This post was written by Tate Mathison, a fifth-generation apple grower at Stemilt Orchards.
Fall is in full swing, and although we’ve been harvesting apples and pears for a few months now, this is the time of year when these fruits start taking center stage in our minds, as well as in your grocery store’s produce displays!
Fall is also the time of year that many people venture out to pick their own apples at a u-pick farm. Whenever I think about families picking apples together, it takes me back to my own childhood and learning how to properly pick an apple from a tree. Did you know there is actually a correct way to pick an apple?
The reason that picking an apple from a tree the proper way matters is because next year’s bud (which we hope will blossom, get pollinated, and grow into a delicious apple) has already formed on the tree, and it’s often right next to the apple that is awaiting harvest. If an apple is picked with too much force or pulled off the tree, then it could cause irreversible damage to the bud.
The best way to pick an apple (also shown in the video above) is to hold the fruit in the palm of your hand, placing your index finger on the stem. Next, you gently roll the apple upwards so that the calyx (bottom) end is moving towards the top of the tree. Doing this will likely release the apple without any more effort. If it doesn’t release, you can give the apple a little twist to remove it from the tree – stem and all. Holding the fruit as you pick helps prevent bruising, and the twisting action is key when protecting those tiny buds. The apple picking process is something that a person can do very quickly once they get used to the technique, and it’s far easier than pulling it off the tree!
After an apple is picked from the tree, there are a variety of different things we do at Stemilt to ensure that we maintain the fruit’s quality and don’t cause bruising in the field. For very delicate varieties like Honeycrisp and SweeTango®, our teams clip and shorten the apple’s stem and then gently place the fruit in a certain pattern into a bin. This extra care takes more time but is essential in our ability to ensure quality fruit is picked, packed, and delivered to grocery stores.
As fall continues, I hope that you have a chance to make it out to pick apples!
Good Food’s u-pick recommendations
Hoping to apple pick in Southern California? Here are some options from the Good Food team. Note: These farms are not affiliated or endorsed by Stemilt Growers:
Brian Ranch Airport U-Pick Orchard in Antelope Valley: Saturdays and Sundays, from 8am — 2pm.
Willowbrook Apple Farm in Oak Glen: Saturdays and Sundays, from 10am — 4pm.
SLO Creek Farms in San Luis Obispo: Everyday through the end of November, from 10am to 5pm.
Jack Creek Farms in Templeton: Thursdays through Mondays 10am — 6pm.