s probably in the process of ripening and therefore outgassing carbon dioxide and ethylene. The latter gas – for reasons not yet fully understood – will trigger and speed up ripening processes in other fruits which can be ripened after picking – see chart below). Another example is the pineapple (a fruit that doesn’t ripen after harvest) which does change color after being picked but does not get sweeter or develop a stronger aroma. For this reason, they should be selected not by how golden the skin is but by how fragrant it is.
Since fruits which ripen release ethylene gas, they should not be stored with or near vegetables. The ethylene will cause most vegetables to spoil faster. (Many vegetables can be heat treated – by blanching in boiling water for a minute or two – which deactivates the enzymes which cause wilting and spoilage. It is possible that heat treating could prevent spoilage from ethylene exposure, but I have not found any documentation of this and have not performed the experiment yet.)
Conventional wisdom states that fruits which are ripened on the plant will be superior to those picked early (and possibly ripened later if it is one of those lucky fruits that can continue to ripen). There is much truth in this, but again there are some interesting exceptions. The first is the avocado which does not ripen on the tree at all. This is one fruit which has to be picked (or fall off the tree) to begin ripening. I was surprised to learn during my research that Modernist Cuisine claims pears also do not ripen on the tree. This is not technically true as pears do ripen on the tree but many varieties do not taste good when tree-ripened with particular complaints regarding off-flavors. Pears are one of the few fruits which are best ripened off the tree. Bananas are another interesting case as it is the ultimate example of ripening after harvest – bananas improve in every aspect (sweetness, color, aroma, and texture) dramatically when ripened at home and, by all accounts, is as good as when plant-ripened.
Fruits that ripen after being picked can have their ripening processes accelerated easily in two ways: heat and ethylene. Keeping fruits in a warm environment will ripen the fruit by accelerating the activity of the ripening enzymes. This process speeds up until the temperature rises past that at which the enzymes remain intact (which is lower for fruits from colder weather regions and higher in tropical fruits). This can also increase the rate of spoilage as surface bacteria and microorganisms will generally thrive in warm temperatures up to the deactivation temperature of the enzymes. Washing the fruit with a fruit wash is advisable before attempting to heat ripen it.
Ethylene gas ripening is probably easier since all it takes is an ethylene producer (the fruit itself will work, but an apple is even better). Simply place the fruits in a paper bag with the top folded over. This creates an environment which allows some airflow but will increase the concentration of ethylene gas around the fruit. When fruits which will ripen after harvest are exposed to a high ethylene concentration, ripening is promoted.
In this chart, I have listed fruits in alphabetic order after separating them into two sections. The first section contains those which ripen after harvesting (and can be assumed to produce ethylene gas until fully ripe). The second section lists fruits known to not ripen after being picked (a few of these fruits may change colors but they do not actually ripen). For the fruits that continue to ripen, I have marked which characteristics increase while ripening – sweetness, scent, and/or softness.

Fruit Sweetness Scent Softness
Fruits Which Ripen After Harvest
Apples X X X
Apricots X X
Avocados X X
Bananas X X X
Blueberries X X
Cantaloupes X X
Cherimoyas X X
Figs X X
Guavas X X
Honeydews X X
Kiwifruit X X X
Nectarines X X
Mangoes X X X
Papayas X X
Passion Fruits X X
Peaches X X
Pears X X X
Persimmons X X
Plums X X
Raspberries X X
Tomatoes X X
Fruits Which Do Not Ripen After Harvest
Black Currants
Red Currants

I did find some conflicting information on cherimoyas with some sources claiming they get sweeter and others claiming they do not. I decided to list it as a fruit which does not get sweeter after being picked because that’s how it is listed in On Food and Cooking.}?>


Apple picking season is right around the corner, time to brush up on how to tell when apples are ripe and ready to pick.

fall apples, variety unknown – Manitoba

I know it’s alarming when apples start dropping, but having several apples fall before they are actually ripe for picking is normal. Do not be alarmed and feel that you need to harvest the entire tree right away. In fact, not all of your apples will be ready at the same time. Typically apples along the outer edges of the tree will ripen before those towards the center of the tree.

Ideally, you would pick apples on more than one day, covering a span of one to two weeks. Picking in this manner will ensure you get consistently ripe apples, but it is not necessarily the most efficient way of picking.

If you’d like to have one large pick in order to make juice, apples sauce, preserves or confectioneries, it’s okay to have a mix of overripe, underripe and just right apples. For this type of picking, you want to pick when the majority of apples are perfectly ripe.

Goodland apples – Manitoba

Here are five tips from the Prairie Fruit Cookbook on how to tell if your apples are ripe for picking.

1. Variety

Knowing the variety of apple you have can help you narrow down when you should start to consider whether or not your apples need picking. Apples and crab apples can typically be classified as early summer (July to mid August), mid-summer (mid-August to early September) or fall apples (mid-September to October).

If you don’t know the variety, no problem, there are plenty of other ways to judge ripeness. Just don’t be swayed by whether or not your neighbours are picking their apple tree. You may have a different variety and just because they’re picking, doesn’t mean you should!

Start keeping tabs on your apple tree and soon you’ll get a sense of when your apples are typically ready to harvest. Although, some years there can be up to 3 to 4 week differences in harvest times.

Fall apples, variety unkown – Manitoba

Did you know that some apples are best when picked after a frost? You bet! These red fall apples (variety may be a Haralson or Frostbite from the Univeristy of Minnesota) are super sweet and store really well, but aren’t harvested until mid-October.
These Goodland apples are often ready towards late August. They should be yellow with a blush of red.

Goodland Apples – Manitoba

These rescue crab apples are one of the first to ripen in early August. The ones here are over ripe and have become grainy, but still good for juicing.

Rescue crab apples – early summer Manitoba

2. Color

Look carefully at the color of your apples, especially the base or ground color – it may be green, creamy or yellow. Watch it change as the apples mature and wait for the entire apple to change. Unless you have a green apple variety like Granny Smith, most apples will turn a softer shade of green or even a creamy yellow when they’re fully ripe.

Here’s what our Prairie Sensation apples look like in early July. They’re a good size and have the start of a red blush, but the base color is much too green.

Prairie Sensation – not ripe

In late August last year, this same apple variety looked like this. Quite a difference, but if you’re not patient enough, you’d miss out on this transformation and would assume you have a tart green apple instead of the sweet delicious red apple you could enjoy if you wait.

Prairie Sensation – ripe

3. Ease of Separation from Tree

Prairie Sensation – Manitoba

Ripe apples come off a tree quite easily – they don’t need to be tugged or pulled. Simply hold the bottom of the apple, lift it against the stem and twist. If it doesn’t come off easily, it’s not ripe.

4. Flavor

Unless you have a crab apple or a tart apple variety, your apples should not be sour and make you make a face like my boy did when I asked him to “taste test” our unripe apples! It’s amazing how much sweeter your apples will become with a couple of days of sunshine.

But don’t wait too long! If you’re apples seem mealy, they’re over ripe.

5. Pip Color

Pick an apple and slice it open to see what color the pips or seeds are. A ripe apple, no matter what size or variety, will have dark brown pips. Here’s the pips in one of our apples that fell off the tree mid-July. Notice that one seed is just starting to turn brown while the two beside it are still white. Even though the apple fell off the tree, it is no where near being ripe enough to pick.

Keep testing and tasting your apples, after a couple of seasons, you’ll know just what to look for.

In the mood to pick some apples, but don’t have your own apple tree? Check out Fruit Share or similar fruit rescuing organizations throughout Manitoba, Canada and the US that match up people interested in picking fruit with people who have too much fruit in their back yard. Pick, share and enjoy the bounty!

Sign up to get articles by Getty delivered to your inbox. You’ll get recipes, practical tips and great food information like this. Getty is a Professional Home Economist, speaker and writer putting good food on tables and agendas. She is the author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, a mom and veggie gardener.

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