We’re just starting to experience crisp cool air, but crisp, fresh apples on the other hand, are already available. Michigan is the nation’s third highest apple-growing state, behind only Washington and New York. USApple estimates that our farmers will produce nearly 30 million apples this year, so chances are there’s an orchard near you. September and October are prime apple-picking months. With U-Pick orchards all over the state, it’s prime season for some fresh food and family fun. Before you head out, here are ten tips for picking your own apples.

Plan Ahead 

Before you choose your destination orchard, do some investigative work. Find out the hours and which apples are available. Check if the orchard is organic, if that’s important to your family. Make sure food is available on site, or pack a lunch, if it’s going to be a long trip. Be aware of what forms of payment are accepted, since some may be unable to process credit cards. To avoid large crowds, consider going on a weekday if you’re able, or early in the day.

Leave the Dog at Home

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.

Bring Bags and Wagons 

U-Pick farms typically have bushels or bags, and even some wagons for hauling. However. it’s wise not to count on that. If you get there at a particularly busy time, you may not be able to find those. 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. If you have a baby, bring a stroller so you are free to carry apples instead of your little 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. One of the most important tips for picking your own apples is to stay within those borders. That way you’ll find fruits that are ready for harvesting.

Photo of apple bin

Fresh, ripe apples from Blake’s Orchard in Almont.

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.

Photo of apples close up

One of the best tips for picking your own apples like these is to twist them off.

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

When 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.


Author: Lisa Diggs

Lisa Diggs is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, business consultant, avid traveler, and founder of The Catalyst Company, LLC, Michigan Positivity Project, and Buy Michigan Now.