The apple harvest is when it all comes together! For five months or more, Riveridge apple growers have tended their trees, communicated with customers, repaired machinery, worried about the weather and hired workers.
In Michigan by mid-August, the first apple crops – called summer apples – are usually ripe. Yet knowing when to pick apples is as much art as it is science.
Apples approaching maturity reach the appropriate size and turn their characteristic shade of yellow or red. But to know if they’re truly ripe, growers working with Riveridge field staff will test sugar and starch levels, as well as fruit firmness.
Then there’s the taste testing!
When a varietal block within an orchard is ready to harvest, large wood picking bins are placed in the orchard aisles, and the workers are scheduled. In an experienced apple orchard, workers are able to continuously harvest one variety after another for nearly 10 to 11 weeks – they don’t want to take many days off!
The modern orchard is evolving to thin-trunked trees that stand about 12 feet tall and have five to seven branches. Branches are trained in a two-dimensional way to maximize the sunlight. No more large round-topped trees with leaves that shade the apples and prevent them from turning red.
These modern trees will bear a crop in three or four years, and are harvested by a team of two workers using relatively small ladders.
Over the course of two and a half months in a typical Michigan apple harvest, over one billion apples are picked by hand! As of now, there’s no machinery that plucks an apple off the tree without bruising it.
Vacuum Harvesting Aid
Riveridge is experimenting with the only commercial vacuum harvesting aid in the U.S. While vacuum-harvested apples are still picked by hand, the new system simplifies the process.
This self-propelled machinery combines a hydraulic picking platform for four workers, a padded vacuum tube to convey the apples into the wood bins and lights to allow night harvest.
Vacuum harvesting holds many advantages for the workers. Watch our video on the Riveridge Produce You Tube channel to see this innovative orchard technology.