Welcome to your Best Ever Guide to Apple Picking in British Columbia!
Apples are not called the King of Fruit for nothing. Few fruits have reached the fame of the apple. Always a staple in a fruit bowl, apples are known for keeping the doctor away, making a teacher smile, and are even chosen by most artists as that fated fruit in the Garden of Eden. It’s no wonder apple picking is a favourite activity in BC and around the world.
No one needs to wonder why all the fanfare, since apples are delicious, healthy, easy to pick, and one of the most versatile fruits in existence. They are British Columbia’s most valuable orchard fruit, and 75% of all orchard land in BC is planted with apple trees. Approximately one-third of all apples grown in Canada are sourced from British Columbia, with this region producing about 100,000 tonnes on a yearly basis!
Approximately 65 percent of the apples harvested in this part of Canada are consumed as fresh fruit, with the remainder being transformed into applesauce, apple cider vinegar, apple juice, pie fillings, dried fruit or other apple-based edibles.
If you are planning a fall excursion to British Columbia and have always wanted to visit an apple farm to select your own delicious fruit, you should definitely consider combining these two fun activities and making a day of it!
Harvest Season for BC Apples
Depending on the yearly weather conditions, the apple season in British Columbia typically spans from late August to early November. Virtually all varieties are picked in September and October, and you will have no problem finding farms across the entire region in which to enjoy this interesting and satisfying activity.
BC Apple Varieties
Although there are hundreds of varieties of apples in the world, some of the very best are found in BC. In fact, the average Canadian consumes about 75-100 apples annually. Below are all of British Columbia’s most popular apple varieties, each of which offers its own distinct benefits:
Red Delicious apples are by far the most popular snacking apple. They are juicy and sweet, making them an ideal choice for churning out fresh juice and smoothies. However, they can also be used in baking, and they freeze well. Like the name implies, Red Delicious apples are typically shiny and red, and they are usually harvested in September and October.
Ambrosia apples are British Columbia’s own variety, and they are one of the best apples in existence for eating fresh. They are juicy, but crisp at the same time, and very sweet. They are not ideal for cooking or baking, but most people prefer to snack on them anyway. In fact, it’s difficult to stop yourself from munching as you go along when picking this tasty variety. These apples are pinkish red in colour, and are often described as having a ‘blush.’ They are relatively late bloomers, and are best picked in October to mid November.
We were lucky enough to hear first hand how the Ambroisa apple came to be when we visited a neighbouring apple farm in Cawston.
Check out the story of the BC grown Ambrosia Apple!
Pink Lady apples are an interesting mix of sweet and tart. They are a popular snacking apple because of this unique flavour. They are another late bloomer, so if you’re planning an apple picking excursion centred around this variety, expect to schedule your outing for October or November. As their name infers, Pink Lady apples are light red in colour. They have more of a dull skin when compared to shiny skinned apples like red delicious varieties, and sometimes feature a light green colour around their stem.
The most frequently planted yellow apple, Golden Delicious apples are yellowish-green in colour, and feature a rather subtle tartness, with a sweet edge. They are very popular for both baking and eating fresh, and a local favourite for making homemade apple juice. The season for Golden Delicious apples is a bit narrower than the picking season for other varieties, and this apple is best harvested from mid to late September.
Currently very popular in British Columbia, these apples can be picked as early as mid August and throughout the remainder of the season. They feature a reddish-orange colour, and are known for their sweet taste and juicy texture. Additionally, they have an exceptionally long shelf life. All these positive traits combined make the Gala variety a favorite option for BC apple picking.
These super-sweet apples are renowned for their delicious taste, and feature a pinkish red colour. However, the bottom of a Fuji apple typically stays yellow or green. This does not mean it is not ripe, it’s just a characteristic of this variety. Fuji apples are very juicy, and although they can be used in cooking and baking, they are best eaten fresh. They mature in October, and this is the best month for Fuji apple picking.
These bright green apples are definitely on the tartest end of the sweet to tangy spectrum. They mature and can be harvested from October until the end of the season, and are an all-time favourite for baking. However, if you like tart fruit, go ahead and indulge in Granny Smith apples for fresh eating too.
Salish apples are very tangy, and have a crisp, firm texture. These are reddish-pink in colour, and often feature a bit of yellow across their skins. They are native to British Columbia, where they were actually ‘made’ through the creative combining of several varieties and are trademarked in BC. They can be harvested throughout the entire apple season.
Honeycrisp apples are considered somewhat of a gourmet apple, and are challenging to grow. They have a creamy yellow tint to their skin, and feature a honey-like sweetness. They are very popular for eating fresh, but are typically more expensive than other apple varieties. The apple picking season for this variety is late September to mid October.
Sunrise apples can be picked anytime after mid August, and they have a mildly acidic but sweet taste. They also feature a creamy yellow colour, and are equally as good for baking as they are for fresh eating.
Mcintosh apples have a unique mix of tartness and sweetness, making them good for fresh snacking or baking. They typically have a red-blush hue with fair amounts of green running through their skin. They do not have a very good shelf life, though, so they should be eaten or used shortly after being harvested. They can be picked throughout the entire season.
Nicola apples do not mature until October, and can be picked from then until the end of November. They are very sweet apples, and also feature a particularly strong aroma. They are overwhelmingly used in sauces and pies, although some people do enjoy eating them fresh. Their colour is a distinct cherry red with green undertones, and they are known for a long shelf life.
Spartan apples are usually picked from mid September through late October, and are one of the most popular British Columbia varieties. Their skin is an interesting combination of dark red and green, and they have a distinct taste similar to that of the sweet-tart Mcintosh. They are not grown in many areas of Canada other than British Columbia, so they are a great choice if you are looking for something unique to the area.
How to Pick BC Apples
If you have been waiting all year and now British Columbia’s crunchy, sweet apples are ready for the picking, you may be wondering if there’s anything you need to know concerning this task. Fortunately, apples are not difficult to pick, and you don’t need any special techniques. However, there are certain ways to handle them to avoid bruising them or causing apples nearby to drop.
The best technique for picking all apples is to cup the fruit in the palm of your hand, gently push your hand up and twist the fruit until it pulls away from the tree. The apples should completely detach with their stalks. This technique is always recommended, regardless of the apple variety.
Handle Apples Carefully
Try to avoid ‘tossing’ apples into your baskets because this can bruise their delicate flesh. Additionally, don’t try to tear or tug an apple from its tree, or the fruiting spurs could be damaged. This could also result in nearby apples dropping prematurely.
Apples Ripen In a Non-Linear Manner
Even though there are certain seasons for different apple varieties, not all apples ripen at the exact same time. Therefore, even when working with the same cluster, look at each apple to ensure it’s size and colour look appropriate for that variety. The owners at U-Pick farms can give you specific information about each apple variety when you are there for your visit.
How to Store Apples
Once your excursion is over, you don’t want to be left wondering what to do next. One of the most important things to understand is that early-season apple varieties don’t store well, and therefore should be used or consumed shortly after picking. Midseason varieties can be stored for several weeks before they begin to deteriorate, and late-season apple varieties can last as long as six months.
Only Store Unblemished Apples
It is essential that apples designated for storage be unblemished, with no bruises or damage that could create entry ports for rot. Tissue paper or newspaper should be used to wrap individual apples, which should then be placed on trays. This allows some air to circulate, yet preserves the fruit. They can be stored unwrapped, but it’s essential to keep them from touching each other. If you are storing apples from different seasons, make sure you create a system to differentiate early-season apples that won’t last as long from those varieties that can be used for up to six months.
Apple Storing Locations
The ideal location in which to store any kind of apples is a dark, cool, well-ventilated area. However, it’s important to choose a frost-free area. Sheds and garages are usually ideal, while basements and attics should be avoided because of low humidity, lack of ventilation, excessive heat, and other environmental issues that could lead to your apples rotting.
Storage Temperature for Fresh Apples
Ideally, apples should be stored at 2°C with a relative humidity of 90 percent. The refrigerator is a great option if you don’t have a high number of apples. Plastic bags with holes or crisper drawers are great storage options for apples.
How to Freeze Apples
If you get carried away and pick more apples than you can use or eat at the moment, rest assured you can freeze them to use in the future in pies, breads, and other tasty snacks. Below are several different ways to freeze apples successfully:
Freezing Apple Slices
This is the preferred technique for freezing apples. Wash, dry, core, and peel your apples to the size you want. We recommend larger slices, since smaller cuts may become mushy during the thawing process. When you’re finished slicing, dip the individual pieces in fresh water with a dash of lemon juice. Approximately one tablespoon of lemon juice per gallon is enough. This prevents them from sticking to each other, making it easier for you to separate them later. Freeze them for approximately an hour on a cookie tray and then transfer them to freezer bags. They should last for approximately six months.
Freezing Whole Apples
Freezing whole apples is not an ideal option, but it is worth mentioning. The reason it should not be your first choice for frozen storage is because the apples’ texture will change. Freezing makes apples a bit mushy, so they will not have that juicy, crispy consistency that makes them popular. They may also be difficult to dice and slice for baking. However, if you do want to freeze whole apples, thoroughly wash and dry them, place them on baking sheets, unpeeled. Make sure they are not touching each other, and freeze them for approximately an hour. Once they’re fully frozen, transfer them to freezer bags. As with the apple slices, use your whole apples within six months of freezing them.
BC Apple Facts and Tips
We know that you are quite familiar with the phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” but what else do you know about the humble apple? To help you appreciate just how amazing this fruit is, below are some facts that highlight why apples have long been referred to as ‘nature’s perfect snack.’
Apples and Air
It takes approximately three dozen apples to make one gallon of apple cider. This is because, unlike most fruits and vegetables, one-fourth of an apple’s total volume is actually air. This is why it seems to take so much to squeeze out just a little juice. It is also why apples float so well, and became famous in that renowned game called ‘bobbing for apples.”
Apple Trees Need Friends
In order to produce fruit, the majority of apples need pollen from other apple trees. This is referred to by those in the industry as ‘cross-pollination.’ The second tree must be one that flowers simultaneously, and the presence of bees is very important. This is why you almost always see bees in apple orchards. For good pollination, most orchards maintain beehives to avoid the lower fruit yields and misshapen apples that are sometimes the result of poor pollination.
Apple Trees are Slow Growers
An average-sized apple tree, regardless of the variety, does not begin to bear fruit for approximately ten years. The exception to this rule is the dwarf apple tree, which can begin bearing fruit in as little as three years. However, most apple trees are slow growers, so those who choose to start apple farms must be dedicated to their long-term goals. Fortunately, since apple trees live approximately 100 years, once that ten-year hallmark is reached, a lifetime of reward is available.
Keeping Apple Juice Looking Pretty
Freshly squeezed apple juice turns brown immediately due to an oxidation process that occurs upon contact with air. You may wonder why apple juice never has this dark brown appearance. This is because it can be eliminated with just a touch of lime or lemon juice. This prevents oxidation for up to an hour. Therefore, if you want to serve apple juice but are worried about an icky appearance, grab a lemon or lime.
Health Benefits of Apples
It’s no small wonder that apples are often touted for their health benefits, since they are certainly associated with many of them in a broad range of categories. Below are some of the most well-known health advantages linked to apples:
Enhanced Cognitive Function
Due to impressive levels of boron, apples can increase electrical activity in the brain, boost mental alertness, and improve memory. One study indicated that drinking apple juice daily could fight the effects of ageing on the brain and help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
World organisations, such as the National Cancer Institute in the US, and the Association for Cancer Research in Sweden recommend a high-fibre diet rich in flavonoids. Regular consumption of the latter has been proven to reduce the risk of cancer by up to 20 percent. Additionally, scientists have identified several compounds in apple peels that boast potent tumor-destroying characteristics, so eat those apples with the skins on!
Apples contain zero fat, zero cholesterol, and zero sodium. This alone makes them a heart healthy snack. However, they also have the aforementioned high fibre, which has been proven to lower the risk of heart disease through the prevention of cholesterol buildup. Additionally, the phenolic compounds found in apple skin help to prevent the solidifying of cholesterol on artery walls.
Gallstones occur when excessive cholesterol is formed in bile ducts, causing it to solidify. Doctors recommend high fibre diets to prevent this, which again leads us back to the humble apple.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
According to a study completed by Ontario Apple Growers, individuals who eat the proverbial apple a day are 28 percent less likely to develop adult onset–type II–diabetes. This is due to apples being extremely high in a soluble fibre called pectin, which has a specific stabilising effect on blood sugar variations.
Healthier Whiter Teeth
Naturally, apples can’t replace proper oral care, but chewing and biting into apples stimulates saliva production in your mouth, which in turn, lowers bacteria levels and prevents tooth decay. Other properties in certain apple varieties have been known to help whiten teeth as well.
Combat Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome is sometimes characterised by digestive issues like constipation and diarrhoea, and very few periods of normal bowel function. The fibre in apples has been said to lessen the effects irritable bowel syndrome by pulling water from the colon or absorbing excess water, whichever is most needed to stop the specific symptom that is underway. Very few types of fibre work in a specific manner like this, so in this way, apples are in a class by themselves.
Obesity leads to many health problems, such as sleep apnea, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. Once again, doctors recommend a fibre-rich diet to keep weight under control, making apples a perfect snack for those trying to maintain their weight or successfully lose pounds.
One of the functions of the human liver is to clear toxins from the body. Most doctors are somewhat sceptical of ‘detox diets,’ but most will quickly recommend the liver-friendly apple as a way to help your body neutralise toxins.
Immune System Support
An antioxidant called quercetin is found in apples in abundance. Recent research has concluded that quercetin boosts and fortifies the human immune system. This is particularly true when you are stressed out. So the next time you’re feeling anxious, chow down on an apple.
Where to Pick BC Apples
Now that you know all the health benefits of apples, as well as how to pick, store, and use them, you’re probably wondering where they can be harvested. Below are some of the top British Columbia apple farms where you can enjoy picking your own fruit throughout the season.
Apple Picking Kelowna, BC
Tasty apples, a beautiful location, and a sustainability-conscious staff make this orchard ideal for a Kelowna apple picking excursion.
The name may be hilarious, but this certified organic farm is a fantastic place for picking a broad range of apples, including Ambrosia, Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady varieties.
Paynter’s Fruit Market and Orchard is a great place for an apple picking outing, and you’ll be pleased to know that a farm market is also located on site. This establishment is in West Kelowna.
Apple Picking Abbotsford, BC
Taves Apple Barn is open throughout the season for U-Pick apple excursions, but also offers additional attractions, such as hayrides, pedal carts, a petting barn, and a corn maze.
Willow View Farms is a beautiful establishment at which you can pick several varieties of apples, as well as purchase cold pressed apple cider. Also located on the property is a zip line, mini maze, petting barn, and a country store.
Apple Picking Gabriola Island, BC
This orchard is graced with over a thousand trees and spans two acres. Here, you can pick over a dozen varieties of apples, as well as purchase fresh apple juice, cider, and apple butter.
Apple Picking Salt Spring Island, BC
Laughing Apple Farm is an organic farm spanning 160 acres, and was originally built in the 1880s. At this farm you can enjoy a U-pick day, and finish up by visiting the on-site farmer’s market for more goodies.
Home of the Salt Spring Apple Festival, this beautiful, organic orchard is a fantastic place for an apple picking excursion.
Apple Picking Vernon, BC
At beautiful Davison Orchards, you cannot only pick numerous varieties of apples, you can also enjoy a café and gift shop. This farm offers a children’s play area, farm animal petting, and tractor tours as well.
Founded in 1950, Ringo-En Orchards is now home to an impressive ten apple varieties, and offers an experience you won’t want to miss.