This week John explains the process we use to determin when our apples are just right for harvesting….and no, it’s not based on taste-testing alone! Read on to learn the science behind refractometers, and how they help us
Fall is fast approaching here at Orchard Ridge Farms, and with it, a bountiful harvest of apples.Here’s a seemingly simple question: when do you pick an apple? Well, when it’s ripe, of course.But that’s when the issue becomes more complicated. How do we know an apple is ripe? There are many subjective ways to determine when a certain variety is ready to be picked. The easiest (and my favorite) is by taste. Sure, we can start picking apples when they taste right, but my taste may differ from yours. An apple that tastes sweet and tart to me could taste too sour for someone else. Another way to guess ripeness is by date. When is a Jonathan apple, for example, usually ripe? Conventional wisdom might say mid-September. But based on weather, those dates can fluctuate two weeks or more from year to year. In a long, hot season like 2012, apples were picked much earlier because the trees had a month head start in the spring. This year, the ripening date will be closer to average, or maybe even a little behind because of a slow spring and mild summer temperatures. We can also try to gauge a variety’s ripeness by its color. Usually apples with fully developed color are approaching ripeness. For example, a yellow-skin apple like Golden Delicious or Goldrush will lose its green and become evenly golden, often with a slight red blush. But again, visual ripeness can differ year to year. Lots of cloudy skies can reduce coloration and ripening, and nighttime temperatures can also have an effect.So what’s an apple grower to do? Luckily, there is a specialized tool to solve just this problem. It’s called a refractometer, and it offers the best way to measure ripeness: by sugar! The refractometer looks similar to a kaleidoscope, and it measures how light is refracted by passing through an apple’s juice. It’s as simple as cutting open an apple, squeezing some juice onto the front plate, and taking a look through the eyepiece. The higher the sugar, the more light is refracted, which then shows up as a percentage in the eyepiece. This time of year, apples are slowly accumulating sugar as they ripen, and the typical range is 14-18 degrees brix (another way of saying % sugar).Besides being able to check ripeness scientifically, I still think biting into an apple is the best way to check. I invite you to do your own “ripeness” taste test with our apples this fall.Based on % sugar readings, here are the approximate dates our apples will be ripe and available for you:Jonathan – Mid-SeptemberJonagold – Late September-Early OctoberGolden Delicious – Late SeptemberFuji – Late September-Early OctoberGranny Smith – Mid to Late OctoberGoldrush – Mid to Late OctoberWe will also have very limited quantities of Honeycrisp, Mcintosh, and Cortland apples available starting September 10th.All apples will be available at our farm stand located at the farm’s entrance at 6786 Yale Bridge Road, just west of Rockton, as well as at the local farmers markets listed on our website.