When to Harvest Apples for Best Quality?

When to harvest apples for the best quality is a question on the minds of apple farmers now. How will we know? Do we grab a magic eight ball?

Photo credit Angell

We want our apples to have the best eating quality, so we go to a lot of trouble to be sure about our harvest dates.

Scientific Methods For Assessment

We use the calendar to help us get a general idea for when we’ll start to harvest. In the spring, when the apple trees are in full bloom, we record the date. From there, we track the number of days after full bloom (DAFB).

Photo credit Angell

Our fieldman, Tom starts checking our fruit on a regular basis within that 5 to 20-day spread between the average harvest date and the optimal harvest date using the DAFB number. He grabs a sample from different locations in our orchard to get an overall assessment of readiness. After he collects several bags of apples he takes them back to the shed to do multiple tests: starch, pressure, soluble solids concentration, acidity, ethylene measurement, DA meter.

Tom gave us the green light to start picking!

Tom is looking at firmness, starch content, sugar levels, and background color.

The apple on the left with the green background isn’t ready yet. We can pick the apple on the right.

Background color changes from green to a straw color as the fruit reaches the perfect ripeness. Starch and sugar have an inverse relationship. Starch converts to sugar as the fruit ripens. So, the riper the fruit, the more sugar, and the less starch. Apples also lose pressure as they mature. As consumers, we all want sugar content, acidity, flavor, aroma, texture, and potential storage life. Fruit that has hung on the tree too long will not store as well for long periods. It is science!

Note: The chalky covering on these apples is an ultra-fine clay material we mix with water and spray on the fruit, trees and all, to help prevent sunburn. It is an organic sunscreen. The clay easily washes off during the packing/sorting process.

Harvesting has begun. We have skilled pickers that handle the fruit carefully to preserve the quality of the apples. Sweetangos are just one of the high-value organic apples we harvest. When we finish the block by our house, the crew will move to our high country blocks in the Boyd District.

Old Fashioned Methods For Assessment

I picked an apple for Grandpa. He’s an enthusiastic apple tester, so I’ll go to him for an old fashioned method of assessing our apples’ readiness. This Sweetango is his first apple from the 2020 crop.

He pretends to be still testing the apple for a taste report, but I can tell he’s enjoying himself! After its all gone, core too with just a few seeds and stem, he reports it was a delicious experience. He highly recommends it.

So there you have it!