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A day in the life of a harvester 

Harvest is the busiest time of the year for anyone involved in apple growing and cider making. The transition from apples to cider begins and plans for the vintage start to whirr into motion. The work is hard and the hours are long – but, if all goes well, the payoff is quite wonderful. 

So, what is actually involved in harvesting apples? What would a typical day in the life of an apple harvester look like? Well, let’s find out, shall we? 

Rachel Hendry

A wine and cider writer, featured in Wine52’s Glug magazine, Pellicle magazine, Burum Collective and Two Belly. The mind behind wine newsletter J’adore le Plonk and an untiring advocate for spritzing every drink she can get her hands on.

A day in the life of a harvester 

Harvest is the busiest time of the year for anyone involved in apple growing and cider making. The transition from apples to cider begins and plans for the vintage start to whirr into motion. The work is hard and the hours are long – but, if all goes well, the payoff is quite wonderful. 

So, what is actually involved in harvesting apples? What would a typical day in the life of an apple harvester look like? Well, let’s find out, shall we? 

Rachel Hendry

A wine and cider writer, featured in Glug, Pellicle, Burum Collective and Two Belly. The mind behind wine newsletter J’adore le Plonk.

When does harvest start? 

The Harvest is not dictated by apple growers or cider makers, but by the weather’s impact on fruit. A harvest team can plan and prepare as much as they like, but it is only when the fruit decides it is ripe and ready that harvest can truly begin. 

If all goes to plan, the apples will ripen and swell over the summer months, building a beautiful balance of sugar and acidity. When they can ripen and swell no more, the fruit begins to fall from the trees, and harvest is a go. As a rule, then, picking apples from the floor is the best way to guarantee you are picking apples at their absolute ripest! 

When does harvest start? 

The Harvest is not dictated by apple growers or cider makers, but by the weather’s impact on fruit. A harvest team can plan and prepare as much as they like, but it is only when the fruit decides it is ripe and ready that harvest can truly begin. 

If all goes to plan, the apples will ripen and swell over the summer months, building a beautiful balance of sugar and acidity. When they can ripen and swell no more, the fruit begins to fall from the trees, and harvest is a go. As a rule, then, picking apples from the floor is the best way to guarantee you are picking apples at their absolute ripest! 

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The order in which apples fall tend to follow a pattern. For example, some early harvesting apples include varieties such as Discovery and Major, while some later harvesting apples include varieties such as Dabinett and Yarlington Mill. Although so much of the harvest is down to Mother Nature, knowing this pattern helps a cider maker build a plan of action when it comes to picking and pressing. 

The order in which apples fall tend to follow a pattern… knowing this pattern helps a cider maker to build a plan of action when it comes to picking and pressing. 

 Rachel Hendry

“You get soft, almost wine like aromatics, refeshing… acidity and apple driven, when you try Kent and Eastern style ciders”

— Alison Taffs

The order in which apples fall tend to follow a pattern. For example, some early harvesting apples include varieties such as Discovery and Major, while some later harvesting apples include varieties such as Dabinett and Yarlington Mill. Although so much of the harvest is down to Mother Nature, knowing this pattern helps a cider maker build a plan of action when it comes to picking and pressing. 

Seizing the day 

Give or take a week or two, harvest tends to fall between mid-September and early December. 

By this point we are well and truly into Autumn and the days are growing shorter in the run up to Daylight Savings Time, so it’s normal for a team of harvesters to be up and at it with the sun. No lie-in’s, I’m afraid!  

A good breakfast is in order, some hot caffeine and a plan for the day. Harvest takes place outdoors, so a typical harvest attire needs to include everything from sun cream to thermals and waterproofs.  

Seizing the day 

Give or take a week or two, harvest tends to fall between mid-September and early December. 

By this point we are well and truly into Autumn and the days are growing shorter in the run up to Daylight Savings Time, so it’s normal for a team of harvesters to be up and at it with the sun. No lie-in’s, I’m afraid!  

A good breakfast is in order, some hot caffeine and a plan for the day. Harvest takes place outdoors, so a typical harvest attire needs to include everything from sun cream to thermals and waterproofs.  

To pank or not to pank 

As discussedunless the wind has caused havoc and knocked them offthe ripest apples are the ones that have naturally fallen to the floor, so this is where the picking begins. 

Harvest occurs on many levels. Once the base of a tree has been thoroughly scavenged, it’s time to give the base a good shaking to encourage more apples to fall to the ground. There may be some left that you can reach by hand, but if not it’s time for the panking pole to make an appearance! A panking pole is a very long pole with a hook on the end, perfect for hooking onto higher branches so you can give them a good shake.  

To pank or not to pank 

As discussedunless the wind has caused havoc and knocked them offthe ripest apples are the ones that have naturally fallen to the floor, so this is where the picking begins. 

Harvest occurs on many levels. Once the base of a tree has been thoroughly scavenged, it’s time to give the base a good shaking to encourage more apples to fall to the ground. There may be some left that you can reach by hand, but if not it’s time for the panking pole to make an appearance! A panking pole is a very long pole with a hook on the end, perfect for hooking onto higher branches so you can give them a good shake.  

Some orchards will complete this process with the help of machines mounted onto tractors, a decision which will vary from orchard to orchard and grower to grower.  

Regardless of method, the days are long and laborious, so a lot of harvesters rely on music to motivate them throughout the day. I asked a few harvesters for their favourite harvest songs, here is a playlist of their suggestions: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0gQdbj7NsBsQU7cbBU4Bkc?si=G8wWEYjlROqbU5sShaknJQ 

Some orchards will complete this process with the help of machines mounted onto tractors, a decision which will vary from orchard to orchard and grower to grower.  

Regardless of method, the days are long and laborious, so a lot of harvesters rely on music to motivate them throughout the day. I asked a few harvesters for their favourite harvest songs, here is a playlist of their suggestions: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/0gQdbj7NsBsQU7cbBU4Bkc?si=G8wWEYjlROqbU5sShaknJQ 

A good breakfast is in order, some hot caffeine and a plan for the day. Harvest takes place outdoors so a typical harvest attire needs to include everything from sun cream to thermals and waterproofs.  

 Rachel Hendry

“You get soft, almost wine like aromatics, refeshing… acidity and apple driven, when you try Kent and Eastern style ciders”

— Alison Taffs

Not over until the press is clean 

Mother Nature’s effect on her fruit doesn’t stop once the apples have been picked. After the apples have been gathered from the orchards and delivered to their respective cideries, some may be allowed to sit for a little longer to ensure maximum ripeness, but others may have to get pressed as quick as possible — before the fruit begins to rot.  

Pressing is the conversion of apples from fruit into juice. First of all, apples are ground into a pulp, and it is this pulp that gets pressed into juice in order to make it easier on the hands or machines involved. There are many methods of pressing and each maker will have their preference, but the important factor here is that apples are pressed quickly, before they are ruined by rot and in time for the juice to start fermenting whilst the winter chill is still in the air.  

A harvester’s job, then, is not done until the press is clean and the juice is carefully stored away, slowly fermenting. 

This is all to say that there is a lot of work that goes into harvesting apples so they can be used for the cider you drink. I encourage you to bear this in mind and raise a glass with the next bottle of cider you open. Wassail!   



Not over until the press is clean 

Mother Nature’s effect on her fruit doesn’t stop once the apples have been picked. After the apples have been gathered from the orchards and delivered to their respective cideries, some may be allowed to sit for a little longer to ensure maximum ripeness, but others may have to get pressed as quick as possible – so as not to let the fruit rot.  

Pressing is the conversion of apples from fruit into juice. First of all, apples are ground into a pulp, and it is this pulp that gets pressed into juice in order to make it easier on the hands or machines involved. There are many methods of pressing and each maker will have their preference, but the important factor here is that apples are pressed quickly, before they are ruined by rot and in time for the juice to start fermenting whilst the winter chill is still in the air.  

A harvester’s job, then, is not done until the press is clean and the juice is carefully stored away, slowly fermenting. 

This is all to say that there is a lot of work that goes into harvesting apples so they can be used for the cider you drink. I encourage you bare this in mind and raise a glass with the next bottle of cider you open. Wassail!    

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