Harvesting and Storing Homegrown Apples for Winter

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I am managing the small orchard on our family farmstead in Northern California. Well as you can imagine, we’ve had literally hundreds of heirloom apples to deal with over the last few months. We have baked, canned, slow cooked (into apple sauce), dried, given away and eaten as many as we could.

So, I decided to “root cellar” the remaining apples from this season. Except that Oops!…I don’t have a root cellar. Ha!

Storing Homegrown Apples

No Cellar? No worries!

There are plenty of other places you can store apples. You just need to know a few simple tricks!

An Apple Harvesting Video:

A few weeks ago, I was alone in our orchard harvesting apples on a very cold and crisp day. While working, I realized it was the perfect time to share some of the tricks to storing apples. After all, telling a story on film is what I do for a living and here I was doing exactly what I wanted to show you.  So I dropped my apple picker and grabbed the camera!

Umm…okay, so maybe I was also looking for a way to get out of harvesting fruit all by myself. But stopping to film the process seemed like a fabulous idea at the time. Heh.

This 2 minute video gives an overview of the whole process including which apples last the longest and how best to store them. And you get to see a little of the farmstead on a beautiful fall day, as well as some of the gorgeous apple varieties we have.

I had fun filming this. I hope you enjoy it!

Recap – Tips for Harvesting and Storing Apples:

  1. Pick the apples when they are not over ripe. If they are just falling off the tree, they will not last as long in storage. You can best tell ripeness by flavor and crispness – not color. The redness of an apple depends more on temperature than ripeness. As temperatures drop, the apple color changes.
  2. Only store the most perfect apples – the ones with no blemishes, cuts or bug bites. Any bruises will turn bad almost immediately.
  3. Thick-skinned and tart apples tend to have a longer shelf life than the thin-skinned and sweet apples. You can still store the sweetest apples, but just use them up first when pulling from your reserve. Also, “late-season” varieties (ready in late fall) tend to be the best “keepers” through winter.How to root cellar apples
  4. Optional: I wrap my apples in squares of newspaper or craft paper to keep them from touching. This prevents contact if one apple goes bad before you notice. But you can skip this step if you wish. Instead, just watch more closely for rotten fruit.
  5. Store the apples in baskets or boxes in shallow layers.
  6. Keep all the same varieties together in the containers because they will continue to ripen at the same rate.
  7. Keep them in a cool, dark place. The best temperature is between 35-40 degrees F. In fact, a spare refrigerator is ideal because apples do very well in cold storage. But for most of us, any cool (frost-free) place (like a shed, basement or garage) does well. Just do NOT let the apples freeze! That ruptures the cells and they will turn to mush.
  8. Check the apples regularly and remove any that are starting to go bad. Rotten apples will ruin the whole batch – especially if they are touching.

Experimenting:

This first year of storing is experimental for us because we really don’t know what varieties we have. It is all a guessing game at this point. But I’ve been storing our City Homestead apples for years. Using those techniques, it will be fun to see which of our heirlooms are the best keepers.

One thing I know for sure…They will all be delicious!

 

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About the Author

Theresa Loe is the Co-Executive TV Producer and the On-Air Canning/Homesteading Expert for the national PBS gardening TV series, Growing A Greener World. She is a lifetime canner and a graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program. She studied both sustainable horticulture and professional culinary arts and she is a wrangler of chickens and two teenage children. (Not necessarily in that order.)

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • TeresaR November 29, 2012 at 8:55 am

    Between the late frost, animals, and insects, we got no apples at all this year. That didn’t stop me from optimistically buying a picker though. ;)

    Great video!

    To use newsprint without the ink, we buy end of rolls for cheap from our local newspaper office. They can’t print close to the end of those rolls of papers and they make a little bit of money selling the leftover bits while we get a great deal because it’s cheaper than most craft paper you can buy. :)

    Reply edit
    • theresa November 29, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Excellent suggestion Teresa! Thank you. I know exactly what you are talking about! I will check that out.

      I’m glad you liked the video. I loved the fall colors!

      Reply edit
  • Tom Hamilton November 30, 2012 at 7:19 am

    I really enjoy your posts, Theresa. Our daughter has two Fuji apple trees in Arroyo Grande, CA.
    They are terrific tasting. So I will do this over Christmas as there are still good apples on her trees.
    Merry Christmas to all the ES Loe’s!

    Reply edit
  • sensiblegardening November 30, 2012 at 8:05 am

    Thank you for the great storage tips. We also garden in orchard country, and my sister gives me so many apples that I am usually overwhelemed. I’ll definitely try out your suggestions. I hate to see the apples go to waste.

    Reply edit
    • theresa November 30, 2012 at 8:28 am

      Me too! Be sure to check out the link at the top of the post to the canned pie filling. That is another fun way to save the apples for later use. It is more time consuming though.

      Reply edit
  • Erica / Northwest Edible Life January 1, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    Great video, Theresa. Thanks a bunch.

    Reply edit
  • Chris Spence September 10, 2014 at 8:11 am

    Thanks for your apple growing and keeping tips, also the sweet video, looks like the same applies state side,as where I live in the UK. Although I only have one standard sized “discovery” tree and one “arthur turner” we have a large surfeit to store, the only little tip I can add to yours is that local stores whether large or small all receive their fruit in sturdy trays, which are both shallow, large and strong, they are usually glad to give them to you, and they really do the job and stack neatly, worth a try and a cost effective answer to long term storage.

    Reply edit
  • Sharon E Coleman October 4, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Perfect timing Melissa. My neighbor just gave me a bunch of their homestead apples. They are a very old variety and they haven’t even been able to find a name for them. But they are good keepers so I will try the cold storage to begin with. Then as I have more time this winter/fall perhaps I can make some applesauce. It has been a long time since I made applesauce. My grandmother always put a dash of vanilla in hers.

    Reply edit
  • Lynn October 19, 2014 at 8:59 am

    Hey T, Can we store the same way with pears? My husband and I are heading out today to purchase apples from a local farm and I’d love to buy/pick some pears, too. We’ll store them in our garage using your method and plan to water-bath can applesauce (and maybe a pear spread?) for holiday gifts. My first attempt at storage and putting up — thanks to you! P.S. I’m loving Sharon’s tip about vanilla in the applesauce.

    Reply edit
    • theresa October 23, 2014 at 5:22 am

      Hi Lynn,

      No, pears are stored a little differently.

      First, it is important to note that pears ripen off the tree. So you pick them hard and they set out and slowly ripen to perfection. They ripen from the center out.

      If you want to store them for a few months, you need to keep them in cold storage BEFORE they ripen. The cold temps will slow down their ripening process. So while they are still hard and unripe, place them in about 30 degrees temp (away from apples, potatoes or onions). They will last 2-4 months this way. For most of us, that would be a refrigerator. But if you have a very cold basement or garage, you can store them there.

      Have fun!

      Reply edit

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