Get Paid for Picking Apples
By Steve Gillman
Back when I was younger, two friends called me up one day
to see if I was interested in picking apples to make some extra
cash. Since it was something I hadn't done before, I agreed (it
is fun to be without regular work as long as the bills are paid
and you have no debt). As it turned out, we were the only ones
in the field who spoke English, despite the fact that this was
We did two types of harvesting. First came the "eating
apples," which were carefully hand-picked. My two friends
did most of the apples within reach of the ground, while I climbed
the trees to get the higher ones. We had special canvas bags
that hung in front of us to put the apples in, with bottoms that
opened up to carefully drop the loads into the big wooden boxes
set out in the orchard. These boxes held perhaps a thousand pounds
of apples. We used ladders as well, although they seemed more
dangerous to me than climbing the tree.
Then there were the "juice apples," which we harvested
after the others. Since they were going to be juiced within a
day or so of picking, these apples could be shook down. As the
monkey of the group, that was my job, I climbed up the trees,
shook the apples loose, and then we quickly gathered from the
The owner of the orchard didn't care when we showed up or
how many breaks we took, or even that my buddy was occasionally
drinking a large beer. That was in part because we weren't paid
by the hour, but by the box: $13 for each box we filled. A generous
guy, the orchard owner paid us the same rate for the juice apples,
which we could harvest much faster. He was only getting getting
three-cents per pound for them at the time.
We worked by ourselves in one part of the orchard, and listened
to the Spanish-language music from nearby. It was fun for a while--and
the whole apple picking season on this Michigan farm, with their
varieties, was only about six weeks long. It was snowing as we
finished the juice apple harvest. The work is tough on
the body, and I came home exhausted and scratched up every night,
despite the fact that I only worked six or seven hours each day.
Most of the Mexican workers put in twelve hour days six days
How Much Can You Make?
How much can you make picking apples? With the three of us
we averaged about $8 per hour. The following year I discovered
that I could make $13 per hour working by myself (I suspected
I was a bit faster than my friends). The wages are almost certainly
lower in areas with even more immigrant labor and at bigger orchards.
As it was, the immigrant workers where we worked were faster
than us, perhaps making $10 per hour and working 70 hours weekly
during the short season, thus making $700 per week. This was
in the 1990s.
Ways to Make More | Related Opportunities
Look for smaller orchards like the one we worked for, owned
by "gentleman farmers" who are happy to break even.
They will tend to pay a higher wage.
Of course, being quick helps. Developing your apple picking
technique so you can double your speed will double your wage
is you are paid by the box.
If you do this kind of work, you move with the seasons, picking
different crops in different parts of the country as they ripen.
The apple harvesting season in Michigan started in late September,
and it was cold on some of those October mornings.
Qualifications / Requirements
A willingness to work hard is all it takes.
In some areas the season may start as soon as late August.
Ask around and show up when the harvest starts. many workers
are hired on the spot.
- Search "apple harvesting" for a collection of instructive
- Listings of seasonal agricultural jobs.