In order to obtain the highest quality fruit, apples must be harvested at the proper stage of maturity. Once harvested, proper storage is necessary to maximize storage life.
Time of Harvest
The harvest period for apples varies from one cultivar to another. For example, Jonathan apples are normally harvested in mid-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.
How to Know Apples are Ripe
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 fully 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 that 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. Optimum storage conditions for apples are a temperature near 32°F and relative humidity between 90 and 95 percent. Apple cultivars, such as Red Delicious, stored under optimum conditions may be stored for up to 3 to 5 months. Apples stored at a temperature of 50°F will spoil two to three times faster than those stored at 32°F. If the humidity during storage is low, apples will dehydrate and shrivel.
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 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°F. Frozen apples deteriorate rapidly once thawed.
If you have more apples than can be properly stored, the surplus can be dried, frozen, or canned.