The harvest period for apples varies from one cultivar to another. For example, ‘McIntosh’ apples are normally harvested in early September. The harvest season for ‘Red Delicious’ apples is normally late September. However, the harvest time may vary by one or more weeks from year to year due to weather conditions during the growing season. Therefore, gardeners should base the harvest time on the maturity of the apples rather than a 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 cultivar. 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. Discard apples that are seriously damaged or show signs of decay.
The storage life of apples is largely dependent on the temperature and relative humidity during storage. Optimum storage conditions for apples are a temperature near 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity between 90 and 95 percent. Apples stored at a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit will keep two to three times longer than those stored at 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. If the humidity during storage is low, apples will dehydrate and shrivel. When stored under optimum conditions, apple cultivars such as ‘Red Delicious’ and ‘Jonathan’ may be stored up to 3 to 5 months.
Small quantities of apples may be placed in perforated plastic bags and stored in the refrigerator. Perforated plastic bags maintain a high relative humidity, while they prevent the accumulation of excess moisture inside the bags.
Large quantities of apples can be stored in a second refrigerator, cellar, unheated outbuilding, or insulated garage. Place the apples in perforated plastic bags or plastic-lined boxes/crates. Apples should be moved from unheated outbuildings and garages prior to extremely cold weather as storage temperatures will likely drop well below freezing. Apples will freeze when temperatures drop below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Frozen apples deteriorate rapidly once thawed.
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