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How do I know when to pick my fruit?

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There are few pleasures that compare to biting into a tree-ripened peach or a freshly picked golden delicious apple. However, gardeners often feel more pain than pleasure when it comes to picking fruit as they try to determine when the time is right. Several indicators make the picking process understandable. Consider these tips.

Determining when to harvest tree fruits depends on the type of fruit, the variety, the time of season and the expected use. The maturation process of fruit involves physical as well as physiological changes. In some instances, fruit is harvested when it is mature but still firm, and it ripens off the tree. Pears, winter apples, apricots and peaches are examples. Berries, cherries, tomatoes and nuts are harvested when they have ripened on the plant.

Physical and visual changes may include a decreased firmness, a change in texture and color changes in both the background color (usually green) and the obvious over colors of red and blue in the fruit. Indications of internal chemical changes are a decrease in starches and acidity along with increased sugar content. Flesh firmness, skin color, flesh color and the number of days from full bloom are good indicators of fruit maturation.

Pears should be harvested mature, but unripe, and stored in a covered box in a cool location. They may be picked when the grass green background color changes to light green and the fruit easily separates from the spur when twisted. The bulk of Bartlett pears are usually ripe about the same time the first two or three small fruits (usually wormy) become fully ripe. The flesh inside will be creamy-white in color and the seeds will be dark brown to black.

Flesh firmness is not a good indicator for harvesting apples. The number of days from full bloom to harvest is a better gauge for determining maturity, along with the visual changes from green to a white-yellow background color. Macintosh apples ripen in 130-145 days; Jonathan, 135-145; Delicious, 145 to 150 days; Golden Delicious, 152-165; and Rome Beauty, 150-170 days. The red color of apples is not a good indicator of maturity, but the green or yellow background color is. When the background color changes from a definite green to a yellowish green, the fruit is nearing maturity. Harvesting may begin after the first few fruits begin to fall and the apple stems easily separate from the spur. The flesh inside the apple peel will change from a greenish color to creamy white, and the fruit will be somewhat sweet rather than starchy.

The main indicator for peach maturity is a change in the background color from green to straw color. Peaches for canning or freezing are better quality if harvested before they become completely mature. For eating, they should be mature but not soft when harvested. Stone fruits (peaches, cherries and apricots) cannot be stored as long as apples and pears, but most will keep 10 to 14 days in a refrigerator.

Posted on 13 Sep 2004

Loralie Cox
Horticulture Agent, Cache County

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