Know when to pick
The color of an apple is only one indicator of its ripeness. Sweetness is an indicator of maturity and harvest-readiness along with fruit size and color. There is a popular idea that some later apple varieties need a frost to sweeten them before picking. However, apples will ripen and sweeten up without a frost.
How to tell if an apple is ripe
- Look for a change in the background color, the part of the skin not covered with red color.
- When the background color (also called ground color) begins to change from green to a greenish yellow color, the apple is starting to ripen.
- Other than Honeygold, all other apples we recommend should have a green-turning-to-yellow background color when fully ripened.
- Pick a few apples that seem ripe and taste them to be sure they are at the ripeness you prefer.
- As apples ripen, starch in the flesh is converted to sugar. An unripe apple will be starchy and leave a sticky film on your teeth.
- A ripe apple may still be tart, but it should have developed aromatic flavors.
- You may need to pick the fruit from the same tree several times over the course of a week or two in order to get all the fruit at the right stage of maturity.
- Check the UMN Minnesota Hardy website to see what time in the season your apple variety typically ripens.
How to pick an apple
- Gently take the fruit in the palm of your hand, then lift and twist in a single motion.
- Or use one hand to hold the short, thick fruiting spur that bore the apple, and the other hand to lift and twist the fruit.
- Avoid pulling or yanking the fruit as you could pull off the spur, taking with it next year’s flower buds.
Apples last the longest at standard refrigerator temperatures, about 33°F to 38°F, with about 85 percent humidity. Although garages, basements and root cellars may provide adequate storage conditions, the best place to store apples at home is usually the refrigerator.
- Warmer temperatures always shorten the storage life of apples.
- Apples stored near 33°F may last as much as 10 times longer than apples stored at room temperature.
- High humidity helps reduce the shriveling of apples in storage.
- If the storage environment is low in humidity, as most refrigerators are, the fruit should be stored in a perforated plastic bag or a loosely covered container.
- Although apples are lovely displayed in a fruit bowl, such conditions will dramatically reduce their usable life.
Will apples be affected by a hard freeze?
A “hard freeze” is defined as four straight hours of 28°F. While 32°F is the freezing temperature for water, it is not the freezing temperature for most fruits. Fruits such as apples, grapes, and strawberries are high in sugar. The sugar in the fruit’s juice reduces the temperature at which the fruit freezes.
- Apple fruit starts freezing at around 28-28.5°F, but apples should be okay provided the temperature doesn’t fall much below 28.
- The longer apples are exposed to temperatures below 28 degrees, the higher the chance that they will get damaged.
- Frozen apples should not be picked until the fruit thaws out, as the frozen fruit will bruise and be unusable.
- After a freeze, leave the apples on the tree and wait until midday when they have thawed out.
- Late fruiting apples like U of M’s SnowSweet® and Haralson are more at risk of freezing because they are more likely to still be on the trees when a freeze hits.
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A brief dip below 28 degrees may just weaken the apples enough to decrease their shelf life. Several nights below 28 degrees are more likely to soften the skin and flesh of the apple, making the fruit unusable.
At 22°F, the fruit will freeze hard and cells will break down, making the fruit soft. If only a brief freeze happens and the fruit is still firm, use the fruit soon, as it may not store well.
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