The old adage “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away” may not be completely true, but apples are certainly nutritious and are arguably one of America’s favorite fruit. So how do you know when to pick apples and exactly how do you harvest apples and then store them properly?
When to Pick Apples
Harvesting apples at just the right time is key, not only to obtaining the highest quality fruit but also to maximize the storage life. Each variety of apple has its own maturation time and can be dependent upon weather conditions during the growing season. For example, apples will ripen earlier if there is a mild, sunny spring which kick starts the tree’s fruiting cycle early. Because of this, you should gauge harvest time through other indicators rather than a specific date on the calendar. That said, early maturing apples called “summer apples” such as Honeycrisp, Paula Red, and Jonagold reach their peak in August and early September.
First of all, mature apples are firm, crisp, and juicy with good color and a developed flavor characteristic of the variety. In red varieties, the color is not a good indicator of maturity. Red Delicious, for example, will turn red well before the fruit is ripe. Seed color is also not a reliable indicator. Most apple varieties have brown seeds when mature, but the seeds may also brown weeks before it is really time to harvest.
Premature apple picking may lead to fruit that is sour, starchy, and generally unpalatable, while harvesting apples too late results in a soft and mushy fruit. However, if you have a sudden freeze and have not yet picked the apples, as they didn’t seem ready, you may still be able to do so.
Apples freeze at 27-28 degrees F. (-2 C) depending upon the sugar content. Apples high in sugar and ripe fruit freeze at a lower temp. Once the freeze breaks, allow the apples to thaw on the tree. Unless the temperature dipped below 22-23 degrees F. (-5 C) or lasted an extended period of time, it is quite likely the apples will survive for harvesting. Once the apples thaw, inspect them for damage. If they are not browning or softening, harvest immediately.
Apples that have been frozen have a shorter shelf life than their counterparts, so use them as soon as possible.
How to Harvest Apples
If you’re planning on storing the apples, they should be picked when mature, yet hard, with a mature skin color but a hard flesh. Gently remove the apples from the tree, keeping the stem intact. Sort through the apple harvest and remove any apples that have insect erosion or signs of disease.
Separate the apples by size and use the largest apples first, as they do not store as well as smaller ones. Apples that show signs of damage can be used immediately after cutting off the spoiled bit, either eaten fresh or cooked down.
Post Harvest Apple Storing
Apples should be stored between 30-32 degrees F. (-1 to 0 C), especially if you want to store them for an extended period of time. Apples stored at 50 degrees F. (10 C.) will ripen four times as fast as those at 32 degrees F. (0 C.). Most cultivars will store for six months at this temperature. Store the apples in baskets or boxes lined with foil or plastic to aid in moisture retention.
It’s very important to sort the apples prior to storage. The saying “one bad apple spoils the barrel” is true. Apples emit ethylene gas, which hastens ripening. Damaged apples give off ethylene more quickly and can literally cause a batch to spoil. You may also want to keep some distance between stored apples and other produce, as the ethylene gas will accelerate the ripening of other fruits and vegetables. If apples are stored in plastic bags, be sure to poke some holes in them so the gas can filter out.
Relative humidity is also an important factor in the storage of apples and should be between 90-95 percent. A cellar, basement, or unheated garage are all some storage area options.
Too many apples to store? Can’t give them away? Try drying, freezing, or canning them. Also, the local food bank will likely be happy to have a donation of sweet, crisp apples.
|Variety||Characteristics||Best Uses||Tips & Tricks||Harvest Season|
|Jonamac||Sweet to tarte taste. Crisp bite.||Excellent for eating and sauce.||Late August - Early September|
|Blondee||Clear yellow apple with a smooth skin. It's flavor is more sweet than tarte. The firm skin does not bruise easily.||Excellent for eating and salads. It holds it's shape well, so it is also good for baking.||This crisp apple will appeal to kids, a great way to encourage healthy snacking.||Late August - Early September|
|McIntosh||Sweet with a tart tang. Very juicy, tender white flesh. Aromatic flavor.||Excellent for eating and sauce. Good for salads and pies.||McIntosh's tender flesh cooks down quickly. Add a thickener if making a pie.||Late August - Mid September|
|Gala||Mild, sweet flavor. Crisp, creamy, yellow flesh.||Excellent for eating and salads.||Gala's size and mellow flavor make them a perfect choice for kids.||Late August - Mid September|
|Macoun||Extra sweet and aromatic flavor. Very juicy. Tender, snow white flesh.||Excellent for eating and salads.||Try serving Macoun slices with cheese for a great autumn dessert.||Mid-September - End of September|
|Ginger Gold||Sweet but mildly tart. Fine textured, crisp, cream colored flesh.||Excellent for eating and salads.||Ginger Gold is very slow to turn brown so it's an excellent choice for any fresh cut apple use.||Mid-September - Mid-October|
|Empire||A wonderful blend of sweet and tarte. Very crisp, creamy white flesh.||Excellent for eating and salads. Good for sauce, baking, pies, and freezing.||Small Empires are great for school lunches. Kids love Empires' sweet-tart taste and super crunch texture.||Late September - October|
|Jonagold||Honey sweet with a hint of tartness. Crisp, creamy yellow flesh.||Excellent for eating, salads, sauce, and baking. Good for pies and freezing.||Jonagold makes great fried apples. Simply saute in a little butter and add a little cinnamon. No sugar needed!||Late September - October|
|Red Delicious||Sweet flavor. Crisp, yellow flesh.||Excellent for eating and salads.||Red Delicious apples look great for a long time, so they are the favorite for holiday centerpieces.||Late September - October|
|Stayman-Winesap||Sweet flavor. Yellow flesh with a spicy, vinous flavor.||Godo for eating, salads, sauce, baking, and pies.||October|
|Red Rome||Mildly tart flavor. Firm, greenish white flesh.||Excellent for sauce, baking, and pies. Good for salads and freezing.||Combine Red Romes with a sweet apple such as Red Delicious for a tasty apple sauce.||October|
Our Picking Schedule
We grow a variety of pick-your-own fruits and vegetables throughout the season. Take a look at our pick-your-own schedule to plan your next visit!
Best Apple Orchards In Virginia
Where can I go apple picking in Virginia?
There are all sorts of beautiful places to go apple picking in Virginia! Autumn is beautiful across the state, and locally-owned spots like the Markham-based Hartland Orchard, the donut-slinging Charlottesville gem of Carter Mountain Orchard and Bluemont’s Great Country Farms really up the autumn ante. Head off to Berryville to Mackintosh farm to learn how to “harvest” apples the right way, and Stribling Orchard, a sixth-generation farm, allows you to be a part of a true Markham legend.
When is the best time to visit an apple orchard in Virginia?
Visiting an apple orchard in Virginia is best planned around late summer and early fall. It will depend on the orchard, of course, when it comes to the days they’re actually open, but we’d recommend planning an apple-picking date from mid-August to late October.
What are the best farms to visit in fall in Virginia?
There are beautiful farms that stud the entire state of Virginia, but some of the best are both pumpkin and corn maze centric come the autumn. Head to Belvedere Plantation in Fredricksburg to pick out a pumpkin or fall in love with the fun at the Farm Amusement Park, indulge in a Centreville afternoon at Cox Farms or bring the whole family to enjoy the fun of Great Country Farms in Bluemont, Virginia. There’s no end to the farms to visit in the fall in Virginia!
HOW TO COOK APPLES FOR FREEZING
Wash the apples in water first then peel them. Cut them into quarters removing the core and any pips you see. Only peel as many apples as you can fit into your largest pan. Have a bowl of cold water to hand before starting to peel and quarter the apples. After you prepare each apple drop the quarters into to the cold water to prevent them browning whilst peeling the remaining apples.
Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the large pan, add the apples (but not the cold water) and sprinkle in sugar to taste. One level table spoon of sugar to a kilo of apples does us fine, your taste may require more or less. Different apple varieties require more or less sugar so don't add too much sugar at the cooking stage. More sugar can be added when they are defrosted if you want.
Cover with a lid and cook on a low heat for an hour or so until the apples are softened. Stir every ten minutes to stop any apples sticking to the base of the pan and just to check that there is enough moisture. Leave the apples to cool thoroughly in the covered pan. Pour into plastic freezer bags, flatten them for ease of storage and then place in the bottom of the freezer.
Defrost the apples before using them. This will take around 2 to 3 hours in a kitchen or about half that time if you place the bag in a bowl of lukewarm water.