Choose The Right Type Of Apple Picker For Your Harvest

When it's time to harvest your apple crop, you'll need an apple picker. Here's a guide to deciding which design is right for you.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

September has arrived, which means that apple picking season is here too. Hobby farmers across the country can look forward to harvesting apples from their orchards, ushering in a season filled with apple pie, applesauce and apple crisp. But unless your apple trees are quite small, you’ll need some tools to harvest the apples that grow out of reach, at the tops of your trees. An ordinary ladder might do the trick for some trees, but for others (such as older, non-dwarf trees that have quietly grown 30 feet tall), you’ll need an apple picker on hand—or several, depending on the number of trees and people your farm has.

An apple picker is essentially a long pole (usually a telescoping pole that can be extended in length) with a device at one end for harvesting apples from your trees. Many different designs exist, but in general they fall into two categories, which I describe as “basket pickers” and “grabbing pickers.”

Basket Pickers

An apple picker of this variety is topped by a simple wire-frame basket. One side of the basket features a few curved “claws” that grab onto individual apples and pull them off the branches.

The basket design offers several advantages for hobby farmers looking to harvest a large number of apples. For one, the baskets are usually large enough to hold many apples at once—depending on their size, you might be able to fit anywhere from five or six large apples to a dozen smaller ones in the basket, reducing the number of times you have to raise and lower the apple picker. (This is a benefit, since apple pickers can be rather heavy). It’s also easy for the user to remove the apples from the picker’s basket and place them safely in a bag, box or basket for transportation back to your house.

The main disadvantage of using this type of apple picker? The curved claws tend to hang up in branches, causing minor damage to your trees and occasionally getting stuck so thoroughly that you’ll need to break a branch to bring the picker back down. Also, when harvesting from high in the tree, it can be difficult to tell whether you’ve grabbed hold of an apple or not, causing some to fall on the ground instead of in your basket.

Grabbing Pickers

This type of apple picker is designed to harvest one apple at a time using two or three rounded claws that are controlled by a lever at the bottom of the handle—I use a picker that resembles this one. These claws close securely around one apple at a time, removing it from the tree with less chance of damaging any branches.

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But while these “apple grabbers” are easier on the trees (and are fun to use), a couple of aspects make them harder to use in certain cases. For one, they can harvest only one apple at a time, significantly increasing the number of times you have to raise and lower the picker. Secondly, their design requires you to hold the lever on the handle to maintain a grip on the apple, which means that to remove the apple, you must place the grabber over their harvest bag/basket and release the lever, dropping the apple into place and increasing the chance that you’ll bruise the fruit.

There are other types of apple pickers as well, and the design you choose might come down to personal preference and the number of apples you intend to harvest. In any case, a crop of fresh apples will be an ample reward for your effort.

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