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Seasons, Dropping, Ripeness, and what to do...

Posted by David Maxwell 
Seasons, Dropping, Ripeness, and what to do...
September 13, 2016 11:19AM
I fear I am imposing on you inapproriately, but would be most grateful for you collective wisdom. We have had an extraordinary period of hot, very dry weather since July, (with no precipitation in sight even now). I have never totally been satisfied that I understand the significance of dropping of my fruit - is it because they are ripe? is it because of stress, like lack of water or disease? Whatever, a number of my cider apples have dropped the major portion of their crop. The question now is what to do. Let's work with a concrete example: Brown's Apple. In theory this isn't supposed to be ripe until the end of September, a mid-season cultivar. Most of them were on the ground by Sept. 10, and, while some have CM damage, most are sound, with nice brown seeds, suggesting that they are in fact ripe. They have a Brix reading of 11, (corresponding to a SG of ~1.045), which fits with Michael's listing of the sugars for this cultivar (of 1.045 - 1,065). The fruit still on the tree comes away cleanly and easily if picked, (and many actually fall off when the tree is bumped in the course of picking). So I am concluding that, whether or not they are "officially" ripe, there is no point in waiting until the end of September to harvest them - there won't be anything left to harvest. I have gathered up the drops, picked the ones still on the trees, and set them to 'sweat'. Now the question is what can I expect from this process? Will the Brix increase as they sit, converting pectin into sugars? The injunction is that early season apples should not sweat for more than a few days - am I now dealing with an "early season apple" (it is certainly early in the the season), or is this a mid-season apple, which is going to want weeks, rather than days before pressing? (This same issue applies to a number of other cultivars, like Bulmer's Norman. Improved Redstreak, Brown's Thorn, Frequin Tardif, none of which are supposed to be ripe this early.)

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
Re: Seasons, Dropping, Ripeness, and what to do...
September 13, 2016 10:01PM
David, the "official" test to determine if an apple is ripe is the iodine test. When the apple is ripe, there is no more starch in the flesh and the iodine test stays yellow - while if there is starch, it becomes dark blue or purple. You can use for that test simple iodine tincture easily bought at the pharmacy, and with an eye dropper, just drop a drop on the transversally cut apple.

This being said, most cider apples don't ripen very evenly - in other words, part of the crop ripens faster while the rest ripens later. I have also noticed that a tree having a full crop will start dropping fruit earlier than another one of the same variety that has a smaller crop. A full week difference on harvest date between 2 trees of the same variety (but with different loads of apples) is quite usual.

In France they usually make 3 harvests, taking the fruit that is on the ground, and after about half of the crop has fallen naturally, they then shake the trees to provoke falling of the rest of the apples before making the third and last harvest run.

If this can make you feel better, I have now finished harvesting my Bulmer's Norman and Douce de Charlevoix. The Yarlington Mills and Muscadet de Dieppe have started to fall, but it is still too early to take the whole crop (but I keep the drops). Others like Reine de pommes and Coat Jersey haven't yet started to drop. Brown's Apple is on a off year for me, so I can't say - but it usually starts to drop by second week of September and I am normally done harvesting it by the 20-25th of September.

As of "sweating", it won't necessarily increase Brix (or SG) really. However if there is still some starch (which would be shown by the iodine test), this starch will transform into sugar. Also, during that ripening, some work will be done on the pectins. Note that sweating is more important on late varieties. For the September cider (or first season cider) there is no real need for a long sweating. For my part, I am planning to do my first cider pressing by the end of next week. The apples will have had about 10 days of sweating - plenty sufficient for early apples when ambiant temperature is still quite high.


Jolicoeur Orchard
Zone 4 in Quebec
Re: Seasons, Dropping, Ripeness, and what to do...
September 14, 2016 04:53PM
David, we are seeing many varieties ripen 2-3 weeks before normal, with also premature drop. The story is common throughout the area. I chalk up the ripening to heat (unprecedented here), and the drop to both dryness and apple maggot intensity.

As for sugar, Claude answered that nicely, but also (if I remember this correctly) any sorbitol in the fruit will convert to fructose. This would be pronounced if there is a lot of watercore, as happens often in weather years like this. Fructose is the sweetest tasting of sugars and so will add that increasing starch conversion. Since acid content will drop in storage, sweetness will also be pronounced the longer the apple sits. I imagine little of this will affect alcohol conversion to an appreciable degree, but would make taste alterations.

Walden Heights Nursery & Orchard
Zone 3 in Vermont
Re: Seasons, Dropping, Ripeness, and what to do...
September 14, 2016 08:33PM
You have both been extremely helpful, and I thank you. I do have one reservation: the starch-iodine test. My understanding is that this is not a binary test, (starch present [blue]/starch absent [no staining]) Rather, the amount of staining gradually shrinks as the apple ripens, (but does not disappear). There are extensive cards against which to compare your McIntosh apple or Golden Delicious, with the point at which it should be picked noted. And the amount of residual staining at ripeness varies from one cultivar to another. I did in fact do starch iodine testing a few years ago, but absent standard cards for cultivars like Brown's Apple or Sweet Coppin, it was impossible to interpret results. (I note in an earlier post a year or two ago that the folk in Australia (McColls??) had gone through a similar experience, and had finally abandoned all methods of judging ripeness, (including starch-iodine), and now relied simply on the change of colour of the ground colour from green to yellow, (or yellow-green), or, in the case of wholly red apples, the change in red from dull red to bright red, (induced by the development of the yellow pigment underneath it)

Broomholm Orchard
Zone 5b in Nova Scotia
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