Growing Green

By Robin Trott, Extension Educator

Have you heard that you should wait until after a frost to harvest your apples? I am here to bust that myth. If we followed that rule, many of our apples would be rotten or on the ground by the time we picked them. This is because each apple has a different ripening time, anywhere from mid-August to October.

Instead of waiting until a frost, use a few simple, smart guidelines to decide when to harvest your apples.

Most apple varieties available to home gardeners in Minnesota are harvested after mid-September and before Halloween. Apple ripening varies greatly by variety and even within the canopy of a single tree. Apples in the center of the tree are more shaded and ripen more slowly than apples on the outside and top. Apple growers can use fruit color, sugar content, loss of starchiness and flavor to decide when to harvest. A ripe apple should be sweet, have a pleasant (non-starchy) mouthfeel and be red with a yellow background color.

If you are unsure of which apple to grow or buy, here’s a list of the top 5 apple varieties in Minnesota.

1. Fireside was introduced in 1943 by the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station. It’s a cross between McIntosh and Longfield varieties, characterized by being able to withstand very low temperatures. It is a very large fruit with a sweet flavor and fine-grained flesh good for fresh eating, salad and baked apples. Fireside apples ripen in mid-October.

2. SweeTango is a brand of apples that was developed in Minnesota in 2000. These apples are a hybrid of Zestar and Honeycrisp breeds, and they’ve been commercially sold since 2009. The flavor is intense, rich, sweet and tangy, while the apples themselves are red in color with a yellow background. SweeTango apples are not available to grow in home orchards. They ripen in early September.

3. Chestnut Crab was developed at the Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station in 1946. The apples are harvested in late summer through early fall. It’s recommended to use Chestnut Crab apples in desserts, pickling, applesauce and making cider.

4. Sweet Sixteen was introduced in 1973. The apples are large and conical, with a greenish-yellow skin and red stripes. Sweet Sixteen apples ripen in mid-late September and are recommended for use in desserts and baking.

5. Honeycrisp is the state’s official fruit. They have a balanced sweet-tart flavor and a crisp and juicy texture. It’s recommended to consume the apples raw as a snack, pair them with cheese or use them in fresh salads. Honeycrisp apples ripen in late September.

For more information on growing apples, visit:

Until next time, happy gardening!

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“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” ~Martin Luther