Timing the harvesting of your apples is as much art as science. Pick your apples too soon and they'll be hard and sour, too late and they'll be soft and mealy. Consider all of these factors before harvesting:
- Variety. Not all apples ripen at the same time. Cultivars such as Yellow Transparent and Gravenstein are harvested in the summer. Most other apple varieties ripen in September or October. Know what your apple is supposed to look like when ripe. Web sites such as the Seattle Tree Fruit Society and Orange Pippin have photos of apple varieties:
- Weather. This summer in Seattle has been especially hot and dry so that much fruit is ripening weeks earlier than normal.
- Seed color. As your apples get close to maturity, take one off the tree and cut it open. If the seeds are still light colored, it is too early to harvest, but if the seeds are dark brown to black, your apples could be ready to harvest. Once you see that the seeds are dark colored, take a bite to confirm that the fruit is sweet enough to harvest.
- Skin color. Red apples will have a blush that gets deeper as the fruit gets closer to harvest. Green apples will gain a creamy white or yellowish tinge at maturity. If the apple skin has a green cast to it, and your apple should be red or yellow when ripe, the apple is probably not ripe. An exception: Red Delicious-type apples have a greenish tint may take months in storage to disappear, but they are ripe enough to eat before then.
- Sun exposure. Not all apples ripen at the same time on the same tree. Apples in a sunny spot ripen before apples in the shade or on inner branches of the tree.
- Apples on the ground. Damaged fruit will drop off the tree before the healthy fruit is ready. If healthy, pest-free fruit are on the ground, they are probably ripe.
- Stems prepare to separate. When an apple or pear is ready to pick, the stem swells and creates a weak point that will separate from the branch when the apple is lifted. If the apple is not ready, the stem will bend and the fruit will not separate.
Pulling forcibly or twisting the apple may tear off the spur, where the next year's buds are already beginning to form. If too many spurs are destroyed, there may not be enough apples created next year.
Do not pull the fruit off its stem. This leaves a wound in the fruit where rot can develop when stored.
Treat your apples gently. Don't drop or throw them into a container. Ripe apples bruise easily, and bruised apples may rot.
While most types of fruit reach their peak on the tree, European pears need to be picked before ripening. If left on the tree, pears ripen from the inside out and, by the time you think they are ripe, they may be mushy and mealy. To avoid this result, pick your pears when they are mature but not yet fully ripened.
The best way to tell if a pear is ready to harvest is similar to what is mentioned above for apples. Take the fruit and tilt it horizontally. A mature pear will easily come away from the branch at this angle. If the pear is not yet ready for harvest, it will stay on the branch. Leave it on the tree a few more days and then try again.
Pears also are resistant to ripening right after harvesting. They will not ripen evenly until they have had some period of chilling. Bartlett pears should be refrigerated for a day or two. Winter pears such as D'anjou, Bosc, and Comice need 2 to 6 weeks of chilling.
After chilling, the length of time required for ripening also differs with variety: 5 days for Bartlett, 7- 9 days for winter pears. Pears are ready to eat when the fruit just below the stem yields slightly to pressure when squeezed.
Unlike European pears, Asian pears are picked ripe from the tree and don't require a secondary ripening period. An Asian pear is ripe when it is sweet and juicy and has crisp flesh. If the pear tastes sweet and juicy then it is ripe. An Asian pear from Japan will be yellow-brown, and a pear from China will be greenish-yellow when ripe. The smell of a ripe Asian pear will be strong and sweet. A ripe pear also has thin skin.
The springiness of the pear should be somewhere between an American or European pear and an apple. As with apples and European pears, pick only pears that separate easily from the tree.