Harvesting Fruit

Figure out how to get all that good, juicy fruit from the tree in to your hands — either on your own or with a little help. What you do with that fruit is up to you; we suggest eating some yourself and giving some away.

If you need help harvesting your fruit trees and you live in the Puget Sound region, contact the organization closest to your home from the list below. They would be happy to receive your donation of fresh fruit to help feed people in need.


Harvesting Help in the Greater Seattle Area

To donate your tree’s fruit in Phinney, Greenwood, SE Seattle, Beacon Hill, Rainier Beach, Ballard, Wallingford, and West Seattle, contact City Fruit: [email protected]

Garden Hotline at Seattle Tilth  [email protected] or 206-633-0224

Bellingham – Small Potatoes Gleaning Project  360-739-5274

Olympia – Thurston County Food Bank Gleaners   [email protected]   360-352-8597 x108

Port Townsend – Quimper Community Harvest  [email protected]


When is the fruit ready to harvest?

Deciding the best time for picking fruit is as much an art as a science. For one thing, not all the fruit on a tree is ripe at once: high fruit exposed to the sun is usually ready sooner than the lower, shaded fruits.


Plums are picked when they are sweet and slightly soft. In some trees, plums exposed to hot sun will be ripe while those in the shade will be hard. Unless you plan to go back to the tree later, it will be necessary to choose the point at which the most plums are ripe. Green plums don’t tend to ripen much after they are picked.


Apples & Asian Pears are also picked when they are ripe. Twist the fruit: if it easily snaps off the branch, taste it for ripeness. Even tart apples lose that ‘chalky’ taste when they are ripe.


European Pears, like Bartletts, are picked green and hard and allowed to ripen for a few days to a week after being harvested. A pear is ready to pick when the stem snaps readily away from the branch.

What kind of equipment is needed?

Orchard ladder

If possible, use an orchard ladder—not a stepladder. An orchard ladder has a wide base that tapers towards the top, and a single pole that extends out (see diagram). The tripod construction makes the ladder both more stable and maneuverable: the pole can be maneuvered in and around branches and leaders in the center of the tree so that the picker can climb up into the heart of the tree. An orchard ladder is also more stable when picking the outside branches, or canopy.

Extension ladders are safest when set into the center of the tree, against a trunk or main leader. Extension ladders shouldn’t be set against a branch at the outside of the tree.


Fruit picking tools

Fruit picking tools are most often used to pick fruit when standing on the ground. The most common tool, known as a ‘fruit picker,’ consists of a cage-like head, often lined with foam rubber to cushion the fruit, at the end of a pole. Many are constructed so you can add an extension pole to reach taller fruit. The ‘cage’ at the top of the pole is pronged, to pull the fruit from the tree. Fruit pickers are most effective for harvesting larger, hard fruits, such as pears, Asian pears and apples.



Picking bags

The best bags for harvesting have shoulder straps that leave the hands free and a top opening that allows easy access into the bag. The bag shouldn’t be too large because soft fruit gets crushed in big bags. Soft canvas or nylon bags are best, and a small backpack, worn backwards, also works well.





Share Extra Fruit

If you can pick your own tree and would like help delivering the fruit, view our list of recipient organizations.



Wondering what else you can do with all that fruit?

Get tasty fruit recipes from our blog
Download a free info sheet with Fruit Drying instructions