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“Harvesting and Storing Apples”
We are harvesting apples at the Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station. These are harvested into apple picking bags and then emptied into wooden boxes. Luckily we have a cooler that is just above 32 degrees Fahrenheit to store our apples. I know you probably don’t have your own fruit cooler, so here are some tips for proper harvesting, handling and storage of healthy and delicious apples from your own orchard at home.
Harvesting apples at the right stage is important. If harvested too green, they will be starchy and poorly colored and may develop scald or other physiological disorders in storage. If picked too late, they will taste mealy and will not store well. To determine whether an apple is ready to pick, check the ground color – the “background color” in back of the main color of the apple. In red-fruited apples, the ground color will change from green to yellowish green or whitish when the apples are ripe. In yellow cultivars, the ground color turns golden. The ground color is most easily seen on the side of the apple that was not facing the sun. Then of course taste test before harvest. Most apple cultivars have brown seeds when ready for harvest but apples with brown seeds may not be quite ripe – so the combination of ground color and test tasting is the best way to tell if an apple is ready to pick.
Apples that will be eaten or processed right away may be ripened on the tree. Apples that are to be stored should be picked when mature but still a bit hard – showing the mature ground color but with a hard flesh. Do not remove the “stems” or pedicels from apples destined for storage.
Most cultivars of apples store from 3-5 months under proper conditions. Late maturing varieties are the best ones to store since you can keep them further into the winter. Do not store any apples that are bruised, cut or that show signs of rot – these wounded ones will give off more ethylene gas than undamaged fruit and this which speeds ripening of other apples in storage. Remember, one bad apple spoils the barrel. After choosing your unblemished apples, sort them by size and use the larger ones first since the smaller ones will store better.
Relative humidity between 90 and 95 percent and a temperature close to freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit) is best for storing apples. When stored near freezing, apples may last for up to 6 months. More practical for home storage is to put apples in an extra refrigerator inside plastic bags or in a root cellar where the temperature is no greater than 38 degrees F and the humidity is high. Old timers used to individually wrap their apples in newspaper for storage. If you want to try this method, individually wrap each apple in tissue or newspaper and put them in a basket or box lined with perforated plastic. If you have a regular plastic bag, go ahead and punch holes every six inches through both sides with a pencil or make small “X”s with a knife. Don’t use a regular plastic bag without perforations because it will trap moisture and the apples will be more prone to rot.
Keep in mind there are other ways to preserve apples for winter use – freezing, canning, dehydrating, and making cider. So however you decide to preserve your bounty for the cold winter months – just remember – “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.”
Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500.