Fall is a great time of the year. It can be bittersweet, though, because it often signals the end of our growing season. The good thing is that this is also the time of the year to go pick apples.
Each different variety of apple differs for their harvest time. To determine the harvest time for the apple, knowing the variety will help you. In fall, a common question from gardeners with a favorite apple or pear tree is for identification of the cultivar from the color and shape of the fruit. This almost impossible to do, in fact, it’s really only realistic to give a general idea of possible cultivars. So, if you don’t know the variety, you can look at the color, flavor, and texture of the apple.
To know a mature apple, look at the “ground color”, which is the color of an apple’s skin disregarding any areas of red. For red-fruited cultivars, observe the portion of the apple that faces the interior of the tree. When the ground color turns from leaf green to yellowish green or creamy yellow, the apples are ready to harvest. In yellow cultivars the ground color will become a golden color when they are ready to harvest. You can also taste one to ensure that it is the correct sweetness and make sure it is firm and not overripe and soft. Overripe apples will detach from the tree more easily than those that are at the correct stage of ripeness. If the apple is too ripe, it will break down in storage more quickly than those that are at the peak of their maturity.
For storage it is best to pick apples when they are still hard but mature. Place the apples in a box or crate with a smooth lining so that staples don’t puncture or injure the apple. They can be stored in boxes or crates lined with plastic or foil to retain humidity around the apples. They should be stored in the fridge or other location where they are kept at temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, an apple stored too warm will ripen faster.
Remove bruised and large apples that will break down more quickly than the rest of the apples. Apples produce ethylene gas, even after they are removed from the tree, which speeds up the ripening process in fruits, including apples that are stored together. A damaged apple will produce more ethylene than other apples. Damaged and large apples should be eaten or processed first and not stored like the other apples.
Fall is also a great time to plant a tree. If you are reading this article thinking you should plant an apple tree so you can start to have your own apples to harvest, there are some great choices. One thing to remember when choosing an apple tree for your landscape is to get a variety that is resistant to cedar-apple rust and apple scab. These 2 diseases are very problematic for apple trees in Nebraska and require spraying multiple times throughout the growing season to combat. There are also some varieties that are resistant to fire blight which can also be very damaging to your apple crop and would be a good trait to look for in your future apple trees.
Some good apple tree choices include Liberty, Enterprise, and Freedom which all have good disease resistance for the most common diseases. Enterprise is self-unfruitful and therefore does require a pollinator tree be planted nearby when planting Enterprise. Honeycrisp is a delicious apple that many people want to plant. However, it is susceptible to cedar-apple rust and powdery mildew so you would need to spray for those diseases. It is moderately resistant to apple scab and resistant to fire blight. Honeycrisp is also only moderately strong for tree growth, so it could break more in storms.
*The information on Harvest and Storage came from Sarah Browning, Nebraska Extension Educator in Lancaster County.