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Apple Ripeness: How to tell when apples are ripe and ready to pick from your apple trees

How to tell when apples are ripe and ready to pick from your apple trees

Once they are picked, apples stop ripening, so it is important to pick them at the peak or ripeness. But how do you know when they are ripe?

Key facts about apple ripening:

Apples ripen from the outside of the tree towards the center, so the apples out the outside of the tree will ripen first. 

Apples on the sunny side, usually the southern side, of the tree ripen first.

How to know when apples are ripe:

  1. Days from bloom:  The most accurate method is to count the number of days since the tree bloomed in the Spring. Each variety of apple has a specific number of days to reach it's optimum ripeness. Of course, that can vary, based on weather conditions, but it's pretty accurate. But if you do know know or remember the date the trees bloomed, here are the other ways to tell when to harvest the apples:
  2. Color. Color, both on the outside and and the flesh, is a useful indication of maturity. Depending on the variety, apples may be yellow, red, green or combinations of these colors at harvest. When the green has almost completely given way to yellow, a yellow variety is mature. With red blush or striped apples, the area where there is no red color usually changes from green to yellowish at maturity. Some of the newer red strains are challenging, because they are red all over long before they are sweet and mature. In these, the change in the color of the flesh goes from greenish to white when they are ripe. Red Delicious spur-types apples are odd in that the greenish tint may take months in storage to disappear, but they are fine to eat before that!
  3. Ease of separation. Unless the orchardist has used a "stop-drop" spray, that causes the apples to stay on the tree, mature apples are separate easily from the tree with a, twist it upward with a rotating motion.
  4. Seeds: Cut a sample apple horizontally and look at the seeds. Usually, the seeds become brown the fruit is ripe. That's more true with later ripening varieties, like Fuji. With early season apple varieties, like Gala, , they may be ready to eat before the seeds turn brown.
  5. Fruit drop. When a few good, healthy apples drop to the ground, the apples on the tree are nearly mature. (rotten, buggy or diseased apples can drop at any time)
  6. Softness and flavor. The taste test never fails! When an apple becomes slightly softer and tastes sweet and juicy, it is mature. Some varieties, such as Delicious, become sweeter in storage; but that's different from ripening.
  7. The Iodine starch test.  An apple is cut horizontally through the core and sprayed with a mild iodine solution. Since the iodine turns the cells containing starch dark, unripe apples turn dark, ripe apples remain white. Penn State has a page that has more information about the iodine apple ripeness test.

The Iodine Starch Test for Apple Ripeness

You make an iodine solution, as described below, then cut an apple in half and apply the solution to the cut surface of the apple.  That stains the starch in the apple a blue black.  The pattern of starch disappearance is specific for each variety. A good reference to read the results isthes 8-point scale is "Predicting Harvest Date Windows for Apples" by G. D. Blanpied and K. J. Silsby, Information Bulletin 221, Cornell Cooperative Extension

  1. To make the iodine solution dissolve 10 grams of iodine crystals and 25 grams of potassium iodide in 1 liter of water. Remember, Iodine is poisonous!  Use care.
  2.  Cut the fruit at a right angle to the core, approximately halfway from the stem end to the blossom (calyx end. Spread the iodine solution to the cut surface (a small paint brush works) and drain away any excess.
  3. Read the fruit after 2 minutes. Note that the reaction of iodine and starch is temperature-dependent and is slower if your are doing it at cooler than room temperature conditions,. For most accurate results, test a minimum of 10 apples. Here is a generic rating scale:

    1 = full starch (100% blue-black)
    2 = 50% of core stained
    3 = 0% of core stained; 100% of flesh stained
    4 = 80% of flesh stained
    5 = 60% of flesh stained
    6 = 40% of flesh stained
    7 = 20% of flesh stained
    8 = free of starch (no stain)

For more information, see "Predicting Harvest Date Windows for Apples" by G. D. Blanpied and K. J. Silsby, Information Bulletin 221, Cornell Cooperative Extension

Harvest tables. Finally, Maturity dates, that is, the usual date that a variety ripens in a given geographic area is usually know by a state's apple association, local county extension offices, university extension offices, and the orchards themselves. Below are tables of typical harvest dates for apple varieties in some of the common apple growing states: