Pick of the crop

Pick of the crop

Autumn is a very productive time in the garden, particularly in the orchard. Lots of properties will have at least a feijoa or an apple, perhaps a pear and possibly something a little more exotic such as a fig, cherimoya or a quince. Picking these at the right time is vital for example, pears picked unripe will sit on the bench like rocks for weeks, before finally rotting.

Picked too ripe, though, they will go off quickly or, if you manage to eat them in time, the flesh will often be mealy and the core gone to mush. Similarly, overripe apples will go floury quickly and the difference in taste between a fig that is fully ripe, one that is not quite ripe and one that is overripe is dramatic.

For newbies and experienced gardeners alike, it can be a little difficult to know when these crops are ripe. Knowing the variety you have will help, as then you can look it up and get an approximate harvest date, but even then not all the fruit on one tree will be ready at the same time.

The guide is set out in roughly the order of events as maturity approaches.

Seeds

Most fruit seeds will get darker as maturity approaches: pipfruit seeds should be dark brown or black, figs dark red or yellow, depending on the variety, and feijoa seeds should be surrounded by jelly.

Fruit orientation

This applies mostly to figs as the fruit mature, they will droop down from their weight.

pears

Pears showing colour change, although this one may be overripe.

Colour

With nearly all autumn fruits there will be some subtle changes in colour. Red or purple fruit will tend to darken as maturity approaches green types may take on a slightly yellower tinge.

quince

The more mature quinces are starting to lose their fuzz.

Hairiness

That’s right, as fruit gets older, it gets less hairy a bit like male pattern baldness! In fact, in most cases the fuzz is so fine it just shows as a slightly dull appearance to the skin but, as it comes off, the skin becomes shiny. Quinces and cherimoya are most the noticeable examples but feijoas also get shinier as they mature.

Firmness

Many of these fruits will soften slightly when they are ready to pick. Unripe fruit will be rock hard to a gentle squeeze but ripe fruit will have a slightly spongy feel. Just don’t squeeze too hard, or the fruit will bruise.

Fruit drop

Damaged or infested fruit will start to fall before the rest of the crop is ripe, so they are a good marker for the remaining fruit. A special case is feijoas most people wait until feijoas drop to the ground before harvesting. This is fine for fruit that will be used in the next few days but if you want them to last longer than this, or you don’t like grubbing around in wet grass, the fruit is best hand-picked before it drops. Simply wait until the first fruit drop and then check any others that look like they are ripe by giving them a very gentle tug. If they come off easily, they are ripe.

Aroma

All fruit give off an aroma as they approach maturity in some crops, such as nashi, cherimoya and quince, the fruity aromas can be quite strong and a good indicator of maturity but in others the aroma is either weak, or develops after the fruit is already overripe, such as in pears and apples.

Ease of picking

Autumn fruits should be picked by “lifting” upwards from the tree rather than pulling down or twisting fruit that is ready to pick will easily come off the tree when lifted. Some varieties, such as ‘Beurre Bosc’ pears, won’t separate easily even when ready, so take this into account.