Apples are one of the most popular, and when stored properly, economical fruits to grow at home. Unfortunately, they are also one of the hardest fruits to store in large quantities. Here are some tips for harvesting and storing apples that will help you maximize storage life, while minimizing loss. Indicators of Ripeness
There are several indicators that apples are ripe and ready for picking: color, flavor and texture, ease of separation, and fruit dropping. Apples harvested too soon tend to be starchy, and have poor flavor. Pick them too late and they become soft, mealy, and bland.
Color: The color of both the skin and the flesh is a useful indication of maturity. Depending on the variety, the outer skin of an apple may turn yellow, red, or green when it reaches maturity. The inner flesh will typically change from having a greenish tint to white.
Flavor and Texture: Although certain varieties continue to sweeten while in storage, most apples are considered ready to harvest when they "taste ripe." Usually this translates into a slightly soft flesh that tastes sweet and juicy. Once your apples start to turn color, pick one every few days to test the flavor.
Ease of Separation: Using a gentle twisting motion, mature apples usually separate easily from the tree.
Fruit Dropping: When you start to see a few healthy apples fall from the tree, check the remaining apples. They are probably close to reaching maturity.
Dry, or Cool and Cloudy Weather: These types of conditions work to slow down the ripening process and can delay your "normal" harvest time by few weeks.
Apples need to be harvested and stored under the proper conditions to maximize their shelf life. Temperature, degree of ripeness when picked, handling, and relative humidity are the most critical factors in determining how long they will last. Under the right conditions, the later varieties (those typically harvested in the fall) have a longer storage life--some as long as 6 months. Summer varieties usually have a much shorter shelf life--only 1 to 3 weeks.
Avoid Spur Damage: Gently lift and twist each apple to pick it. Keep the stem attached to the fruit, but leave the spurs attached to the tree. The spurs are the stubby branches that the trees bear fruit on. Breaking or damaging them will reduce your harvest next year.
Remove Damaged Fruit: Apples that sustain cuts and bruises during harvest will spoil quickly. Sort through and remove any damaged fruit before storage. Apples that have sustained damage, but are free of insects and disease, should be eaten or processed immediately.
Store Immediately After Harvest: Apples should be stored immediately after being picked. To keep them firm and crisp, the air temperature needs to be kept cold (32 F to 40 F) and the relative humidity high (80%-90%).
Unfortunately, this is difficult to do at home. Suitable home storage options include Styrofoam coolers, an old refrigerator, an unheated garage or basement, shed, or ideally, a root cellar. To keep them from dehydrating, store small quantities of apples in unsealed or perforated plastic bags near an open pan of water. Large quantities can be kept in well-ventilated wooden or cardboard boxes lined with plastic to help maintain humidity while allowing air to circulate.
Store Apples Separately: While in storage, keep apples separate from onions, potatoes, and other strong smelling produce unless you want everything to swap flavors. Apples will also make root crops like carrots taste bitter and reduce their storage life.
About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at http://www.sustainable-media.com
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