Determining apple maturity – Facts for Fancy Fruit

Determining apple maturity

Making the decision on when to harvest can be a very tricky and complicated issue. The longer you intend to store the fruit, the more precise your timing needs to be.  For summer apples, most growers only intend to store fruit until their better quality fall apples come on stream, so storage times beyond a week or two are not that common.  For example, very early season apples such as Lodi and Pristine should only be stored for a few weeks until Gala harvest begins. Even for fall apples, many Indiana growers aim to sell the majority of their crop immediately to the consumer, and try to be done by mid November or so. So since storage times are relatively short, harvest maturity is less important than for longer term storage.  This being the case, apples should be harvested when they are fully ripe.  This will maximize their flavor, and although it reduces their storage potential, this is not too important for many direct market growers.  There are various tests for measuring fruit maturity and degree of ripeness, but taking a bite out of a few apples will give a good enough indication for fruit being stored for short periods where flavor is important but long storage life is not. Obviously this also applies to apples intended for U-pick.

Bear in mind that even in cold storage, fruit continue to ripen, just at a slower rate. Therefore, fruit intended for longer term storage should be harvested when they are less ripe.  There is no single test that will give you the answer but factors such as calendar date, heat unit accumulation, fruit firmness, soluble solids concentration, starch content and ethylene evolution all give answers to a piece of the puzzle.  As you can see, this gets complicated real fast.  In fact, states with large apple industries have labs dedicated to performing these tests and measurements are fed into complex mathematical models to determine the optimum harvest time for fruit for long-term storage.

Beyond the taste test, if you are going to perform one test I suggest looking at starch index. As fruit ripen, enzymes convert starch in the fruit to soluble sugars, which explains why fruit become sweeter as they ripen. This test provides an estimate of how much of the starch in the apple has been converted to sugar. This test is quick, easy, and doesn’t require expensive equipment.  For more details look in Chapter 7 of the Tree Fruit Pest Management Handbook, ID-93,  available at




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