Apple Ripening and Storage
- What Variety of Trees Should I Plant?
- Squeezing All This Into Your Back Yard
- Preparing the Soil and Planting
- Establishing the Trees and the Initial Pruning
- Summer Pruning
- Pests and Diseases
- Apple Ripening and Storage (this page)
How Do I Know My Apples Are Ripe?
You are indeed fortunate when a fruit source is actively growing just outside your door. Not only are you able to access a healthy food source, you may also choose to eat that food when it suits you. Apples on the same tree ripen gradually, generally from the sunnier areas to the shady side and from top to bottom, so you can be very selective and harvest only those that are at the peak of their excellence. If you have no harvesting experience or if you are trying out a new variety, a little trial and error will give you all the information you need to determine when to lift that apple off the tree. And that, by the way, is an excellent method of determining when many apples are ready for picking, just lift the fruit sideways. Many apples, if they are ready for harvest, will then detach from the bud. If an apple puts up a fight, leave it there. Try not to pull the bud off the branch because that is where next year's apples will come from.
At this point it may appear that the little stem is just holding the apple to the tree and is waiting to dry enough to let go, but do an experiment. Note the difference in temperature of a just-picked apple to one that's been off the tree for some time. There's a lot going on inside that skinny brown stem.
Do Apples Ripen After Picking?
Apples continue to ripen after they leave the tree. When fully ripe they become mealy. Many people prefer to eat them prior to that, and some prefer them even more green. The taste of an apple changes as it matures, and this may become a factor when using them for drying, for applesauce or cider, or in recipes. Every variety is different, and the only way to determine what you and your family prefer is to experience them in different ways.
Many apples will begin drying out immediately after picking and some may lose their quality in just days. The store fruit that we are accustomed to has been waxed to keep its moisture level sealed. With your trees, selective harvesting is good.
The following list of varieties were chosen to give a long window of ripening fruit in Fortuna. These were chosen mostly for fresh eating (from late July until Christmas!) and the making of applesauce:
- Gravenstein. Ripens mid summer. Good for applesauce and baking. Crisp, juicy, flavorful, tart. Does not keep well.
- Gala. Late summer, early fall. Wonderful dessert apple from New Zealand. Crisp, nice blend of sweetness and tartness, rich flavor.
- Golden Delicious. Early fall. Long-time favorite for its sweetness and flavor. Pick only what you can eat in a week, this apple dries out quickly after picking.
- Jonagold. Mid fall and a Humboldt County star. Superb flavor and connoisseurs' choice. Crisp, juicy, sub-acid, all-purpose apple.
- Fuji. Late fall. California's favorite apple and from Japan. Sweet, very crisp and flavorful, and an excellent keeper.
- Braeburn. Late fall. Superb late season fruit: very crisp and tangy, more flavorful than Granny Smith. Excellent keeper. Throw a cover over the tree if faced with a hard December freeze, the fruit will turn to mush below 25°F.
- Waltana. Late fall. This one also needs protection against freezing, but the taste and versatility of this apple have earned it a place in the little orchard. Another good keeper.
According to this short list, early apples do not store well, while late apples are excellent keepers. This holds true for most varieties.
A hundred years ago, apples grown here on the coast were packed in sawdust-filled barrels and shipped off to San Francisco by steamer. Closer to home, we would pack apples in newspaper and store them in the root cellar. But since it is so convenient to purchase food from the store, even the phrase 'root cellar' has pretty much disappeared from modern usage. The last two we built (in Michigan) consisted of sections of drain pipe three feet in diameter and five feet long that we had had sunk into a hillside. They had wooden lids and were lower in the back for drainage. We used them mostly to store boxes of root crops, and when the ground froze hard we would cover the lids with hay bales so we could still have access to our food supply during the coldest part of the winter.
But root cellars are not a good option here on the coast because of our copious amounts of rain and the high winter water table. But then, neither are coolers that rely on electricity. You could store your apple harvest in a cool garage or a shaded outbuilding. Try to keep them cool and moist while keeping the funguses at bay.
Apples today are shipped in boxes with cardboard separators that look like an oversized egg carton. That's what we like to use. The grocery store disposes of those, ask and ye shall receive. These are ideal for storage since they keep the apples from touching. Use only 'perfect' apples for storage. Store them flat and in single layers, stacking them makes inspection too difficult. Remove immediately any fruit that shows signs of spoilage, and clean up any liquids. We've been able to keep a few until mid-January.