Determining when to pick your apples is a perennial guessing game for most gardeners. High eating quality is usually the goal, you may also plan to make juice or cider. If you only have a few fruit and you plan to eat them fresh, the best time to pick is when they are fully mature. If you have lots of fruit and you plan to store some of them for a few months, you should harvest them a bit (maybe 2 or 3 days) earlier. For juice and cider mature or in some cases over mature should produce the best result. Instead of leaving the fruit till over mature on the tree and risk drop, fruit for juice and cider is usually best aged after harvest.
So what works to determine when the your apples are mature?
- When fruit is easily harvested. Place you hand under the fruit and gently life it up to 90 degrees from the angel it was hanging at. If mature, it will separate from the tree easily. This test varies with variety and does not work at all with some cultivars with long stems like Golden Delicious.
- When seed color has changed. When apples are immature the seeds of most varieties are white. As they approach maturity the seed color starts to change color starting at the pointed end. At maturity seeds are usually completely brown (or red in red fleshed cultivars).
When fruit ground color lightens. Ground color tests are about the change in green color through the growing season. The green is chlorophyll. When fruit are immature they are dark green in side and out, as they mature the chlorophyll disappears and the ground color changes to between yellow and white.
- Skin ground color. This is the fruit skin ground color in parts of the fruit not covered by red or brown russet color. Skin ground color starts out green and breaks (changes) to a lighter green almost white color (depends on cultivar). Compare the skin ground color to a piece of white paper. Maturity of fruit in dense shade is usually a few days behind fruit in full sun. This test also works for pear, peach, apricot and yellow plums.
- Flesh ground color. Cut the fruit in half and immediately (before it starts to oxidize) compare flesh color to a piece of white paper. During the summer flesh color is very green, approaching maturity the color breaks (changes) toward white or yellow. Over mature fruit may develop a pink color with red flecks. This is cultivar specific, the flesh of some Spur Red Delicious is still green at maturity.
Using these tests in combination with cultivar experience will help you determine when your fruit are mature. If you like your apples a bit sweeter and softer, leave them on the tree for a couple more days or store them, they will mature further in the box. If you want to add another slightly more accurate technique for determining maturity, try the Starch Test.