The shorter the trip between the orchard and the store, the crisper and juicier the apple. (Black Press file photo)

The shorter the trip between the orchard and the store, the crisper and juicier the apple. (Black Press file photo)

Gardening: Apples are picked as they ripen during fall months

Every fall large crates of apples appear in stores with signs saying, New Crop, Orchard Runs. When they arrive they are usually the freshest apples available.

The shorter the trip between the orchard and the store, the crisper and juicier the apple.

During the summer months growers prune, thin, spray, water and tie up the trees. Come fall apples are picked as they ripen. Starting with Sunrise and ending with Pink Lady.

Pickers work by filling a bag that is strapped to their front. As these people are paid per box, they make every moment count. The fast pickers make sure they have at least three apples in their hand when they gently lower it in the bag. As they pick they look at the apples trying to discard all that are not perfect. This includes ones with a small dent or sunburn. Imperfect apples are dropped to the ground and left.

Pickers receive $25 per bin they fill and free eating apples. A good picker averages an orchard crate an hour but this also depends on the size of apples and tree. Larger trees that require ladders are slower picking than shorter ones. Growers are paid by a cooperative or packing house according to the variety and grade of apple. It can be as low as $0.28 a pound to over a dollar.

The full orchard crates are removed from the field, stacked, and loaded on a flatbed truck then taken to the packing house.

Here the apples are unloaded and go through a mechanical system that examines each apple and discards the ones that are imperfect. The growers are charged $0.28 for every pound of apples that get discarded.

The apples are bagged, boxed or crated depending on where they are headed. While some head out immediately others are put into long term storage which allows the cooperative to sell apples year round.

The variety of apples are slowly evolving. Older varieties like McIntosh, Red and Golden Delicious are slowly being replaced by newer varieties that are better sellers.

Royal Gala is a sweet crisp apple that is often picked mid-September. It keeps well and makes a good snack as well as a great addition to salads and baking.

Honey Crisp are large apples that are very sweet. They are at their best until Christmas, so eat in the fall for a sweet treat.

Ambrosia was discovered in the 1990s in an orchard in Cawston B.C. It is popular as it is sweet, crisp and browns or oxidises very slowly. Do not expect this variety to be in the store before the end of September to early October.

Pink Lady are the last apples to be picked which means some years they freeze on the trees. The apples are not as sweet as others but they are crisp, juicy and keep for months.

Look for the apple Salish directly from the Summerland apple breeding program. Keep it in the refrigerator and it should last for months.

There are many other varieties for sale, some are grown in large enough numbers to be shipped into stores, and others are not.

Enjoy the fresh crop this fall and think of all the hours of labour that it took to get these apples to market.

Linda Tomlinson has gardened in Central Alberta for over 30 years. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com.