Picking & storing apples: tips & tricks


Ich habe einen Master-Abschluss in Gartenbauwissenschaften und bin zudem gelernter Zierpflanzengärtner. Das Thema Anbau lässt mich seit meiner Kindheit einfach nicht los: Egal, ob auf der kleinen Stadtfensterbank oder im großzügigen Garten - Gärtnern muss ich auch in meiner Freizeit immer und überall.

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When are apples ready to pick from the tree, and how can you enjoy them for as long as possible? Here you will find the juicy answer to this, and many other apple questions.

red apples in wood box
Here are helpful tips for picking and storing apples [Photo: Evgeny Karandaev/ Shutterstock.com]

Naturally, you want to enjoy the harvest from your own apple tree (Malus domestica) for as long as possible. But not all apples ripen at the same time. Some are earlier and ripen even in August, whereas others are hardly edible before December. In addition, a distinction must be made between the so-called picking ripeness and eating ripeness. Therefore, it is actually impossible to generalise apple harvest season. However, there are some ways to determine whether an apple is ripe for picking or is best left on the tree. Knowing the characteristics of apple varieties and harvesting ripe apples at the proper time leads to optimal storage conditions.

Harvesting apples: When is apple season?

The harvest season for apples varies depending on the variety. Early varieties can be harvested in early August, late varieties can be harvested until late October, and some varieties are not even ready for eating until December. As such, it is best to plant a variety of early and late fruiting apple trees in your garden to make the most of the apple harvest season and extend it up to three months. Depending on the type of apple, you may have to compromise on taste, but it is still appealing to grow your own fresh apples for many months of the year.

green apples ripening on branch
Harvest time differs from variety to variety [Photo: Christin Klose/ Shutterstock.com]

Harvesting apples: when are apples ripe?

Apples are divided into two stages of ripeness: ripe for picking and ripe for eating. The so-called summer apples are edible straight from the tree and are “ripe for eating.” Picking ripeness is preferred for some late-ripening varieties, as they require a few weeks of storage to develop their full aroma and eating ripeness.

Apples do not all ripen at the same time on a tree. This is a distinct advantage because it results in a longer harvesting period. When picking apples, however, the staggered ripening can make distinguishing between ripe and unripe specimens difficult. In general, look to the sun for guidance, as fruits farther away from the sun ripen slower than those on the sunny, south side of the tree. Tilt or turn the fruit carefully to check if the apples are ready to pick. If the apple easily detaches, it is ripe.

Picking apples by hand is especially important if they are to be used for desserts or eaten raw. An apple picker tool allows you to reach apples higher up in the tree without damaging the fruit during the harvest. If the apples are to be used to make apple puree, apple cider or apple juice, you can use fallen apples or shake the tree for a convenient yield.

red apples ripe for picking
Apples have two distinct ripeness categories: ripe for picking or ripe for eating [Photo: topseller/ Shutterstock.com]

Consider these factors when picking apples:

  • Is it an early, medium or late ripening variety?
  • Is the apple to be harvested “ripe for eating” or “ripe for picking”?
  • Apples are ripe when they easily detach from the tree from a slight, effortless turn
  • Selectively hand-pick apples for desserts
  • Apples for juicing or applesauce can be quickly and conveniently shaken from the tree

Storing apples: helpful tips and tricks

Sometimes it is not practical or possible to process or consume your entire apple harvest immediately. So, it is really helpful to know how to store apples properly to make them last longer. Some apple varieties store better than others, so consider the variety before planting to ensure a long storage period and apples for a longer period of time. There are a few things to keep in mind to store your apple harvest optimally and successfully, which we will explain below.

storing apples in wooden crate
How long apples can be stored depends on the particular variety [Photo: Sophie McAulay/ Shutterstock.com]

Storing apples: keep apples fresh

The optimal apple storage process begins with the harvest: make sure not to bruise the apples. Bruised tissue quickly becomes mushy and rots much sooner. This is why fallen fruit is not suitable for storage. Similarly, when storing apples, do not include worm-bitten apples in the batch. These creepy-crawlies cause premature spoilage and also migrate from apple to apple.

How to store apples: line a box with newspaper and place one layer of apples in the box. Do not stack the apples, as it causes unwanted bruising. Likewise, do not wash or polish the apples to preserve the natural wax layer. Wax improves apple storage by reducing gas exchange and respiration. It is beneficial to reduce gases such as ethylene, which otherwise accelerates the fruit ripening process.

Place the apple boxes in a cool, dark location. Make sure the apples are protected from temperature fluctuations and sub-zero temperatures. Check the stored apples regularly and remove any that are fouling. Apple varieties that are particularly suitable for storage include ‘Cox Orange’, ‘Jonagold’ or ‘Red Boskoop.’ Early apple varieties, such as ‘Early Windsor’ and ‘Gravenstein,’ on the other hand, do not store well.

red apple and fallen comrades
When storing apples, make sure they do not have any bruises [Photo: GoodMood Photo/ Shutterstock.com]

Correct apple storage summary:

  • Cool and dark location
  • Protect from sub-zero temperatures and temperature fluctuations
  • Check the apples for rotten spots, wormholes and bruises before storing
  • Check stored apples regularly and remove any that are going bad

Processing apples to extend shelf life

Do not simply throw away the apples that have been rejected for storage. Damaged, worm-eaten, or small apples can be processed into juice, jelly, sauce and more. Even fallen fruit can be used if it is only bruised and not rotten. Why not use the apples straight away to make a delicious apple pie?

Tip: check out if there are any fruit mills in your community where you can hand in your apples and exchange them directly for juice or borrow an apple press.

apples and apple juice glass
It is best to process apples that are unsuitable for storage [Photo: K321/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: use our Plantura Soil Improver to provide your apple tree with the optimal nutrition and ensure a bountiful harvest. This promotes soil life and makes it easier for the apple tree to absorb nutrients. 

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