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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gardening: Learn when to pick fruits, vegetables

Apples are ready to pick when they easily release from the tree when the stem is gently lifted upward  (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
Apples are ready to pick when they easily release from the tree when the stem is gently lifted upward (Pat Munts/For The Spokesman-Review)
By Pat Munts For The Spokesman-Review

For the next three or four weeks all of us who grow vegetables and fruit are going to be playing tag with Mother Nature when it comes to getting our harvesting in before frost.

We want to pick things when they are at their peak of ripeness but how to tell when that is? Let’s look at some of the tougher ones to tell.

Winter squash and pumpkins usually push the limits of our growing season. Winter squash include acorn, Hubbard, butternut, spaghetti, turban and kabocha to name a few. Telling when these are ripe takes practice. First, are they past the dates of maturity found on the seed packet? This can be anywhere from 100 to 120 days depending on the variety.

Check next to see if the vines are dying down and turning brown. Lastly, on some of them like the acorn, the spot on the bottom where it touches the ground will turn yellow. If these conditions are met, trim the squash from the vine leaving as long a stem as you can.

To store squash and pumpkins for winter use, lay them on thick pads of newspaper in an airy but warm (60-70 degrees) place to finish hardening off. Be sure none of the squash are touching their neighbor as rot can set in. Check them frequently and cull any rot. I store mine on the racks I use in the spring to start seeds in our furnace room.

Apples, pears and plums can be a challenge to determine when they are at their peak sweetness. Commercial orchardists use a meter to measure the amount of sugar in the fruit. Because these meters are not cheap, we need to do a little more sleuthing. Different varieties of apples, pears and plums ripen at different times of the late summer into the fall. Plums are the easiest to tell because it’s easy to taste test them. If they are sweet and release easily from the tree, they are ready. Just be sure you get out there before the raccoons find them.

Apples will ripen from mid-August into late October depending on the variety so if you know what variety your tree is, read up on typical harvest dates. If you don’t know the variety, then taste test a few every week. Regardless, apples are usually ripe when they easily release from the tree as you gently lift the stem upwards. You shouldn’t have to pull them off.

Pears like the Bartlett can be a bit trickier than apples because they need to be picked before they are fully ripe. A pear ripens from the inside out so what seems to be a perfect yellow pear on the tree has probably already gone mushy in the center. Like apples, pears are ready to pick when they release easily from the tree with a gently tug while lifting the stem. Bring the pears into a cool dry place and check them as they turn yellow. They spoil quickly.

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Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.

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