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Tell apples are ripe

“The apple will fall when it’s ripe” – it’s an old country adage and this year we seem heading towards a bumper apple harvest!

Throughout the UK people reported an unusually cold, slow start to the growing year. Orchard flowering was delayed but eventually the arrival of gloriously sunny late spring weather meant that damaging late frosts were generally avoided.

The cheering sight of bountiful blossom and the sound of the noisy hum of bees and other pollinating insects was a delight to the eyes and ears of any keen kitchen gardener especially after last year’s abysmal harvest. The only good thing about last year was that fruit trees got a rest and therefore put their energy into fruit bud formation rather than maturing a crop. Our trees were good and ready for a bumper harvest this year.

Folk from most areas are reporting excellent pollination especially of their later varieties of apple including cider apples - this is most promising. A careful watch of trees will be needed as apples begin to swell following the recent rains. It is always quite magical to notice the seemingly rapid appearance of apples as they swell, colour up and emerge through the trees’ foliage.

Fruit Thinning: Now is the time to pay attention to your trees. The natural thinning process of the so-called “June Drop”, which in many areas actually happened in July, may not have done enough. Notice if branches are beginning to look heavily laden and fruit is jammed too closely together. Prevent damage to tree boughs due to an overloaded crop by doing some additional hand thinning – if the fruitlets are tightly clustered just gently remove the smallest apples to give space for the remainder to grow, to allow sun to penetrate clusters to ripen and air to circulate.

Summer Pruning: Some summer pruning of trees will also encourage fruit buds to develop for next year, this will even out a tree’s natural tendency to be biennial and encourage a healthy crop next year. You will find very helpful information in Ben Pike’s book: “The Fruit Tree Handbook”

The Importance of Using Ripe Fruit for Juice and Cider Making When pressing apples for either juice or cider it is important to use ripe fruit. This maximises flavour and juice yield. It also ensures the full sugar potential of your apples; particularly important when you come to fermenting for cider.

But when are apples ripe and ready for pressing? As mentioned, some apples are prematurely shed during a tree’s natural thinning – these apples will be hard, sour and not suitable for anything.

However there are 3 helpful tips to judge whether your apples are ripe and good to use:

  1. Pick a sample apple and cut it in half. If the apple is ripe the pips should be black and glossy; if they are pale or just brown then they need to hang on to the tree for longer. Only windfalls that do have black pips are good for juicing and cider making. You can use the Apple Wizard and Flexitub to gather them.

  2. Cradle a large fruit in the cup of your hand and gently twist it off the stem. If the apple is ripe it will readily fall into your hand. This is the best way to harvest fruits un-bruised for storage. They can be loaded into the comfortable Harvesting Bag as its soft but strong , the construction is gentle on the fruit. For apples that are high and difficult to reach the Wolf Fruit Picker and Telescopic Handle are both ideal. Alternatively you can access high fruit with the very stable Orchard Tripod Ladder and load the fruit into the Harvesting Bag, which when slung safely over your shoulder, leaves 2 hands free for picking.

  3. Never use rotten apples and certainly don’t store them as they will spoil adjacent apples. The golden rule is that you don’t press what you wouldn’t want to eat, although for cider making small blemishes won’t matter.

Apple Varieties & Ripening Times

Of course it helps to know what variety of apple you have and the usual time of ripening. It’s generally a good idea to not only label your trees – a metal label stuck into the soil beside the tree is best. But also it helps to make a named garden plan – we think we will remember what we planted when but as the years pass our memory can fail us!

You can get also information about that from several sources.

Ben Pike’s Orchard Handbook is again very helpful. It recommends different varieties for different purposes, gives an indication of flowering time, picking time, season of use and pest and disease resistance.

Also the Orange Pippin website has a good deal of helpful information about apple varieties and there characteristics. http://www.orangepippin.com/ .

You may have access to the informative book Apples a Field Guide by Michael Clarke - we usually stock this but unfortunately it is currently being reprinted and won’t be available until 2014; however a local library may stock it.

Or you can contact the advisory service of The Brogdale Trust – the national fruit archive. You can call on 01795 536250 any Friday afternoon between 2-4.30pm

Cider making

Apples for cider making need to have a high sugar content; this is needed for the yeast to feed on during the fermentation process and will determine the potential alcohol content of the finished cider. Each region has its particular style of cider – in the West Country there are special varieties of cider apple that are high in tannin and produce a rich brown juice which ferments to a gloriously golden cider whereas in the Eastern Counties a paler cider is produced from blends of dessert and culinary varieties.

Try to avoid solely using really acidic fruit as once the sugar has converted to alcohol the acidity will be more pronounced. Culinary apples will mellow if left to mature until late in the season – pressing in December or the New Year is recommended.

If you want to store the maturing apples do remember it is important exclude any rotten or bruised fruit, store in a cool airy place and check regularly for rot.

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