In order to obtain the highest quality fruit, apples and pears must be harvested at the proper stage of maturity. Once harvested, proper storage is necessary to maximize storage life.
The harvest period for apples varies from one variety (cultivar) to another. For example, Jonathan apples are normally harvested in mid to late September. The harvest season for Red Delicious apples is normally late September to early October. However, the harvest period for apple varieties is strongly influenced by weather conditions during the growing season. Gardeners, therefore, should base the harvest time on the maturity of the apples rather than a specific calendar date.
There are several indicators of apple maturity. Mature apples are firm, crisp, juicy, well-colored, and have developed the characteristic flavor of the variety. Red color alone is not a reliable indicator of maturity. Red Delicious apples, for example, often turn red before the fruit are mature. Fruit harvested too early are astringent, sour, starchy, and poorly flavored. Apples harvested too late are soft and mushy.
When harvesting apples, pick and handle the fruit carefully to prevent unnecessary damage. Sort through the apples during harvest. Remove and promptly use bruised or cut apples. Also, remove apples, which exhibit insect and disease problems. Separate the apples by size. Use the largest apples first as they don't store as well as the smaller fruit.
Once harvested and sorted, store the undamaged apples immediately. The temperature and relative humidity during storage are critical for maximum storage life. Proper storage conditions for apples are a temperature near 32ºF and a relative humidity between 90 and 95 percent. Apple varieties, such as Red Delicious, stored under optimum conditions may be stored up to 3 to 5 months. Apples stored at a temperature of 50ºF will spoil two to three times faster than those stored at 32ºF. If the humidity during storage is low, apples will dehydrate and shrivel.
Pears should not be allowed to ripen on the tree. If the fruit are left on the tree to ripen, stone cells develop in the fruit giving the pear a gritty texture. Tree-ripened fruit are also poorly favored. Harvest pears when the color of the fruit changes from a deep green to a light green. Also, the small spots (lenticels) on the fruit surface change from white to brown. At the time of harvest, the fruit will still be firm, not soft.
Pears should be ripened indoors at a temperature of 60 to 70°F. The ripening process should take 7 to 10 days. To hasten ripening, place the fruit in a tightly sealed plastic bag. Pears give off ethylene gas, which accumulates in the bag and promotes ripening.
To keep the pears for a longer period of time, store the unripened fruit at a temperature of 30 to 32ºF and a relative humidity of 90 percent. Pears can be stored for approximately 1 to 3 months. Remove stored fruit about 1 week prior to use.