How are apples harvested

Harvesting and storing apples: the most important tips

Apples are the Germans' favorite fruit. But how can apples actually be harvested and stored correctly so that the fruits survive the procedure undamaged and the quality does not suffer as a result? Because not all apple varieties are suitable for immediate consumption. A distinction is made between two states of ripeness for apples: the ripeness to puddle and the ripening to consumption. While the so-called summer apples can already be eaten straight from the tree, many apples ripening late have to be stored for a few weeks after they are ready to be picked until they are ready for consumption and thus their full aroma. If you don't have any storage facilities, you can preserve apples by boiling them down.

Harvesting and storing apples correctly: the most important points in brief

Pick the apples one at a time on a mild, dry day. Make sure that the apples do not get any bruises. Only apple varieties that are suitable for winter storage should be used for storage. Store the healthy, undamaged apples on wooden boards with newspaper in a cool, frost-free cellar with the highest possible humidity.

How do you know when apples are ripe?

The right time to harvest apples is not easy to name, because it varies depending on the variety from the beginning of August, for example for summer apples such as the ‘Klarapfel’, to the beginning of October for the winter apple Pilot ’. The later the picking maturity is reached, the easier it is to store the corresponding varieties.

There are two very reliable methods of determining the degree of ripeness of the fruit on the tree:

  • In the so-called tilting test, the apple hanging on the branch is lifted slightly to the side and carefully rotated by about 90 degrees. If it can be detached from the branch in this way without great resistance, it is ready for picking. If not, you'd better let it ripen on the tree for a few more days.
  • Pick an apple that looks ripe and cut it lengthways. When the kernels have already turned completely brown, it is ready to be harvested.

Note that the apples on a tree do not all ripen at the same time. This is a declared breeding goal for the professional fruit growing varieties in order to reduce the number of picking passes as much as possible. For older home garden varieties, however, the ripening period can extend over more than a week. Therefore, if in doubt, you should spread the harvest over two to three dates. For example, the fruits on the side of the crown facing away from the sun usually ripen a little later than apples hanging on the south side.

How do you harvest stored apples correctly?

It is best to harvest your apples on a mild day in dry weather - frost and moisture are unfavorable. Do not just shake the ripe apples off the tree, but pick the fruits one by one and treat certain specimens like raw eggs for storage. They must not be squeezed when picking and they must be carefully placed in the harvest container so that they do not get bruised. Narrow, tall harvesting vessels are unfavorable, because at some point the pressure on the apples below becomes too great. Soft, flat chip baskets are best. It is even better to put the freshly picked storage apples close together in so-called fruit crates. These are stackable, airy wooden boxes that can be placed on a cellar shelf to store the fruit, for example. Apples with bruises are not suitable for storage, as the areas brown and the destroyed cell structures are susceptible to rot fungus. Of course, apples with worm infestation or damaged peel should not be stored either, but rather processed straight away to make apple juice, jelly or puree.

Tools for the apple harvest

Two extremely practical helpers for harvesting apples are special apple pickers with telescopic handles and special ladders such as the so-called Thuringian fruit ladder. Here the two bars are arranged in such a way that they form an acute-angled triangle. The rungs get narrower towards the top and the wide distance at the lower end guarantees a secure stand. In addition, they have a post as a third base, which is almost as long as the two stiles. This allows you to place the ladder freely without it tipping over and you don't have to lean it against the apple tree. Important: Only climb the ladder when it is secure and wear sturdy shoes with a good profile so that you do not slip off the rungs when it is wet.

Thuringian fruit ladder (left) and apple picker (right)

With an apple picker, the apples can be harvested from the ground. It has a plastic crown with attached pinnacles, with which the fruit can be gently detached from the branch. Underneath there is a small cloth bag into which the apples fall without getting pressure marks. It is important that you empty the bag first before you pick the next apple - as soon as one apple falls on top of the other, pressure points arise.

How do you properly store apples?

Storing winter apples has been out of fashion for a long time. In the course of the trend towards self-sufficiency, however, the classic lager varieties are experiencing a small renaissance. So that the stored apples remain edible for as long as possible, you should only use apple varieties that are suitable for winter storage. These are, for example, "Holsteiner Cox", "Cox Orange", "Gala", "Jonagold", "Topaz", "Freiherr von Berlepsch", "Roter Boskoop" and "Pilot".

Before storing, check the apples again carefully for rot spots, wormholes, apple scab and pressure points to avoid the risk of rot in the fruit store. Although the fungi initially attack the damaged apples, they can also spread to the healthy ones if the rot spots are not sorted out and disposed of in good time later. The fruits should be dry when they are stored. However, you must not rub them dry, as this will damage the natural wax layer that protects the fruit from invading fungal spores.

The ideal apple store is a cool, frost-free cellar with the highest possible humidity. Garages or garden houses are also suitable, as long as they are in the shade and do not get too hot in winter sunlight. In addition, the apples there must be well protected from rodents. In the basement rooms of modern houses one often has the problem that the humidity is very low due to the surrounding concrete walls. If the air is too dry, the fruits lose a lot of moisture and shrink a lot. The skin then becomes wrinkled and the pulp has a rubbery consistency. A couple of bowls with water can often help.

The best way to store the apples is to use wooden shelves, which have been wiped with a cloth soaked in vinegar and covered with newspaper after they have dried. It is best to place the apples on the shelf with the stem facing down, without the fruits touching each other. If the fruit has to be stored in layers for reasons of space, you should place corrugated cardboard between the layers.

Important: Always store apples separately from other types of fruit or vegetables. The fruits emit the ripening gas ethylene - it also accelerates the ripening process of other fruits and shortens their shelf life. If possible, ventilate the apple store weekly so that the ethylene evaporates. Check the fruit for rot once a week and sort out infected apples.

Storage diseases in apples

Even in winter storage there are various so-called storage diseases that are hardly noticeable at first glance, but cause the fruit to spoil over time or at least impair the quality.

Similar to the apple scab, the speck or stippling causes small brown spots on and especially under the apple peel. Unlike scabs, however, specks are not a fungal disease, but a metabolic disorder due to a lack of calcium. Fruits in very acidic soils with a low calcium content are mainly attacked. If the infestation is low, the fruits are still edible fresh, but cannot be picked up because the speck increases with storage. The pulp loses its taste over time and becomes bitter.

Glassiness, a disease that causes the pulp under the skin and on the core to become watery and translucent, has a similar cause. In winter storage it leads to the so-called meat tan. In order to prevent both problems, one should plant less susceptible varieties such as ‘Freiherr von Berlepsch’, ‘Idared’ or “Jonathan”, by cutting the apple tree, ensure a balanced relationship between leaf and fruit mass and not harvest too late. In professional fruit growing, the freshly harvested apples are often subjected to hot water treatment to prevent storage diseases.

In this video, our editor Dieke shows you how to properly prune an apple tree.
Credits: Production: Alexander Buggisch; Camera and editing: Artyom Baranow