How do you harvest an apple?

Does that seem like a stupid question? I mean, you just grab the tree right?

In fact, there are a few considerations to consider before reaching for this lovely fall fruit.

A vertical image of a box of freshly picked red and green apples with a soft focus basket in the background, shown in bright sunshine. There is text printed in green and white in the center and at the bottom of the frame.

Especially if you're hoping for a harvest of crispy, tasty apples instead of those that are mouth-numbing tart, or even floury and tasteless.

In order for your harvest to ripen perfectly, you want to know exactly when your apples are ripe and the intricacies of the actual picking process.

I will cover the following:

Estimate your harvest window

I'll explain how to assess ripeness later in this article, but before your trees even bear fruit, it's helpful to have a harvest window in mind, a rough estimate of when a particular tree will be ready to be harvested from.

A horizontal image of an orchard of trees laden with ripe red fruit ready for harvest, with a lawn setting.

There are a few factors that can affect when your crop is ready to be harvested. The harvest times of apples are influenced by the ripening times of the varieties and the weather conditions of the year, as well as the amount harvested.

Let me explain:

Ripening times of the varieties

Just like that vegetables In your summer garden, different varieties will produce ripe fruit at different rates, with some requiring less growing time and others more.

Some varieties ripen as early as July in places with a mild climate, with the newest varieties ripening in October or November. Here is a general idea of ​​the ripening times to ripen along with some examples:

  • Very early varieties ripen from July through August and include varieties such as Lodi, Pristine, and William & # 39; s Pride.
  • Early varieties ripen from August through September and include Ginger Gold, Paulared, and Sansa.
  • Mid-season varieties ripen from September to October. These include "Gala", "Liberty" and "McIntosh".
  • Late season varieties ripen from October through November and include Cameo, Fuji, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith.

Please note that the above ripening times may not be correct if you live in a location where spring is very late.

A close horizontal image of ripe red fruit ready to harvest on a tree with green and orange leaves.

When buying an apple tree, the seller should provide information about the expected time of ripening and whether your tree is very early, early, mid-season, or late.

Write this information in Your garden journal So that you have a handy reference available – especially if you are planning to grow your own small orchard.

Once you are familiar with your tree, you can take notes on the actual ripening times and refer to this information in the years to come.

A close horizontal image of clusters of ripe, red fruits ready to be picked, surrounded by green foliage, depicted on a soft focus blue sky background.

In addition, your local county extension may be able to provide more accurate information on when different varieties in your area typically reach maturity.

You can find your local branch office via the Directory of the USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Weather conditions

Year-round weather conditions can affect when your fruit is ripe. So this is an additional factor to consider when assessing the completion of your harvest.

A horizontal image of rows of fruit trees growing in an orchard, with grass between them, shown with clouds forming in the background.

If the spring, summer, or fall weather is warmer than usual, your apples may ripen faster than estimates suggest or than in years past.

On the other hand, your harvest may ripen a little slower in years when the weather is cooler than average in a certain season or season. This can lead to deviations in the harvest times of a week or more year by year.

Crop load

Another factor that influences the estimated ripening times is the stress on your tree, i.e. whether you have a lot of fruit on the tree or whether the yields are low.

A close horizontal image of a tree with a huge harvest of red ripe fruit ready to be picked, surrounded by green foliage displayed on a soft focus background.

Fruit on trees with a heavy Harvest volume will ripen later as the trees are busy sending resources to more individual apples. With fewer fruits developing, trees with less harvest can ripen their apples faster.

So take a look at your tree and consider its harvest quantity when trying to estimate your harvest time. This information can be especially useful when comparing harvest windows from year to year.

Assessment of maturity and maturity

Before you start harvesting, you want to know if your apples are ready to eat – but there is actually a difference between fully ripe and ripe apples.

Ripe apples are sweet and can be eaten straight off the tree, but they don't last that long.

A close horizontal image of a ripe red fruit, covered with water droplets hanging from the tree, pictured in bright autumn sunshine on a soft focus green background.

Ripe fruits are sweeter than fruits that are simply ripe and can be used for short term fresh food and of course for baking and preservation projects.

Ripe fruits, on the other hand, can also be consumed fresh, but are still a little underripe. These have a tart taste and a slightly stronger mouthfeel than fully ripe fruits.

Apples continue to ripen after harvest and, if properly stored, hold up well for long-term storage.

When you pick your crop, you want the fruit to be at least ripe, if not ripe, depending on what it's used for. Or you could pick some that are ripe and some that are just mature, possibly from the same tree at the same time.

Professional growers test their crops for maturity at least two weeks Before the expected harvest time, examine the fruit color, firmness and starch content. I will briefly describe how to assess these factors.

The pros have a few other tricks up their sleeves as it comes down to bringing big crops to market, such as: Starch iodine test.

In this article, however, I am going to focus on tests that are readily available for the home grower and only have your senses of sight, touch, and taste.

A close horizontal image of an orchard of trees with lots of ripe red fruits ready to be picked, shown in bright autumn sunshine, with trees and a soft focus blue sky in the background.

Fruit doesn't usually ripen at the same rate all over the tree. It will ripen first on the south side So start there when testing your fruit for ripeness.

Another thing to note is that there is one optimal harvest window This takes more or less between a week and ten days. So it's important to take care of your trees and start assessing maturity as soon as possible.

Background color

While your vision isn't the only sense you should be using in assessing your harvest for maturity, this is an excellent starting point.

Examine one of the apples on your tree. Does it have a mix of green and red color on your skin?

If you ignore the red areas of the skin, the color that remains is that Background color. When many varieties mature, their background color changes from green to yellowish green or golden.

A close horizontal image of a ripe, ripening apple with yellow and red skin surrounded by bright green foliage, depicted in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.

With solid red varieties, you may see a background color on the shaded side of the fruit, as red pigments are more concentrated on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun.

While this test will not work without problems for all strains, especially those that are still green when ripe, it is relevant and a good place to start for many of them.

When apples are overripe, their skins look dull.

As with our fellow human beings, however, it is important not to judge your apples just by skin color. For example, "Red Delicious" can turn red before reaching full maturity.

Read on to learn what steps to take next!


Your next step in deciding whether your apples are ready to be harvested is to use your hands: feel one or two.

Ripe fruits should feel firm to the touch, but not rock hard.

A close horizontal image of a hand from the left side of the frame holding a fruit hanging from a tree to see if it is ready to be harvested. In the background there is a soft focus of leaves.

Firmness can be difficult to judge until you get through the taste test. If you are not sure whether the fruit is too hard to the touch or not, wait until the taste test to make your final decision.

On the other end of the spectrum, apples that are soft when pressed are overripe and should be picked and used immediately. When they're too ripe to eat, they can be composted.

Stem test

If your apples look like they are the right color and are firm, now is the time for a strain test.

Pick an apple on the south side of your tree and gently rotate it.

A close horizontal image of a hand from the bottom of the frame holding a ripe red fruit to test for ripeness. In the background there is a soft focus of leaves and the picture is shown in bright autumn sunshine.

Does it come off easily or does it resist?

Fruits that are ripe should lose weight easily From the tree.

If the apple doesn't come loose without forcing it, your harvest isn't done yet.

Flesh colors

Now, when you have a fruit in hand that has successfully passed the background color, firmness, and stem tests, get ready to cut it in half.

You can also examine the color of the flesh to gauge ripeness by selecting one and slicing it open.

A close-up vertical image of a hand from the right side of the frame holding a fruit cut in half by its stem, depicted in bright sunshine on a soft focus green background.

Apples that are not fully ripe have a greenish tinge to the flesh. If the meat is greenish in color, come back and do another test in a few days.

Ripe apples, on the other hand, have flesh that in many cases looks white or something has a yellowish tinge.

Taste test

Now comes the fun part – it's time to use your sense of taste to look for the tell-tale taste of your selected strains to indicate maturity or maturity.

Take a bite out of the fruit you just picked.

Here is your second chance to evaluate strength. If it's too hard to bite into, your crop isn't ready to pick.

A close horizontal image of a person sitting in a chair in the garden using a knife to cut pieces from a freshly harvested yellow fruit, shown in brightly filtered sunshine with soft focus grass in the background.

If it passes the strength test, the next question to ask yourself is, does it make your mouth wrinkle? If so, they are still a little immature.

In addition to being tart, unripe fruits are astringent and give your mouth that puckery feel. They also have a texture that can make you feel like you have cotton in your mouth.

A ripe apple should feel crispy in your mouth instead of cotton.

Together with crispy, ripe apples will be slightly starchybut you should find the taste pleasant, as opposed to the strength of those that are immature.

When these fruits ripen, their starches turn into sugar. So if all you have is strength and no sweetness, you will need more time on the tree.

On the other hand, if the taste you are experiencing is quite sweet, it is overripe and now ripe and ready to enjoy for fresh food.

A close horizontal image of freshly harvested apples on a wooden surface. One or two bitten off a piece that was depicted on a soft focus background in bright sunshine.

When your apple is at the right level or ripeness, pick a few more and test them as well before harvesting them from the entire tree.

Fruit doesn't always ripen at once – that Side that gets the most sun ripens faster – so you may need to harvest your crops in batches over a week or so.

Picking time

Once your harvest is ripe or ripe, depending on your preference, it's time to start harvesting!

Pick up an apple and gently twist it to remove it from the tree. Make sure this a gentle processso that you can detach the apple and its trunk from the tree without pulling branches from the tree.

A horizontal close-up image of a hand, from the left side of the frame, holding an apple belonging to a cluster to check that it is ready to be harvested. In the background there is a soft focus of leaves.

Gently place your crop in a bowl, basket, box, or bag during harvest. I use stainless steel bowls, flat cardboard boxes or reusable plastic bags to harvest from my fruit trees, depending on the quantity.

There are harvest bags available for purchase which make the process even easier. You can place one over your shoulder or across your body and drop your crop straight into the bag.

A close-up square image of a harvest bag in black depicted on a white background.

Harvest and collection bag

This harvest and collection bag, available from Lehmanis particularly well designed.

It is made of waxed canvas and has a long strap so you can wear it over your body. Another particularly nice feature is that you can unload your harvest from the bottom of the bag.

If your tree is large, you may need the help of a ladder to reach the fruit that hangs from the tallest branches.

A vertical image of an orchard with a wooden ladder set up against a tree with green gardening gloves on the top rung. In the background is lawn and a brick fence.

This is where the long strapped harvest sack will come in handy.

You can toss it all over your body, climb up the ladder, and hold it with one hand while you pick apples and drop it into your pocket with the other hand.

Of course, as with any use of a ladder, it is a good safety measure to have a second person stabilize the ladder as you climb and possibly prepare to catch you if you fall – in case you lose your balance. Hey, it happens to the best of us!

A horizontal close-up image of a telescopic harvester to help remove fruit from the top of a large tree. In the background, ripe fruits and leaves are shown in soft focus in light sunshine.

Alternatively, you can also try a fruit picking tool that is safe to use on the ground.

Some fruit pickers have telescopic poles that allow you to adjust them to different heights, such as: B. this stainless steel fruit picker from Fly Hawk. available from Amazon.

Stainless steel fruit picker

When picking apples, be careful not to injure or damage them, otherwise they will spoil faster.

Only flawless fruits should be stored for a long time. To learn more about the best ways to store apples, check out our article – soon!

A horizontal close-up image of a single fruit hanging from the tree suffering from a disease that has caused black spots on the skin, presented in light filtered sunshine on a soft focus background.

Apples that are not suitable for storage can be eaten fresh, made into juice or canned, dehydrated, or added to baked goods. Keep them in the sharper drawer of your refrigerator until you're ready to eat or process them.


Now that you know the ideal way for your apple harvest to go, it is good to be prepared for occasions when it doesn't go exactly as planned, such as: B. if fruit falls prematurely or before you have time to pick it, or in case frost hits your crop before harvest.

Fallen apples

While apples falling from the tree are often an indication of full ripeness, there are other reasons they might fall from the tree prematurely, such as: B. a moth infestation.

A horizontal image of a large number of fallen fruit in an orchard rotting on the ground, shown on a soft focus background.

Unripe apples are inedible and will cause your mouth to pucker when you try to eat them. These do not ripen after the harvest.

Instead of using mine as food, I feed them to my sheep and donkeys as a treat – they don't seem to interfere with the astringent taste.

These unripe fruits can also be composted.

On the other hand, when I find ripe apples on the floor, I sort them and save those that are in good shape to use in the kitchen.

I cut out damaged parts and use the rest for baking projects or turning into canned foods.

Frost and frost

So what do you do when your apples are still on the tree but not yet ripened and freezing temperatures are on the way?

Apples can tolerate light frosts, as they are first to freeze Temperatures drop up to 29 ° F.

A close horizontal image of a branch of a tree with three red ripe fruits covered with a dust of frost, pictured in bright sunshine on a soft focus background.

If they are not fully ripe in a light frost, leave them on the tree so they can continue to ripen.

However, if the weather forecast shows a severe frost and temperatures drop to 29 ° F or less, your crops are at risk of being damaged.

When your harvest is ripe, pluck as much as you can before freezing.

However, if the weather forecast predicts low temperatures right at 29 ° F, check out the hourly forecast. If the weather is likely to only briefly drop to this temperature, your crop may be able to withstand it. It is prolonged exposure at or below this temperature that causes damage.

At my location in arid Intermountain West, the coldest night temperatures are usually in the morning just before sunrise and they don't take long before the sun starts to warm things up again.

If you find yourself in a similar situation with your apple harvest and are at risk of very brief exposure to 29 ° F, consider leaving your fruit on the tree to continue to ripen.

A horizontal image of the branch of a tree with two fruits going bad as a result of the severe frost that covers them, shown in light sunshine. In the background there is a soft focus of leaves.

If your harvest is hit by a hard frost at or at full maturity, the fruit can be saved.

Wait for the air temperatures to warm up again before harvesting the fruits. Since ice crystals can form in apples and damage their cells, they will not withstand storage and should be used as soon as possible.

These fruits are best used in applesauce or a similar preparation where texture is not that important.

A close horizontal image of jars that contain freshly homemade apple sauce with autumn leaves scattered around and a wicker basket of fruit in the background.

If you miss your apple harvest year after year due to severe frosts, you likely have a variety that is too slow to ripen for your climate.

To ensure your harvest has enough time to mature, Choose a variety more suitable for your location.

A good place to find suggestions for varieties for your specific location is with your local County Extension Office.

Sweet for the harvest

Since there are a few details you need to consider before you start making your choice, here is a brief overview:

Start with a good idea of ​​when your harvest should be ready. Check your strain's estimated time to ripen, consider the weather, and consider your harvest volume.

When you're ready to test an apple for ripeness, examine the color of both the skin and flesh, squeeze it, do a stem test, and finally let your taste buds make the final decision.

A close horizontal image of a wicker basket, filled with freshly picked ripe apples, placed in a garden scene. In the background, a lawn is covered with soft autumn leaves.

Now that you know how to manage your apple harvest, you have a sweet bounty ready to eat, bake, and prepare for winter. That's what I call the good life!

Have you ever experienced unusual challenges harvesting your apples? Let us know in the comments below!

And for more information about growing apples Check out the following guides in your yard:

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About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on an arid land in the Utah desert. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climatic challenge. She is a certified permaculture designer and environmental consultant in building biology and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dry horticulture and teaches other climate-compatible gardening techniques, and she strives to create gardens that are as many birds and bees as there are edible ones. Kristina prides itself on the fact that every year she spends more money on seeds than on clothes.