Testing Apples For Ripeness + A Super Helpful Calendar

mayflower harvest

One of my most asked questions is “How do I know when apples/plums/ pears are ripe?” I remember wondering that too. The realisation that harvesting required as much knowledge as growing dawned the day I harvested a whole tree of apples in a rush of excitement because they were red. What a let down when I bit into one … sour … duh!  They weren’t ripe yet.

Make A Harvest Calendar

Step one, my friends, is to have your eye on a ready date.

harvest calendar

One of the most helpful things you can make yourself is a harvest calendar. In a perfect world, you do this at planning stage. This makes sure your fruit trees and berries arrive in a staggered fashion (ie not all at once!) throughout the year, dispersing your workload and bringing a beautiful steady supply to your kitchen table.

Romantic notions of harvesting basket loads of fruit aside – processing a tree load of fruit is a good-sized, if not rewarding mission.

Here’s How

Go to the sunny side of the tree (bathed in sunlight = first ones ready) and choose a ripe looking apple. Cup it in your hand and lift it up or sideways. If it’s perfectly ready it’ll separate easily from the tree with a lift – no pulling required!

Pulling can take off next years spurs and if you have to yank the apple off – it’s not ready to leave home.

test for ripeness

Now slice your tester apple in half and check the pips out – brown pips = apples are ready. If the flesh oxidises and turns brown = not ready either. Sink your teeth into it … mmhmm … surely the best indicator of all.

Things Not To Do

  • Do not pull your fruit off and risk taking off next years fruit spurs too.
  • Do not toss your fruit into the basket (bruises – ouch!)
  • Do not wait till your apples drop – most varieties will be overcooked by this time. Aim to harvest them while they are crisp and juicy from the tree.
  • Do not harvest all your fruit just because one is ready. The joy of being a home gardener is that we can harvest as the fruit is ready. The ones in the sunlight and around the edges will be ready first. Those in the shade following along after.

Get Sorted

Take a moment to sort your fruits. The bird pecked, black-spotted, stalkless and damaged into one crate – these will need to be eaten first or preserved. The perfect ones are for long term storage.



  1. John Notley says

    Hi Kath,
    I bought your your book after hearing your National Radio interview, and have found it very informative thank you. I’ve become aware of some vertical growth on some apple trees and was wondering if it’s too late for a little “summer” pruning to try to encourage fruiting buds to set for next year?

    • Hi John
      Glad the book was a help. It’s fine to do those little bits of pruning whenever really. I find that managing those upright shoots in a little and often way reaps the least response from the tree which is the end goal after all and especially useful for a vigorous grower. The only exception is in a poorly tree where I’d let them go to encourage overall growth and deal with them once the tree was more hearty.
      happy pruning

  2. Michelle Scofield says

    Hi Kath,
    Thanks for another great post. I’m really happy to say we had a much better crop of golden delicious this year- yay! Just wondering what your thoughts are on whether to use horse manure in compost when the horse is on medication.
    Many thanks and I hope that you are well.

    • Awesome news – and great timing to have a good yield! Myself I wouldn’t go near poo with meds – that stuff’ll knock your soil life right on back. I’d pile it up and pour EM over it and leave it 12months before using.
      happy days