10 Tips for Picking Your Own Apples
by Lisa Diggs
The air is getting crisper and so are Michigan’s apples. September and October are prime apple-picking months and there are U-Pick orchards all over the state for some fresh food and family fun. Before you head out, here are ten tips for a fruitful experience.
- Plan Ahead Before you choose your destination orchard, do some investigative work. Find out the hours, which apples are available, if the orchard is organic, if food is available on site, what forms of payment are accepted, and other issues important to you and your family. To avoid large crowds, consider going on a weekday if you’re able, or early in the day.
- Don’t Bring Fido While a drive to the country may sound ideal for your dog, keep in mind that due to growers accepted practice rules, most U-Pick orchards are unable to welcome dogs. Check ahead so your dog doesn’t end up stuck in the car.
- Do Bring Bags and Wagons U-Pick farms typically have bushels or bags, and even wagons for hauling, but if you get there at a particularly busy time you may not be able to count on those to be available. Bring your own bags, preferably reusable, and a wagon if you plan to pick a lot. Remember that apples can get heavy so plan on double-bagging, and if you have a baby, bring a stroller so you are free to carry apples instead of your pumpkin.
- Pick What’s Ripe Apple season lasts for a couple months, and different types ripen at different times based on soil type and the height of the trees. Farmers keep careful track of the time between flowering and fruit, so they know which are and are not ripe. In most cases the orchards designate specific areas from which to pick. Stay within those and you’ll find fruits that are ready for harvesting.
- Work from the Outside In Apples on the outer branches get more sunlight and ripen first, so work your way from the outer branches inward as the season progresses. Once you pick an apple, the ripening process stops, so be sure to only pick those that are ready. Color is not the best indicator, instead focus on selecting fruit that is firm and without bruises. It’s also a good idea to work the tree from the bottom up, which is ideal for kids.
- Don’t Shake the Trees It might be tempting to just shake a tree so apples drop to save you time, but the fall often damages the apples, and the shake can hurt the tree and waste lots of fruit. If apples accidentally fall to the ground as you try to harvest them, you can pick them up and take them, but don’t pick up apples that have already fallen. They may have been there a while and are likely damaged or rotting. Choosing a tree with a lot of apples on the ground beneath it may be a mistake, as well, since that is often a sign that the fruit is past its prime.
- Pick with a Twist Properly picking an apple is simple. Grab it from the bottom, roll the apple upwards off the branch, and give it a little twist. If two apples are joined together at the top, both will typically come away together.
- Avoid Bruises Be sure to stow your bounty with care. Gently place apples in your carrying container to avoid damage. Bruised apples will not only rot faster themselves, but will cause the other apples to rot as well.
- Store Properly Once you get home, you want to make sure your apples last as long as possible. Those that will be eaten soon may be left out in a bowl or basket for a few days. Don’t wash them until they are ready to be used to avoid spoilage. Apples that are being saved for later should be stored in a cool space like a root cellar, basement, or refrigerator. It’s best if you do not store them right next to other fruits or vegetables.
- Have Fun Picking your own fruit can be a great family tradition. It gives children an appreciation for where their food comes from, and pride in the choices they made. It’s also a lot of fun to be out on a beautiful day, without electronic devices. Many orchards offer cider and doughnuts, not to mention hay rides, corn mazes, and other fun surprises.
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