When to harvest and how to store the fruit
Only pick your fruits when the weather is dry. The net effect will be that the fruits keep better when stored in the cool for keeping. For immediate consumption or juicing, pick the fruit when the taste is to your liking, irrespective of weather conditions.
Pick apples which taste right, before they are fully mature. Store in a cool vermin-proof, dark place. Spread out in a single layer. Any sound but slightly damaged fruit needs to be eaten or juiced now. Only sound fruit should be stored for the longer term. Do not try to store fruit which is damaged, as it soon will start to rot.
Some cooking and eating apples are of such good storage quality that you can keep them in good condition until the next lot of apples are ready next year! The ideal temperature is approximately 3 degrees Celsius. The bottom of the fridge is about that temperature.
How do you know when apples are ready to pick?
Many people wonder how to be sure to pick the fruit at the correct time. If picked too early the fruit will shrivel and will be lacking in flavour. If picked too late, fruit will have started dropping off the tree, because over-ripeness is often the main cause of the drop. November is the time to pick the last varieties of apples that are still hanging on the trees. The last apples to be picked usually have the best storage life.
The best way to judge if the fruit is ready to harvest is to lift the fruit gently. If the stalk gives way and therefore easily parts from its base on the branch, then this is the first indication that harvest time has arrived. The second test is to taste the fruit. If the flavour is fully developed and the fruit is very juicy, while still nice and crisp, then you are really sure the fruit is ready to be picked.
Apples are the easiest fruit to store. Pears can be stored successfully but only if you are able to keep the temperature as close as you can to 1 degree Celsius. Apples store well at 3 degrees Celsius. Plums, greengages, peaches and apricots are best ripened off in the kitchen and used for daily consumption or bottling.
Tips on storing apples
In autumn, remember the following if you want to store some apples for the winter months:
1) Pick fruit for storage when it is cool, so early in the morning.
2) Only store fruits without holes, cracks or small patches of discoloured brown rot.
3) Pick very carefully. Handle the fruits like eggs. Bruising the fruit is as bad as a hole in the fruit.
4) Do not store over-mature fruit. These fruits won’t keep. Store fruit that is slightly under-ripe to maintain fruit firmness.
5) Colourless immature fruit from the centre of the tree tends to shrivel once in store.
6) The taste of the fruit must be fully developed, before it is ready to pick. Always taste the fruit first, before you pick it.
7) Put the fruit on single-layer trays.
8) Keep the temperature ideally at an even level and as close as you can to 3 degrees Celsius.
9) Fruit stores best in the dark and at high humidity.
10) Make sure mice are not present where you store your fruit as they will nibble the fruit and destroy your harvest.
11) Remove fruit showing signs of rot.
12) Inspect your fruit once a week and remove those fruits which ripen first and are ready to eat.
Fruit storage and ethylene filters
I tested an ethylene filter designed specifically for smaller-scale fruit growers over a 12-month period. When fruit is put into store, it is alive, and so it carries on its metabolism though at a slower rate due to the cool temperature. Apples and pears produce ethylene as they ripen, and this changes the fruit colour and gradually makes it softer. So an ethylene filter, such as that by Fresh Pod, tested in the trial, helps fruit in store keep better and for longer, without losing flavour or firmness.
The ripening process of pears
When one goes to the supermarket and buys some pears, usually the pears are still firm and even hard depending on the variety. What is not generally known is that a lot has been done already, before these pears were offered for sale, to make sure that the pears will ripen properly when taken home. To start off with, there are many different pear varieties. Basically there are some pear varieties which have to be picked earlier than others. Take, for example, Williams pears or Beth pears: by nature these are the earliest to mature. Now these pears will have to be picked when they are not fully mature. If they are left to ripen on the trees, usually the juiciness and flavour is disappointing. Then there are late maturing pears which in this country fail to mature on the trees. So, in order not to complicate the issue further, what is the best practice for someone who has a couple of pear trees and a good crop, and would like to have the pleasure of eating a wonderful juicy pear, grown in their own garden? In addition, for pears grown in a garden, it’s nice to be able to spread their maturing out, as it would be impossible to eat them all in one go.
The answer to these questions may come as a surprise. First, you can control pear ripening by picking them when they are still hard and then keeping them in the fridge. Keeping them in the refrigerator for a few days actually improves their ripening when you take them out.
So this is the process: pick the pears when they are ready but still hard. How do you know when to start picking? Assuming you have watered your trees weekly and good fruit size has been achieved, then the following test is useful; lift the pear gently and when it comes away naturally, the stalk breaking easily, then the optimum picking time has been reached. When picking, do make sure that the pears are handled like eggs. Any bruising translates into early rotting. Then put the pears into the bottom of the fridge without delay. Keeping them in the dark for several days at a temperature close to 1 degree Celsius ensures even fruit ripening later on. From then on, you can take two or three pears out of the fridge and leave the others in the fridge. The ones left in the fridge stay hard, while the ones put in the fruit bowl in the living room will start to soften quite quickly. Feel the fruit near the stalk end and press gently to see how soft it is. If it has softened at that particular spot, the pear is ready to eat.