This year, the Royal Gala group, the first of our main varieties will commence harvest around the second week in the month. As far as we can estimate Royal Gala harvest is expected to be about a week earlier than usual due to the particularly warm temperature we experienced immediately after blossom. From the middle of February Royal Gala group harvest will be in full swing. Use starch iodine to monitor maturity progression.
It is quite common for upper tree fruit to have the best colour, but lag behind lower tree in maturity, particularly in younger blocks, so it may not be necessary to use ladders for the first pick. This should speed up harvest if you do not need to worry about the upper tree in the first week.
Low colour, late pick Royal Gala is poor quality and needs to be left behind. Pick the eyes out of the crop, then move rapidly on to the next variety or later harvest blocks.
Where there is labour available, there is still time to revisit later varieties for further crop grooming. Attention to fruit light exposure is important for good colour development. Judicious, carefully supervised summer pruning and leaf plucking can make a big difference to pack out in red varieties.
Where branches have been allowed to lodge on lower branches due to fruit weight, tying these branches up with biodegradable string will often give a good return for effort.
Keep on top of the harvest. Fruit picked early in the harvest period for a variety is higher quality than later picked fruit and usually packs out better due to less handling injury than riper later picked fruit.
Labour is a problem this year. To get the best out of your workers, strong emphasis needs to be placed on training and supervision. Also think of smart ways to maintain morale and performance.