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When it’s time to harvest your apples and what you need to look out for

Juicy, ripe apples are hanging from an apple tree. A small boy is picking a red apple. His grandparents are watching on.
When it comes to harvesting apples, there’s a lot you can get right – but there’s also a lot you can get wrong.

Peak season for homegrown fruit in domestic gardens is just as summer has hit its height and is slowly moving towards autumn. Summer apples are ready to be harvested starting in early August, while autumn apples are ready later in the year, starting in early September. The sweet fruits are popular both to grow and eat, which means apple trees are a common fixture in gardens. There are an estimated 30,000 varieties worldwide, but most supermarkets only sell a handful of these. This means it’s even more important to nurture the many unfamiliar varieties found in gardens and orchards. Check out our guide and read our six tips to find out when it’s the right time to harvest your apples, as well as how to store them correctly to make sure they stay fresh for longer.

Tip 1: Many varieties of apple need pruning first.

A branch is being cut off a tree with a pair of secateurs.

Being able to pick delicious apples in your own garden is one of life’s true pleasures. It’s important to prune your apple tree before it flowers each year to make sure that it bears a new crop of the sweet fruits every season, too. Prune it in late winter. The best time to do this is in February or March, depending on the weather and in which country you live. Pruning the tree encourages the shoots to grow and gets it ready for the next harvest season with an abundance of buds. Make pruning easier for yourself by using cordless garden tools. Powerful saws such as the Bosch AdvancedCut or the Bosch UniversalChain 18 cordless chainsaw are perfect for this.

Tip 2: Pruning in the summer can also benefit your apple harvest.

A thin branch is being cut off an apple tree with a pair of secateurs.

If your tree is growing too quickly, you can also prune it in the summer. The best time to do this is between late June and mid-July. At this time of the year, the shoots for most varieties of apple are fully grown and the apple tree is already in the process of creating new flower buds for the following year. So, how does this help? Pruning in the summer slows down growth, ensures that both more light reaches the inside of the crowns and the existing apples ripen better and develop their aroma. You should make sure to remove one-year-old, tall-growing upright shoots, which are also known as water sprouts. Be careful though! Don’t prune too much! And also make sure you’re pruning your tree correctly. You’ll find a few tips about how to prune trees correctly here.

Tip 3: The right time to harvest apples starts in August

The harvest calendar for the most common varieties of apple in European supermarkets

Pruning the apple trees isn’t the only thing that you need to time correctly – you also need to time when you harvest the apples correctly, too. The fruits won’t be sweet if they’re picked too early. If they’re harvested too late, the apples might have a slightly floury taste.

You can see from the harvest calendar (graphic 1) that apples should generally be harvested between late summer and late October. The exact time to harvest them depends on two things. The first one is the weather conditions throughout the entire harvest year, with sunny days being the most important as these have a significant impact on how sweet the apple is. The second thing is the variety of apple. Apples are generally sorted into maturity classes based on when they are ready to be picked and ready to be eaten.

When it comes to storage, keep in mind that most summer apples, such as the Elstar, are edible as soon as they have been harvested and shouldn’t be stored for longer than three weeks. Autumn apples (such as Boskoop) can be stored for longer – approximately six to eight weeks – without losing their taste. Winter apples (such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Jonagold and Gloster) can be stored for the longest amount of time – up to three months can pass before they lose their distinctive aromas.

Tip 4: The trained eye spots the apples that are ready to be picked.

A hand is gripping a ripe apple on an apple tree.
Ripe, red apples are on a table. One of them has been cut in half.
Juicy, ripe apples are hanging from an apple tree.
A hand is gripping a ripe apple on an apple tree.
Ripe, red apples are on a table. One of them has been cut in half.

Just as not every flower on a tree blooms at the same time, not every fruit ripens at the same time either. You can easily determine whether your apples are ready to be picked using our handy criteria below:

 

  1. The colour of the core (image 1): This popular test sees you choosing a few apples at random, cutting them in half and checking whether the cores are brown in colour, meaning they’re ripe. The downside to this method is that early varieties in particular don’t turn brown until a lot later, even though the fruits are already ready to eat.

 

  1. Colour of the skin (image 2): You can also tell how ripe a variety of apple is by keeping an eye on the colour of the skin of the fruit. If the apple’s initial green colour is slowly turning yellowish, for a lot of varieties that means it is ready to be picked. Largely red-skinned apples should be nice and light when they’re harvested and not dark or pale.

 

  1. How easily the fruit can be detached from the branch (image 3): How easily the apple can be detached from the tree can also give you an idea of how ripe the fruit is. To test this, gently rotate the apple upwards in your hand. If it comes away from the branch complete with its stalk, that’s a reliable sign that the apple is ready to be picked.

Tip 5: Harvest your apples correctly to ensure the best quality

Ripe apples are being harvested from a tree with a fruit picker
A woman is picking ripe apples from an apple tree
Ripe apples are being harvested from a tree with a fruit picker
A woman is picking ripe apples from an apple tree

The reward for all your hard work and time spent caring for your apple trees comes in the form of harvesting the fruits. Make sure you separate the undamaged apples from damaged ones as soon as you harvest them so you can store the undamaged ones later. To avoid damaging the buds on the tree while you’re harvesting, gently turn the apple in your hand as you carefully push it up with the entire stalk. The ripe apple should come away from the tree without any resistance. You can make harvesting easier by using an apple harvest bag or a special fruit picker with a telescopic handle (image 2) to reach fruits that are higher up. You always need more than one picking session to get all of the apples from the tree at just the perfect level of ripeness. When harvesting, it’s best to have a specific container ready into which you can put the varieties that you are planning to store. This will avoid bruising them as you won’t have to re-sort them later.

Tips
Tip:
if the sun is shining while you’re harvesting your apples, let them cool down in a dark room before you put them into storage.

Tip 6: If you store your apples correctly, you’ll be able to enjoy them for a long time to come

Ripe apples are being placed into a fruit crate

Keep the following in mind when you store your apples:

1. You should store your apples in a dark, cool place with a constant temperature of around four degrees Celsius. Cellars or garages are particularly good options for this. If you are going to store your apples outside – in a shed, for example – then you must avoid frost.

2. Make sure that the apples get enough air. This will prevent mould from forming. The best way to do this is to store your apples in wooden crates in one layer. This will stop them from touching.

3. Moisture is important as it will stop the apples from drying out. Do this by regularly placing a bowl of water on the fruit crates.

4. Only store apples that still have their stalk, aren’t bruised and don’t show signs of having been eaten by insects or rotting. Any other fruits or fruits that have fallen from the tree of their own accord are best used as an ingredient in something else, such as in apple cake, applesauce or apple juice. And even the fruits that have fallen from the tree of their own accord and rotten apples that can’t be used for sauce, juice or jelly can still serve a purpose – in compost. You can find out more about it here