When To Pick Sloes – The Optimal Time Is…

Knowing when to pick sloes is key to ensure you consume them when they’re at their best. Fortunately, the timeline of a sloe’s growth, from when they are first planted to when they are fit to pick, is fairly formulaic in nature. For ease, I’ve outlined it below for you. 

So, when should you pick sloes? The optimal time to pick sloes is when they bear a deep purple-blue-black colour. They should also have an almost soft texture to the touch. They typically ripen and are ready to pick around the time of mid-Autumn each year.

That’s the high-level overview.

But as you would expect, knowing when to pick is ultimately down to a number of factors, such as the age of the bush and the weather they’ve encountered that year so far.

With this in mind, let us continue to explore the timings, so you know when is best to pick. And perhaps more importantly, when not to.

What Month Are Sloes Ready To Pick

Sloes are typically ready to pick between the end of November and the middle of December. 

To ensure the most pleasing flavour, it is, of course, best to wait until sloe berries are ripe before you pick them. 

Their ripening occurs around the time of mid-Autumn each year, and their harvesting schedule is as follows. 

First, the blackthorn bush, i.e., the hedgerow plant on which sloe berries grow, is planted. 

The ideal time to plant the blackthorn bush is during Autumn to ensure that the plant’s roots have sufficient opportunity to develop before the much colder Winter conditions strike and make their growth all the more difficult. 

Next on the timeline? Flowers! By the end of April, you’ll find the blackthorn bush littered with a beautiful array of white Spring flowers.

Finally, after much anticipation, the following Autumn, the blackthorn bush grows sloe berries. 

When they first appear, they won’t be ripe. 

This will be well evidenced by their green colour, hard texture, and extremely unpleasant taste. 

Nevertheless, it won’t be long until the sloe berries have ripened, and when they do, you’ll know it; each of the characteristics they exhibited whilst unripe will have changed. 

How Do You Know When Sloe Berries Are Ready To Be Picked?

As the sloes begin to ripen, their sour taste and high astringency wear off, making their flavour all the more bearable. Additional indicators of their ripeness include a change in their colour. They evolve from green to a deep purple, blue-black. Plus, their texture will become noticeably softer. 

However, even though each of the above factors sheds light on the fact that the sloe berries before you are ripe, it is recommended to wait until after the first frost of Winter to pick them. 

It’s at this point that they are said to have the most pleasing flavour, as well as a dramatically reduced astringency level. 

The science behind this change is due to the cold weather effectively breaking down the sloe berries’ skin. 

In turn, the sloe’s starches convert to sugar, and its tannin levels decrease significantly. The heightened sugar and diminished tannin levels mean that the sloe berries are finally bearable in taste! 

However, there’s a slight catch you ought to be aware of. 

Waiting for the first frost of Winter before picking your sloe berries means that the fruit will have already been ripe for a fair amount of time in advance of being picked. 

As a result, the sloes often become the prey of choice for many birds and other animals. 

If the birds happen to get to them before you do, which is certainly a realistic possibility, you will, unfortunately, be left with far fewer sloe berries to work with than you would have otherwise. 

For this reason, many prefer to pick their sloe berries when still unripe, and rather than waiting for winter conditions to strike, they utilise their freezers instead. 

The process of freezing sloe berries has been proven to successfully mimic the cold winter conditions, thereby bringing out their sweet flavour and overall tolerability without competing with birds in the process. 

And it’s worth the effort.

If you are brave enough to dare try an unripe sloe berry, you’re in for a fairly foul experience. 

Unripe sloe berries are renowned for their supreme bitterness. To add, they are astringent in nature, meaning that they’ll entirely dry out the consumer’s mouth. 

All in all, it’s not a great experience as far as spontaneously eating the fruit off plants is concerned. 

That being said, under the right conditions (and as outlined above), sloe berries are quite delicious! 

Do sloe berries fruit every year?

Healthy and mature sloe berry bushes should fruit every year, though it does, of course, depend on the bush’s age and also the environmental conditions.

Once planted, it can take up to around eight years for a blackthorn bush to begin producing sloe berries. 

Even so, following this, their growth schedule is known to be a pretty consistent one, i.e., like clockwork, the flowers blossom in Spring by the end of the April, and it’s Autumn when the sloes begin to show up and ripen. 

Whilst this timeline appears to be consistent at first glance, the truth is that a number of variables have the power to affect the quality of the sloe berry harvest.

For instance, if the conditions throughout the preceding Spring and Summer prior happened to be suboptimal, such as being wetter and colder than usual, the number of sloe berries available to pick in Autumn would wind up being much more limited than usual. 

The reason is that cold and damp conditions give way for the blackthorn bush to develop infections, which in turn prevent its healthy growth.

You can also promote the growth of sloe berries by sticking to a hole-proof pruning schedule. 

The best season to prune the blackthorn bush is the Wintertime, whilst the shrub is not in an active growth stage. 

By removing dying branches and twigs, you will effectively promote the bush’s growth, namely by enabling the sunlight to better penetrate more of the bush, as well as enhancing the bush’s respective air circulation. 

Do Sloes Ripen Off The Tree?

Sloe berries do indeed ripen off the tree. Once picked, they’ll continue to ripen, and fortunately so, as the more they ripen, the more tolerable to taste they gradually become. 

Again, for best results, if you have picked your sloe berries prior to the first frost, you still have the chance to bring out the best of their flavour by freezing them and mimicking the harsh winter conditions that they so badly need. 

Related Questions

Is September too early to pick sloes?

September is typically too early to pick sloes. Sloes come into season around October/November, and unripe sloes are not particularly enjoyable.

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