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23 Harvest and Storage

Once your home orchard is growing and ready to produce its first crop, the
question, “How do I know when the fruit is ready to pick?” will surely enter
your mind. Fortunately, there are several ways to determine this. Experience
will become your best guide.

When to Harvest for Fresh Eating

One way to determine a ballpark date for harvesting your fruit is by being
aware of how many days have elapsed since full bloom. Research has shown
that the time between full bloom and harvest is quite constant from year
to year, regardless of the weather. Apples and pears, in particular, are quite
dependable in the elapsed time needed to develop proper harvest maturity.
The table below gives the normal ripening time needed for a few of the
more common apple varieties. Similar information on pears can be found
in chapter 5. Although each variety has its own requirements, these figures
can be used as a starting point to aid in applying other maturity indicators.

Days from Bloom to Harvest (Apple)
Variety

Cortland
Golden Delicious
Granny Smith
Gravenstein
Grimes Golden
Jonathan

Days

125-130
140-145
180-200
110-115
140-145
140-145

Variety

McIntosh
Northern Spy
Rhode Island Greening
Wealthy
Winesap
Yellow Transparent

Days

125-130
145-155
135-145
120-125
160-170
70-95

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For the backyard gardener desiring to eat most of the harvest fresh at
picking time, harvest readiness can be judged by observing changes in skin
color, or seed color, or simply by picking a few fruit to see how easily they
come loose from the tree. Taste testing, for most varieties, is of course the
ultimate indicator if you plan to use the fruit soon, rather than storing it for
an extended time. Be aware, though, that there are some apple varieties that
are considered long-keeping storage types. They may not taste like much
at harvest. Their flavor often mellows and improves after a month or two.
Most fruits will show a change in the green undercolor (or ground color)
of their skin as they ripen. The dark grass-green will often change to a lighter
yellow-green and then to the respective ripe fruit’s normal skin color—usually
red, purple, or yellow. This change in tone of the green undercolor is a
reliable indicator of approaching ripeness. Be careful, however; don’t rely
heavily on the amount of redness. It is affected quite a bit by the amount of
sunlight received just prior to harvest time. Seasons in which cool nights are
accompanied by warm sunny days will encourage red color development. For
apples, cloudy daytime conditions or warm nights often result in fruit that is
a dull red and not extensively colored. A change in green ground color will
occur regardless of the weather.
A change in seed color is another signal of approaching maturity in pome
fruit (apples and pears). When the fruit is immature, the outside of the seed
is a pale creamy-white. As the fruit
nears ripeness, the seed coating will
Rule
of
Thumb:
Days
from

bloom, a change in seed color, or turn first light brown and then dark
skin ground color change can all brown in color. By cutting open a few
be used as indicators that fruit is sample fruit, you can easily check how
rapidly picking time is approaching.
nearing harvest maturity.
Some fruit, most noticeably the
McIntosh apple and its related types, often show maturity by dropping a
number of fruit from the tree if they are not picked soon enough. Many of
the earlier maturing summer apple varieties ripen unevenly and will do the
same. Often, by picking a few random fruit, you will feel how easily they
come loose from the tree, another sign of maturity.
Most backyard fruit growers come to rely on a combination of these factors
to decide when to start picking. What you intend to do with your fruit will
also play a part in your timing. Fruit that you plan to eat fresh right away
can be left on the tree until it is fully ripe. (See chapter 5 for an exception

266  Harvest

to allowing pear fruit to ripen on the tree.) Likewise, fruit that is meant
for longer storage needs to be picked slightly underripe so that it does not
become overmature in storage.

Picking Technique

The thought of picking a fruit seems so elementary that you may question
why one would even think to discuss it, but actually there is more to it than
first meets the eye. How the fruit is picked can have an effect on both the
quality and shelf-life of the fruit and, in some cases, the amount of fruit
produced by the tree the following season.
First, you should avoid bruising or otherwise physically damaging the fruit
you are about to pick. This can be quite important since fruit that is bruised
will age and spoil more quickly and rapidly lose quality during storage.
Second, trees that bear fruit primarily
on spurs; as apples, pears, and plums
do; rely on the spurs for future production of fruit buds. If the spurs are
broken off in the picking process,
eventually the productive capacity
of the tree may be reduced.
For most fruit, using a “twist and
lift” technique when you pick will
make picking easier, while at the same
time ensuring that the fruit and tree
remain undamaged. Rather than just
grasping the fruit in your hand and
pulling toward you, cradle the fruit “Twist and lift” technique for easy
gently but firmly in the palm of your fruit picking.
hand. Support the stem between your thumb and index finger. Then,
slowly rotate your whole hand while lifting the fruit upward toward the
spur. Assuming the fruit is ripe, it should release easily and cleanly from
the tree. With a little bit of practice, you should soon be able to master this
technique and picking will become an effortless, fluid motion.
When placing fruit in your basket or other picking container, be sure to
do so gently. Many people do not realize that even an apparently hard pear
or apple can bruise easily. One of the most common ways that fruit becomes
bruised is from being dropped into the picking basket or handled roughly

Harvest and Storage  267

when sorted. Use of those basket-on-a-pole type pickers can be a big culprit.
(A far better solution is to keep the tree pruned to a manageable height.)
Fruit will generally retain its quality better if it is picked with the stem still
attached to the fruit. In most cases, if the fruit is picked with the technique
just discussed, the stem will remain attached. Notable exceptions are peaches,
nectarines, and plums. They typically separate from their stem when properly
ripe. The stems can do more damage by puncturing adjacent fruits’ soft skins
than can be gained by keeping the stem on.

Proper Fruit Storage Conditions

At some point, most backyard orchardists experience the mixed blessing
of a “bumper crop.” In order to make use of the plentiful supply, some fruit
may need to be preserved or stored for later use. Naturally you will want to
store it so that it retains its “just picked” quality until you can use it. One
of the most important factors in keeping fruit fresh is storage temperature.
How fast fruit is cooled to that temperature is also important. Ideally, you
should store fruit under refrigeration, with sufficient humidity to prevent
drying and shriveling. The chart on the next page shows potential storage
life at optimum storage conditions for a number of fruits.
Until not so long ago, the root cellar was used to store all sorts of produce.
If you have access to one, it works as well as ever. For most of today’s home
gardeners, a spare refrigerator in the basement or garage often takes the place
of the root cellar. Both provide an important ingredient for proper storage—
cool, consistent temperature. Lacking an extra refrigerator, many people in
locations with moderately cool winter temperatures have fared reasonably
well by wrapping pears and apples in newspaper and storing them in a plastic
bag inside a large trash can. Kept in a cool location, this can substitute for
the old-fashioned root cellar. If you use this method, though, it is critical to
protect the fruit from actual freezing temperatures.
Two other considerations are important
Rule
of
Thumb:
For
each
in
storing
fruit from the backyard orchard.

day that a picked apple spends at First, as soon as possible after picking,
70°F it can lose a week to 10 days refrigerate your fruit. It comes as a
of storage life.
surprise to many people that a fruit
picked in 80 or 90°F heat may take
several days to cool to 35°F at its core, even when quickly refrigerated. The
longer the fruit is warm, the faster it will ripen and age. For each extra day

268  Harvest

Storage Life of Tree Fruit
(when held at 32–36°F and 90–95% relative humidity)
Fruit

Time

Fruit

Time

Apple
2–6 months Pear (Asian)
2–6 months
Apricot
1–3 weeks Pear (Domestic)
2–7 months
Fig
*
Plum
2–5 weeks
Medlar
**
Quince
2–3 months
Peach/Nectarine
2 weeks
Sweet cherry
2–3 weeks
—Clingstone
Peach/Nectarine
2–4 weeks Tart cherry
3–7 days
 Freestone
* Figs should be eaten immediately at harvest. They only store at room
temperature for 1–2 days at most.
**Medlar need to blet at room temperature for several weeks before their
interior pulp becomes soft and edible.

that a harvested apple spends at 70°F, it can lose a week to ten days of its
storage life. Second, store it so that it will not dry out and shrivel, but so that it is also
not so moist that it will rot.
To keep your fruit moist and juicy, storing it in a plastic bag or covered
container helps. With wet fingertips, you may add a light sprinkle of water to
the bag. For apples and pears, poke a few holes in the bag to avoid a build-up
of condensation or of ethylene gas that will reduce the fruit’s storage life. Do
not add water to stone fruits in storage. It can quickly encourage the growth
of rots and molds in their very soft flesh. Also, be sure to check stored fruit
within a day after putting it in refrigeration. Warm fruit often generates
considerable condensation that can cause premature spoilage. Putting a
few layers of paper towel in the bag with the fruit often helps absorb excess
moisture and can be removed once fruit is cooled.
Following proper storage procedures, certain fruits benefit from additional
ripening at higher temperatures. Peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, and
pears ripen best when exposed to 65°F for 2 to 3 days. Apples and cherries
are best when used directly from refrigeration.

Harvest and Storage  269

Help for using your harvest
Clark, Liz and Jill Vorbeck. Apple Companion. New York: The Brick
Tower Press, 1994.
Ghazarian, Barbara. Simply Quince. Monterey, CA: Mayreni Publishing, 2009.
Hazen, Janet. Pears: A Country Garden Cookbook. San Francisco:
Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.
Lee, Sherri. Under the Fig Leaf. Knoxville, TN: Favorite Recipes Press, 2009.
Nicholson, Brian and Sarah Huck. Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit
Recipes. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2014.
Nims, Cynthi.a. Stone Fruit: Cherries, Nectarines, Apricots, Plums,
Peaches (Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series). Portland, OR:
WestWinds Press, 2003.
Payne, Rolce, and Dorrit Senior. Cooking with Fruit. New York: Crown
Publishers, Inc., 1992.
Routhier, Nicole. Nicole Routhier’s Fruit Cookbook. New York:
Workman Publishing, 1996.
Stearns. Patty LaNoue. Cherry Home Companion: A Cherry Cookbook.
Mayfield, MI: Arbutus Press, 2002.

Preserving the harvest

Lesem, Jeanne. Preserving Today. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.
McClellan, Marsh. Preserving by the Pint: Quick Seasonal Canning
for Small Spaces. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2014.

270  Harvest