Avocados are an unusual fruit: They only ripen— or “soften”—once they’ve been picked (or fallen on the ground). Yes, this makes storage easy—just leave them on the tree!
But you still need to know when your avocados are mature enough to eat after proper ripening. The trick to this is to know when they’re supposed to mature by checking your variety’s label for the information. Then, as that time approaches, watch your fruit carefully. Avocados will change color slightly as they mature, becoming somewhat duller and purple to black in shade. Some varieties develop small, rusty-brown spots, too.
Once you think your avocados are mature enough to be picked, try picking one of the larger fruits and keep it at room temperature out of direct sunlight for one to two weeks. You want it to soften and not be tough, but not shrivel or shrink, which means it’s not mature yet.
Also, note the taste of the fruit. The oil content increases during the season, and eventually the fruit gets to the point where it tastes just right. Some varieties can reach a point where they have too much oil and some will turn rancid, though many of these types fall from the tree before they reach that point.
To test the softness of your picked fruit, don’t squeeze with your fingertips. Instead, holding the avocado in your hand, squeeze with the fleshy part of your palm right below your thumb. That way you won’t leave bruises the way fingertips can.
If your fruit has ripened appropriately so that you can eat it, you can plan the rest of your harvest accordingly. Keep picking fruit every few weeks, noting on your calendar when they soften.
You can slow the process down by putting avocados in the refrigerator, or you can speed it up by putting them in a paper bag with apples or bananas, which emit ethylene gas that hurries the process along.
Once an avocado is ripe, you can store it in your refrigerator for two or three days. You can also store cut avocado if you take steps to prevent the uneaten portion from browning. To do this, remove the pit and put the unused cut side of the avocado in water in a container flesh-side down. Cover the container, and the avocado will stay fresh for one or two more days.
Alternately, spray or pour fresh lemon juice on the cut side and store it in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic.
A word about fruit drop: Sometimes an avocado tree will drop fruit when it is still the size of a pea or walnut. This is normal. But you can minimize the drop of good fruit by not stressing the tree: Don’t under- or overwater it. Some research suggests that cross-pollinated fruit from more than one tree resists fruit drop, too.
There is also some indication that over-fertilizing with nitrogen during the early fruit stages can somewhat influence fruit drop. Check with your county extension service to find out about fertilizer for your specific location.
Have you learned how to tell when avocados ready to pick? Please share your technique with us in the comments.