Complete Guide to Apple Picking

September 1, 2020

Apple picking is one of those quintessential fall activities that I can definitely get behind. It’s such a great way to appreciate the cooling weather, be out in the fresh air, support a local business, and get a tasty treat out of it. You can make it a fun activity without much thought or preparation, but I can help you get a little more serious if you are looking for the best tasting apples. This is your complete guide to apple picking, including plenty of free printables to track your harvesting!

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Visit Multiple Farms

If you have access to more than one you-pick apple farm, check them all out! Not only is it a fun adventure to explore the fields of a new farm, but you’ll also get different apple varieties. Across multiple seasons, it’s likely that you’ll settle into a favorite, but be sure to check out your options. You can find local you-pick farms at pickyourown.org.

Different growing practices, such as custom irrigation techniques, can lead to different results, even if two farms are growing the same cultivar of apple. Almost every local farm here grows Honeycrisp apples, but one farm grows the sweetest, juiciest ones of all. You don’t want to miss those best ones!

Make a Schedule for the Season

I’m probably out at an apple farm every Saturday from mid-August until Thanksgiving. However, if you are not at my level of apple-obsessed, you will still want to plan a couple different picking trips throughout the season. There are different types of apples available, and you don’t want to miss your favorites!

I tend to prefer the early apples for eating, and some of the later season ones for baking. However, it’s not completely consistent. Here’s a breakdown of a few I can get in Upstate New York, although the selection at your local farms will vary. Check out this guide for more details on when apple varieties are available.

Early

  • Paula Red
  • Zestar!
  • Gingergold
  • SweeTango
  • Jonamac
  • Gala

Mid-Season

  • Cortland
  • Empire
  • Golden Delicious
  • Honeycrisp
  • McIntosh
  • Snowsweet

Late

  • Macoun
  • Fuji
  • Braeburn
  • Pink Lady
  • Autumn Crisp
  • Granny Smith

Have a Plan, or Make One on the Fly

If you don’t live in an apple area, you may know of only a few different apple varieties. However, there are actually over 1500 different types of apples out there. Some are juicy and crisp with the perfect balance of sweet and tart to bite right into. Others are hearty and sharp with a hint of spice, and would break down into an excellent spoonful of applesauce.

During peak season, farms may have 10-20 varieties ripe and ready to pick. If you know what you want to use your apples for, that may help you determine what types of apples to pick. Wikipedia’s list of apples can help you out to know what the best uses are for each. Or, you can let the apples decide for you, by picking some that look and sound interesting, and then discovering their hidden talents. Here are a few apple recipes that are sure to highlight the best parts of any you pick.

Fall is for apple picking! And this guide has all the info and free printables you need for the best apple experience.

Choosing the Right Apple

Once you know which varieties you want to pick, it’s time to get out to the farm and choose your apples! The first thing you should do is either talk with the farmer, or see if there’s a list of what’s available.

Apple ripeness is determined by time since the tree bloomed, so the farmers know exactly which apples are the best when you visit. If there are rows blocked off, don’t pick there! The apples may not be ripe yet, and they won’t continue ripening after being picked.

At some pick-your-own farms, you can try the apples before you buy an entire bushel. However, make sure it’s allowed. If you see signs discourage eating while picking, then don’t break the rules. You can always buy only a few, try them, and then go back and pick more.

On each tree, the apples will be ready at about the same time. The colors of the apple depends on the variety, and won’t give you much information about the ripeness. Instead, look for an apple that is firm, without any obvious soft spots or visible bruises. Avoid holes or splits in the skin, and be sure to check all sides of the apple.

When you’ve found one, give it a slight twist, and it should easily come off the tree. Don’t pull straight down or tug too hard on the branches. In some cases, you might pick one apple and another will drop. If you see where it falls, pick it up and check for bruises. It’s likely perfectly fine!

Bags and Labels

If you plan on picking multiple varieties in a single trip, it can be tough to keep them straight! Many apples have only very subtle color variations, or look extremely similar. A McIntosh and a Granny Smith are easy to tell apart, but a McIntosh and a Honeycrisp can look a lot more similar.

In the past, we’ve had separate plastic bags for each apple variety, but that can feel wasteful. This year, we will bring along reusable bags to help keep us organized out in the orchard. We also plan to print tags for each bag, so we don’t forget which apples are which before we get home. These can be reused year after year!

But the organization shouldn’t stop at the orchard. Once you get home, it’s important to keep track of the apple types in your fridge or fruit bowl. This year, we decided to upgrade our storage from old grocery store bags to plastic bins. These are reusable, stackable, and it’s easy to see which apples you have ready to eat or bake.

Keep Track of Varieties

If it’s your first year doing some serious apple picking, you won’t know all the nuances yet, and that’s okay! It’s fun to grab just one or two apples of a variety to try it out. Just make sure you keep track of flavor notes and how you used it. This will help you in future years to remember your favorites.

I’ve created a set of printable trackers that you can use! These are completely free to download for anyone on the Slumber & Scones mailing list. Sign up below, and you’ll be able to access the Resource Library.

These worksheets will help you keep track of the entire apple season. Start with planning out your picking schedule and apple cooking wish list. Then track picking and tasting notes. And there are even tags, featuring some of the most popular apple varieties, and blanks you can fill in with your favorites.

Now get out there, and get picking. Happy apple season!

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13 thoughts on “Complete Guide to Apple Picking

  1. It’s the most wonderful (produce) season of all! Freshly picked Upstate New York apples are the best part of fall for me, and we have full access to one of the best apple-growing regions in the world. But if you only have access to “red” and “green” apples at your local store (trust me, we’ve been there), you can ship quality apples to your door through a variety of online vendors!

    Here’s one example from our area that ships to the continental US (though you’ll have to wait a couple months to order): http://kirbysfm.com/appleshipping

  2. What a fantastic post. One part of living in the midwest that I really miss is the apple picking. I’ve never seen the subject covered so comprehensively. Perhaps I will try one of the recipes to bring back my wonderful apple picking memories!

  3. I love this! We just moved to a new city last month, so I’ll have to do some research to find out what’s in our area. I know we have a lot of farms, but I hope we have some apple orchards because my daughter would love this!

  4. I can’t believe that I STILL haven’t gone fruit picking yet! It’s been on my adventures to do list forever, but I still haven’t gotten around to it. It seems like such a fun day out, and I’m a huge fan of fruit (and baking!) so they definitely wouldn’t go to waste either. Whilst apples have always been my go-to fruit – they’re just so easy to grab and go, no matter where you’re going! – I’d really like to go berry picking though; I’ve got a real obsession with blueberries in particular 😋

  5. This is so useful! My parents are coming to visit in a few weeks and they are looking for all outdoor activities for us to do since they are older and nervous about the pandemic. I hadn’t thought of apple picking but there is a place not too far from us I’ve heard good things about! I think I will suggest this to them 🙂

  6. I LOVE apple picking season. Going out and picking apples with the family is a tradition and making yummy apple desserts is too! Good ideas to go more than once as there are different varieties I usually want but aren’t able to get.

  7. I live nearby in Connecticut, and we definitely have farms for picking here. I’m hoping the weather cooperates this weekend so that we can make a family outing of apply picking and apply your tips. I never really new what I was doing, so now I’m excited to give this a new try!

  8. Awesome article! Apple picking is one of my favorite fall activities, and this made me so excited to get out and pick some for myself! Love the idea of tagging the bags to keep track of the apples.

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