Having watched your apples and pears grow through a difficult season I am sure that you now want to make sure how to maximise enjoyment of them! It is essential, therefore, to know what to do with your fruit once it is getting near ripening.
Looking at apples first it is important to recognise that early season apples i.e. those apples such as ‘Discovery’, ‘James Grieve’ and ‘Worcester Pearmain’ need eating directly from the tree as they will not store and perhaps last only a couple of days in the fruit bowl. Make the most of these apples as they are best eaten with the sun’s warmth still on them! If you are not quite sure if your apples are early season types a good clue is that a number of fruits start falling from the tree in late August/early September.
So apart from apples falling off a tree how do we know when an apple is ripe? Lift a fruit up slightly and if it comes away easily it is ripe. In August and until the end of September never force a fruit off the tree. When picking apples for storage do so carefully with stalks intact – as disease can enter an apple at the stalk end if the stalk is damaged or broken off – and make sure that you don’t damage the fruits by mishandling them in anyway.
Apples which are unripe at the end of September can be picked for storage. Ensure that you only store apples which are undamaged as rots will quickly spread in storage. My storage preference is to lay apples in the supermarket boxes and trays in which they had apples delivered. You can usually get many of these at no price and they will last for a good number of years. By using the preformed trays the apples will be kept apart from each other allowing air to circulate. You can also lay the apples out on shelves or purpose built racks again ensuring that the apples are not touching each other.
You will need to store the apples in a cool place so that they can slowly and naturally ripen. A cool shed in shade is ideal or similarly a cool ventilated garage. Sheds are ideal places for mice to raid your apples so you will need to take whatever precautions you feel necessary. I tend to let my cats sniff around my fruit shed every now and again and I find that the smells they leave tend to keep the mice away!
You will regularly need to check the apples for both the spread of any rots and also ripeness. If apples are allowed to over ripen in store they will quickly rot off and rots will spread fairly quickly.
Pears are a somewhat different kettle of fish I’m afraid and can be rather beastly to store! The issue here is that when pears ripen it can be quite hard to spot and by the time the pear smells ripe it will have a mushy inedible middle. Generally it may be considered best to grow pears that you eat more or less directly off the tree such as ‘Beth’, ‘Onward’ and ‘Williams’ Bon Chretien’. However, the mid season pears such as ‘Conference’, ‘Concorde’, ‘Doyenne du Comice’ and ‘Invincible’ will store for a few weeks if you pick them in mid September when they are still unripe.
If you do decide to store pears follow the same method as for apples but with two added cautions. Firstly it must be noted that as with all ripening fruit an ethylene gas is released. In the case of pears this can often cause all of the pears to ripen at the same time. Secondly pears can go off in store very quickly and damaged fruits need to be removed very quickly indeed or rots will spread in no time. I suggest that whilst you can visit apples in store weekly you should be looking at pears almost daily, particularly if the storage area is anything other than very cool. By far the best way to identify when a pear is ripening is to note that a pear starts to slowly change colour as it ripens and at the same time the flesh by the stalk will show a very slight softness. Now is the time to eat the pear!
Hopefully these notes will ensure that you are able to enjoy your apples and pears over a good length of time.
13th September 2012
Gerry is an experienced amateur fruit grower who is Chairman of the RHS Fruit Group, a member of the Royal Horticultural Society’s Fruit, Vegetable and Herb Committee and also their Fruit Trials Panel. Gerry judges fruit nationally for the Royal Horticultural Society and is also a qualified National Vegetable Society judge.