Harvest time for your apple trees will depend on a number of factors: the cultivar, the crop load on the tree, and your location. In general, apple harvest season can start as early as July or as late as November.
The apples will let you know when they’re ripe for picking. They’ll lose the last bits of their green background color, and their full, final color will come shining through. In general, the longer the apple is on the tree, the sweeter it will get. Clearly, all things are relative. So, if you’re growing a culinary apple that’s on the tart side, it won’t suddenly turn all sweet on you; it will just lose a little of its tartness.
When you check to see if your apples are ready for picking, grab an apple and lift it upward quickly. It should come away from the tree, stem and all. If it resists you, take the hint and give it a few days. Apples that have fallen to the ground of their own accord can go into the woods for local wildlife or into the compost bin.
Apples can stay in cool storage for a long time, sometimes for more than six months! They need low temperature and high humidity. The temperature should be between 32 and 40 degrees F. Put the apples in a perforated plastic freezer bag and store them in the fridge. But keep them in a drawer by themselves; apples give off ethylene, which can increase the ripening rate of other fruits and vegetables.
If you have another cool space, like a basement or enclosed unheated porch, that’s another storage option. Check your apple stash once a week for any spoilage. If you find any apples that are developing soft spots or brown patches, get them out of the mix right away so they don’t spoil the rest of your harvest.
If you have a particularly bountiful harvest and you know you’ll want to save some apples for later, you can freeze them in syrup. This recipe will cover about 3 quarts of apple slices.
- 2 1/2 cups sugar
- 4 cups water, lukewarm
- 3 pounds apples
- 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid powder (vitamin C)
- 2 quarts water for soaking apples
- Pint-size containers or small freezer bags
- Waxed paper
- Optional: 2 tablespoons lemon juice for preparing the apples
- Make the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the lukewarm water, stirring until the solution is clear.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid powder, or finely crush vitamin C tablets to get the equivalent amount. Add your ascorbic acid or vitamin C to the sugar syrup and stir until it’s completely dissolved.
- Chill the syrup for at least an hour.
- Prepare the apples. Wash, peel, and core them. Slice them into thin wedges, about half as thick or less than what an apple slicer gives you.
- As you slice the apples, put them into a large bowl of water with the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to keep the slices from browning.
- Before you start packing the apple slices in the chilled syrup, be sure to drain the apples that have been soaking in the lemon bath.
- Put 1/2 cup syrup into a container and add apple slices. Add more syrup to cover the slices, leaving a half inch of space at the top of the container.
- Crumple up a piece of waxed paper and put it in the top of the container to keep the apple slices in the syrup. Seal container well and date it.
- Put containers in the freezer. Use within a year.
Do you know exactly when to harvest your apples? Please tell us what you look for when getting ready to harvest. Do you freeze any of your harvest for future recipes?
Yellow Delicious apples are my favorite, but the window is so small when they are at their peak flavor-wise, they bruise very easily, and they don’t store well. But October is their month to shine! My YD apple tree is almost always prolific, so I have to hustle to make applesauce, apple leather, dehydrate them, and they are so sweet you need very little sugar when processing them. I recently purchased a freeze-dryer, and I’m finding I like them freeze-dried too. They reconstitute pretty well and they have an interesting texture just munching them dry. I normally use Granny Smith for pies, but adding a few freeze-dried Yellow Delicious assures the pie is not runny when I cut it and I like the additional sweetness. Thanks for your tips on taking care of the tree! I’ve had mine almost 40 years and it’s still amazing!