Last weekend my husband and I harvested our Gravenstein apple tree. We picked almost four boxes and left the deer their portion. Life is about sharing.
While most people think of fall as apple season, it really starts in late July to mid-August with the early ripening Lodi and Yellow Transparent. Midseason apples like MacIntosh and Gala usually ripen in September into early October, while late-ripening apples like Jonagold and Yellow Delicious will be ready just about the time we get our first really hard frosts – late October to early November. Apples that get ripe after that often don’t have enough time to sweeten up before the serious cold freezes them. Unfortunately several very popular apples such as Braeburn, Pink Lady, Fuji and possibly Honey Crisp fall into this group in Spokane.
Picking apples takes a little practice, a good ladder for larger trees and attention to safety. A stepladder will work on reasonably level ground, but a three-legged orchard ladder is often more stable on rough or sloped ground. Most tool rental companies will rent them for a reasonable amount. Regardless of the type of ladder you use, make sure it is firmly set, and never climb higher than halfway up the ladder. If you do, the ladder can become tippy – even a slight shift in your balance can send you crashing to the ground.
Ripe apples should separate easily from the fruit spur when the apple is raised a bit. Break it off the stem carefully so you don’t damage the fruit spur and cut into future fruit production. Handle the apples gently to keep them from bruising. Pick as many as you can reach and then gently shake the tree to bring down the rest. We always collect these drop apples in a separate box and use them first because they are often bruised a little. This is also a good idea if you have deer that wander around under the tree scavenging drop apples.
If you end up with lots of apples, it is usually easy to store them in cardboard boxes in a cool place (under 40 degrees) with some humidity, like a garage, crawl space or a basement corner. We pack our apples in fruit lugs we’ve saved and then store them in the garage until the garage gets below freezing. They then go into a cool part of the basement. Fruit lugs provide ventilation and are easy to stack and move with a hand truck.
Some apples will store longer than others. Early ripening apples for the most part will stay good for two to three months. Later-ripening apples may last for four to five months, if they are kept cool. It’s a good idea to check the boxes every couple of weeks and pull out any rotting fruit. If you are storing other fresh fruits or vegetables, keep apples in a separate area as apples give off ethylene gas which can hasten spoilage.