In autumn, apple trees bear plenty of fruit, but how are apples harvested as undamaged as possible so that they can be stored afterwards? Here are some tips on how to harvest and store apples.
Apples are most peoples favorite fruit. But how can apples actually be harvested and stored properly so that the fruits survive the procedure undamaged and the quality does not suffer? After all, not all apple varieties are suitable for immediate consumption. Apples are divided into two stages of ripeness: ripeness for picking and ripeness for eating. While the so-called summer apples are edible straight from the tree, many late-ripening apples have to be stored for a few weeks after being ripe enough to pick until they have reached their eating ripeness and thus their full aroma. Those who do not have a place to store apples can preserve them by canning or, alternatively, freeze apples.
How can you tell that apples are ripe?
The right time to harvest apples is not so easy to name, because it varies depending on the variety from the beginning of August, for example with summer apples, to the beginning of October with winter apples. The later the picking ripeness is reached, the better the corresponding varieties can usually be stored.
There are two very reliable methods for determining the degree of ripeness of the fruit on the tree:
- The apple hanging from the branch is lifted slightly to one side and carefully rotated about 90 degrees. If it can be detached from the branch without much resistance, it has reached picking ripeness. If not, it is better to let it ripen on the tree for a few more days.
- Pick an apple that looks ripe and cut it lengthwise. When the seeds have already turned completely brown, it is ready for harvest.
Keep in mind that apples on a tree do not all ripen at the same time. While this is a stated cultivation goal for yielding varieties for professional orchards, in order to reduce the number of picking passes as much as possible. However, for older home garden varieties, the ripening period can extend for more than a week. Therefore, when in doubt, spread the harvest over two to three dates. For example, fruit on the side of the crown facing away from the sun usually ripens somewhat later than apples hanging on the south side.
How to harvest storage apples correctly?
Harvest your apples best on a mild day in dry weather, frost and humidity are unfavorable. Do not simply shake the ripe fruit from the tree, but pick the apples one by one, treating specimens intended for storage like raw eggs. Do not squeeze them when picking, and carefully place them in the harvest container so that they do not get bruises. It is not advisable to use narrow, high harvesting containers, because at some point the pressure on the apples at the bottom becomes too great. Soft flat woodchip baskets are best. It is even better to place the freshly picked storage apples close together in so-called fruit crates. These are stackable, airy wooden crates that can be placed on a cellar shelf, for example, to store the fruit. Apples with bruises are not suitable for storage, as the spots brown and the destroyed cell structures are susceptible to rot fungi. Apples with worm infestation or damaged skin should also not be stored, of course, but are best processed straight away into apple juice, jelly or puree.
Tools for harvesting apples
Two extremely practical tools for harvesting apples are special apple pickers with telescopic handles and special ladders. With the best ladder, the two stiles are arranged to form an acute-angled triangle. The rungs become narrower towards the top and the wide spacing at the bottom guarantees a secure footing. In addition, they have a post as a third foot, which is almost exactly as long as the two stiles. This allows you to place the ladder freely without it tipping, and you don’t have to lean it against the apple tree. Only climb the ladder when it is secure, and wear sturdy shoes with good tread so that you don’t slip off the rungs even when wet.
An apple picker allows apples to be harvested from the ground. It has a plastic crown with attached teeth that allow the fruit to be gently released from the branch. Underneath is a small cloth bag into which the apples fall without getting bruises. It is important that you empty the bag first before picking the next apple, as soon as one apple falls on top of the other, pressure marks will appear.
How to properly store apples?
Storing winter apples was quite out of fashion for a long time. However, in the wake of the trend towards self-supply, the classic storage varieties are experiencing a bit of a renaissance. To ensure that stored apples remain edible for as long as possible, you should only use apple varieties that are suitable for winter storage. These are, for example, ‘Cox Orange’, ‘Gala’, ‘Jonagold’, ‘Topaz’, ‘Russet’ or ‘Pilot’.
Thoroughly inspect apples again for rot, wormholes, apple scab, and bruises before putting them into storage to avoid the risk of rot in fruit storage. Although the fungi attack the damaged apples first, they can also spread to the healthy ones if you do not sort out and dispose of the rot later in time. The fruit should be dry when stored. You should not rub them dry, however, because this damages the natural wax layer that protects the fruit from invading fungal spores.
The ideal apple storage is a cool, frost-free cellar with as high humidity as possible. However, garages or garden sheds are also suitable, provided they are in the shade and do not heat up too much in winter sunlight. In addition, the apples there must be well protected from rodents. In the basements of modern houses, one often has the problem that the humidity is very low due to the surrounding concrete walls. If the air is too dry, the fruits lose a lot of moisture and shrink a lot. The skin then becomes wrinkled and the flesh has a rubbery consistency. A couple of set-up bowls of water can often do the trick.
Wooden shelves are best for storing apples, wiped with a vinegar-soaked cloth beforehand and covered with newspaper after drying. It is best to lay the apples out on the shelf with the stem down, without the fruit touching each other. If the fruit must be stored in layers for space reasons, you should place corrugated cardboard between the layers.
Always store apples separately from other fruits or vegetables. The fruits emit the ripening gas ethylene, it also accelerates the ripening process of other fruits and shortens their shelf life. If possible, air the apple store weekly to allow the ethylene to dissipate. Also check the fruit once a week for rot and sort out infested apples.
Diseases of apples in storage
In winter storage, too, there are various diseases which are hardly noticeable at first glance, but which cause the fruit to spoil over time or at least impair its quality.
Bitter pit, similar to apple scab, causes small brown spots on and especially under the apple skin. Unlike scab, however, bitter pit is not a fungal disease, but a metabolic disorder due to calcium deficiency. It mainly affects fruit grown on very acidic soils with a low calcium content. In the case of low infestation, the fruits are still edible when fresh, but cannot be picked up because the bitter pit increases during storage. The flesh loses flavor over time and becomes bitter.
A similar cause is glassiness, a disease that causes the flesh to become watery and translucent under the skin and at the core. It leads to so-called flesh browning in winter storage. To prevent both problems, plant low susceptible varieties such as ‘Idared’ or “Jonathan”, ensure a balance between leaf and fruit mass by pruning the apple tree and do not harvest too late. In professional fruit growing, freshly harvested apples are often subjected to hot water treatment to prevent storage diseases.