Apples often look ready to pick earlier than they actually are. Picking apples at the right time is not only important to get the highest quality, best tasting fruit, but also to maximize the storage life of your backyard apples by up to six months.
Not all apples will ripen at the same time. The variety of apple, and the local weather conditions are two of the biggest factors in determining when your apples will become ripe, but there are a few good indicators to look out for to determine whether your apples are at peak ripeness and ready to be harvested.
Colour Of The Apples
The colour of the apple skin can sometimes indicate whether the apple is mature. I say sometimes, because certain varieties of apples, like Red Delicious, will become red before they are fully ripe. But in general, the colour of the apple skin will change from a pale green to red as it matures – unless you have a green or yellow skinned variety like Granny Smith.
For apple varieties that are not solid red at maturity, look for the green ‘ground colour’ to change to a lighter green or pale yellow. The ground colour is the colour of the skin at stem cavity or indentation.
Location On The Tree
The location of the apple on the tree can also determine when the apple will ripen. Apples on the outer edge of the apple tree will mature quicker than those towards the centre of the canopy, and from top to bottom where the apples receive more sunlight. As well, apples on the south facing side of the tree will ripen quicker than those on the north side of the tree.
So if you find a few ripe apples, don’t assume they are all ripe and harvest the entire tree. Selectively pick the apples as they become ripe over the next few weeks. They will taste better and store longer if you let them mature on the tree.
Ease of Separation
As apples ripen on the tree they start producing ethylene, a ripening hormone that triggers the production of enzymes that break down the complex sugars in the stem and help loosen the stem from the branch to help free the apple from the tree when you go to pick it.
Ripe apples come off the tree quite easily. Grab an apple, lift it up against the stem and twist. If it does not come off easily, it is not ripe. the stem should separate from the branch, not the apple. If the stem broke from apple, it is not ripe.
Not all apples that come off the branch easily when twisted are fully ripe. Some varieties, like McIntosh are prone to ‘pre-harvest drop’, and start falling off the tree before they become fully ripe.
Apples Falling From The Tree
Healthy apples will naturally fall from a healthy apple tree as they ripen, so this can be a good indicator of apples that are mature and ready to be picked.
Unhealthy apples can fall from the tree at any time as they begin to rot from pests or diseases.
Sometimes healthy apples will fall from the tree before they are mature and ready to be harvested. Read our guide to determine the cause of falling apples on your apple tree, and what you can do about it.
Dark Brown Seeds
In general, most apple seeds – or ‘pips’ – will turn dark brown as the apple ripens. Pick an apple with good colour and that easily separates from the tree and cut it open. If the seeds are brown, most likely the apple is mature.
Again, this depends on the variety. Some apple cultivars will have brown seeds weeks before the apple is ready to be picked, while other early season apple cultivars could have white seeds up to 3 weeks after the apple is fully ripe and ready to be harvested.
While the apple is cut open, look at the flesh. As the apple ripens, the flesh will turn from white with a green tint to full white. The texture will be softer when squeezed, but still retain its firmness.
If your are still unsure of whether your apple is ripe and ready to pick, the simplest and most common method is the taste test. Taste the apple – the flesh should be sweet and firm, but soft – unless you have a tart apple variety.
As the apple ripens, it converts starches into sugars. If the apple tastes starchy, it is not ready to be harvested. On the other hand, a mushy or mealy texture indicates the apples are over-ripe and should be harvested and used quickly as the storage life will be greatly diminished.
Iodine Starch Test
A more scientific approach to determining whether your apples are ripe is to use an iodine starch test. An iodine solution is sprayed on to the cut surface of the apple flesh that will react and stain the starches a blue-black colour.
As apples ripen, the starches convert to sugars, so a dark blue-black flesh is unripe and is still full of starch, while a ripe apple’s flesh will stay mostly white. The ripeness on an iodine starch test is rated on a scale of 1-8. 1 being 100% blue-black staining – full of starch, and 8 being zero staining – free of starch and fully ripe.
How to Store Ripe Apples
Storing apples you’ve just harvested the right way can increase their storage life by up to six months. Apples emit ethylene gas as they ripen, so be sure to remove any damaged or diseased apples, as they can literally spoil the bunch.
Apples should be stored in plastic bags with a few air holes. The air holes will allow the ethylene gas to escape the bag while holding in as much moisture as possible without it condensing on the skin.
Place the plastic bag of apples in the refrigerator, garage, basement or cellar where temperatures are between 34-40 degrees F (1-5 degrees C). The cooler temperature allows most apple cultivars to be stored up to six months. Don’t let the apples freeze, they will not store well.
Fun Fact: Apples stored at 50 degrees F (10 degrees C) will ripen four times faster than apples stored at 34 degrees F (1 degree C).
With these 7 indicators you should be able to easily identify when most varieties of apples are at their peak ripeness and quality, and harvest accordingly for the longest storage life.