Have you ever picked up a piece of fruit from the grocery store or farmers market and thought to yourself: “how did it get here?”
You’re not alone. Understanding where fruit comes from is one of the biggest trends to develop out of 2020, with more and more Australians motivated by shopping and supporting local.
At Montague, we’re not only passionate about ensuring the consumer gets the best quality fruit, but also educating consumers (you) about what goes into growing it and delivering it to the supermarket shelves.
Sit back and settle in, as we take you on the apple journey from the orchard to the supermarket shelf with this guide.
Where do different apple varieties come from?
Next time you’re strolling through the apple section of your local supermarket or greengrocer, take a moment to look at the different types of apples.
At Montague, we travel the world to bring new varieties back to Australia to plant, grow and test – a process that can take up to five years before a new apple variety is ready to hit retailer’s shelves.
From the JAZZ™ Apple, which originated from New Zealand, to one of the newer varieties SweeTango® from Minnesota, each new variety ensures Montague can deliver an apple to suit any taste preference.
If you’re local to Melbourne, you can try our newer varieties that are not yet available from retail stores at Bill’s Orchard Gate.
How long does it take to grow an apple?
When a new apple variety is planted, it can take up to five years for it to grow enough fruit for a full harvest.
Just as your garden comes to life with new flower buds in spring, so do apple trees with blossoms, which are pollinated by bees flying from flower to flower.
It takes up to nine months for an apple to grow from a flower to fruit, with apples being one of the slowest ripening fruit products.
During spring, our trees are thinned, pruned and fertilized, and when the temperature rises in summer, watering plays a key role to ensure the fruit matures to the optimum size.
To protect the crop as it grows through summer, netting is placed over the trees to limit the impact of weather such as hail and wind, as well as keeping away pesky birds.
As apples grow on tree branches, reflective sheets are often placed on the bed of the orchard rows between the trees to reflect the rays of sunshine up to the hidden fruit and produce an even colour on the whole apples.
When are apples picked?
While autumn is harvest season for apples, they are picked at different stages anywhere from early February to late May.
Many factors come into play knowing when apples are ready for harvest – from the variety of the apple to the location of the orchard; traditionally apples are harvested in Queensland before Tasmania due to the difference in climate and temperature.
Most of our seasonal varieties, such as Smitten®, Ambrosia™ and yello® are only available for a short time – anywhere from eight to twelve weeks – when they are picked and delivered straight to supermarket shelves.
Our JAZZ™, envy™ and eve™ varieties are all harvested by the end of autumn, with a portion of the apples kept in cold storage for a short time to deliver our proud Montague flavours to consumers throughout the year.
While many people have concerns about cold storage, the apples are in fact ‘put to sleep’ depriving them of oxygen to stop the ripening process. This is a chemical-free approach used to keep fruit fresher for longer and ensure you can still enjoy our favourite apples throughout the year before the next season.
Importantly, all of the Montague managed varieties are grown in Australia by our network of growers.
What happens to the apple after it's picked?
There’s a lot that goes into getting the apple to you once it’s been picked from the tree, including checking the quality, separating the apples into different sizes and packing them either into pre-pack containers, bags or boxes for the markets.
After the crates come in from the orchard, apples are tipped into a water bath where they float along a production line.
At our new processing facility at Montague Narre Warren North, each apple is weighed, and 30 photos are taken of each piece of fruit as it rotates through the grading machine – these photos and technology allow us to detect any cuts, bruises, holes or colour change of the flesh to give you the perfect apple.
Throughout this process, the apples are washed before being packed to suit varying retailer requirements.
To see how this works up-close, we offer a Facility Tour of our new state-of-the-art packing facility located at The Orchard at Montague – read more about what to expect during your tour with this guide.
Don’t forget to follow @montagueofficial to be the first to know when fruit is in season and learn more about our different apple varieties.