Once every four or five years local fruit growers enjoy a tree-ripened peach. In most years, late spring frosts, insects and disease turn these trees into barren ornamentals. This year, however, fruit trees across the county are loaded, breaking branches and whetting gardeners' appetites.
Harvesting fruit at the peak of the season will help maintain nutrients, quality and freshness. Here are some suggestions as to when tree fruits are ripe for picking:
Harvest is based on the condition and maturity of the fruit. An early indication of a maturing crop is when normal, unblemished fruit begins to drop. Check if the flesh color at the bottom of the fruit has turned from green to yellow-green. A taste test will also indicate that the starches are turning to sugar. When all signs of maturity are present, the apple should pick easily with the stem still attached to the fruit. Picking is done by rolling or twisting the apple away from the fruit spur. Harvested apples should be kept at 33 to 35 degrees for retention of flavor and quality. When stored in this temperature range, apples change very little. When stored at 40 degrees, they ripen slowly, and at 60 degrees or higher they mature rapidly. The best way to store apples is in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator.
Grapes should not be picked until they are fully ripe. They will not develop full flavor if harvested before completely mature. The best indications of ripeness are color and flavor. The natural bloom on the grape will become noticeable at the fully ripe stage, and the berries will become slightly less firm to the touch. Cut each cluster from the vine with a knife or pruning shears, handling them as little as possible. Lay the clusters in a basket or other container, using care not to crush them. Unlike most small fruits, grapes will keep for several weeks if they are picked carefully and stored in a very cool, well-ventilated place. Keep grapes away from other kinds of produce because they readily absorb odors.
Peaches are best picked when the fruit separates easily from the twigs. Pick them when the ground color changes from green to yellow. The skin of yellow-fleshed varieties ripens to an orange tint, while the skin of white-fleshed varieties changes from greenish- to yellow-white. For best flavor, allow the fruit to ripen fully on the tree. Store at 32 degrees and high humidity.
The fruit can be ripened on the tree, but for better quality, they are best picked early and allowed to ripen indoors. A few guidelines in determining whether pears are ready to be picked include: healthy fruits begin to drop; there is a change in fruit color from green to yellow; and the stem separates easily from the branch. To pick pears, grasp the fruit firmly and twist or roll it to make the stem separate from the tree. If pears are picked before they are fully ripe, they should be ripened at room temperature of 60 to 70 degrees. This will result in optimum quality and smoothness of flesh. If you want to keep pear for a longer period of time, store the freshly picked fruit in the refrigerator.