Home garden fruit should be picked at the proper stage of maturation. This, however, may not coincide with the ripe stage or that time when it tastes best. Some fruit species should be allowed to remain on the tree until they are ready to eat, or just about ready, that is, until they are ripe. On the other hand, some fruit should never be allowed to ripen on the tree. They must be picked at the correct maturation stage and they will continue to ripen off the plant.
Taste is not the only reason to allow fruit to hang on the tree until it is ready. Some fruit, like peaches, for example, will often put on a quarter of their total size during the last few days they are on the tree. If they are picked too early, not only could there be a possible loss in quality, but also in quantity (pounds of fruit). Not all fruit will do this in the same proportion, but here is usually a substantial enlargement during the last stages of growth.
Apples are often picked too early. Try tasting them. If they are not ready they will be puckery and have an astringent taste. If apples are picked too green, they will never really become sweet like they should, or develop a good taste. Except for solid red varieties, the ground color is always a good indicator of readiness. When this basic green ground color shows considerable yellowing, most apples will be ready. The seeds should have gotten pretty dark. Apples whose seeds are still green should not be harvested. Lift and apple and twist it slightly; those that are ready should separate easily for the branch and the stems should remain attached to the fruit. Apples which are to be eaten relatively soon should be allowed to ripen to the tree. Those to be stored should be picked a week or so before the ripe stage.
Apricots must be completely yellow over the entire surface but not too soft. They should be picked while still fairly firm. If picked too early, they will never develop optimum sweetness.
Cherries should be ripe on the tree before picking. They must be juicy and sweet but still firm. The darker varieties should become very dark indeed before picking. Use the taste test.
Peaches are ready for picking when about 75% of the green ground color has become yellowish. It's not really the red color that's important. Keep your eye on the ground color. The best quality is obtained in peaches if they are allowed to ripen completely on the tree. Since they don't store well anyhow, there is not too much advantage in picking them before the ripe stage. If you do pick them too early, they will probably turn rubbery and remain sour.
Pears should never be allowed to ripen on the tree. Those that do may develop grittiness or will be subject to core breakdown. The area around the core turns brown and mushy in storage. Pears ripen best off the tree. Pick them while they are still good and firm and just turning yellowish green. Picking them too green may mean they will never get their best flavor. Winter pears, such as Anjour and Bosc require at least 30 days of refrigeration after harvest to ripen properly.
A pear ready to be picked should have a feeling of springiness to its flesh. Close your hand around one and squeeze. If it feels absolutely rock hard, it's still not ready. You should be able to detect a slight feeling of give, but not too much. As on apples, the seeds should turn brown, and with a slight lift and twist the fruit should come away from the spurs easily. Pears should be stored at about 32° F. or they will continue to ripen. At room temperature pears will ripen and be ready to eat in a few days. See also When to Pick Pears
Asian pears, unlike European pears, should be allowed to ripen on the tree. They need no after-ripening storage period. Asian pears are ready for harvest when they come away easily from the spur or branch when they are lifted and twisted slightly. Use the taste test; they're ready when they taste good. Asian pears should be crisp and crunchy when eaten.
Do remember that many varieties of apple and pears must remain on their plants until late October and in some cases, even into November in order for them to reach the proper stage of maturity. Try not to allow your impatience to get the best of you. See also When to Pick Pears
PLUMS & PRUNES
With both Japanese and European varieties of plums, the taste test is probably the best way to determine readiness for harvest. They should just be beginning to soften. The taste test should reveal fruit which are soft, sweet and juicy.
Watching ground color on many European varieties is often a help. It becomes yellowish in contrast to the dull greenish color of the immature state. Ripeness of Italian prunes should be determined by the taste test. Japanese plums will often look highly colored before they are ripe, so color should not be used to assess ripeness on these fruits. Use the taste test
Figs should be allowed to remain on the tree until they are ripe. The flesh should be quite soft and the proper color for the particular variety should have been reached. Figs will bend at the neck and hang limply on the branches as they get close to ripening. When picked, the stems should not exude any milky sap; if they do, they're still not ripe enough.
For furthern information contact your local WSU Extension Office.