I love apples and at this time of year I'm keen to pick and eat one fresh from the tree. Different apple varieties ripen at different times, so knowing how to tell when the fruit is ready to pick is essential if I'm to eat, or store, them at their best.
Depending on the variety of apple tree, the sort of summer we have had and where you live, apples are ready to pick from August to December.
When is an apple ready to pick?
Clues to ripeness
- Colour – of course, different apples have different colours, but the colour of a ripe apple looks, well, ripe! And on the inside, pips are brown not white or green and the flesh is a creamy rather than a greeny colour. The apple above is changing colour as it ripens but it is not ready yet.
- Smell – ripe apples smell of apples, unripe ones have very little scent.
- Touch – an apple is very slightly softer when ripe and juicy than when unripe.
- Taste – ripe apples are juicy; some are sweeter than others so sweetness isn’t the only indicator.
- Falling! – ripe apples will fall, but so will damaged ones. Cut a fallen apple in half to find out how juicy it is and see if the pips are brown.
If you think your apples are ripe, use the hands on test.
Put your cupped hand under the fruit, lift and very gently twist. If the apple doesn't come away easily in your hand, then it's not ready to harvest. As soon as one comes away easily, check others and get picking! If one doesn’t come away easily but you think (hope) some fruit is ripe gently try another in a sunnier part of the tree (apples will ripen sooner on the outside and the sunny side of trees than in the shade). If none come away easily – wait and keep an eye on how the colours, scent and touch change.
I hate to see apples rotting under trees. I know picking and storing is time consuming, but apples are such a versatile fruit and apple puddings in the winter are a treat. So why not store some? Advice on how to do it is available from specialist nurseries, such as Orange Pippin but here are some tips to start you off.
- Find out the variety - read the information that came with your new tree. Or take an apple to an RHS Identification Day, a specialist fruit nursery or look out for a local Apple Day event (usually in September and October) near you.
- As a rule of thumb, apples that ripen later in the year will store for longer than those which ripen earlier.
- Prepare a space in a cool, dry and frost-free shed, garage or cellar.
- Pick the apples very carefully and, just as carefully, put them into a bucket or basket. In your shed or garage take a good look at each apple, check it over and give it a quick clean with a cloth. Never store bruised or damaged apples: enjoy them now, perhaps with blackberries, and share with friends and neighbours.
- If you can, wrap each apple loosely in newspaper, and lay them out so they don't touch each other in cardboard or wooden boxes, wooden seed boxes or a purpose-built apple store. Ideally, make sure air can circulate around them by raising the boxes off the floor or shelf.
- Check them every few weeks during the winter months to quickly remove any which show signs of rotting or damage.
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