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Harvesting and Storing Homegrown Apples for Winter

How to store apples -

If you’re a regular reader here, you know that I am managing an heirloom orchard on our family farmstead in Northern California. 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.

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 before they get 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.
  4. You can still store the sweetest apples, but just use them up first when pulling from your reserve.
  5. Also, “late-season” varieties (ready in late fall) tend to be the best “keepers” through winter.How to root cellar apples
  6. 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.
  7. Store the apples in baskets or boxes in shallow layers.
  8. Keep all the same varieties together in the containers because they will continue to ripen at the same rate.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.


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 founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy®. For 9 years, Theresa was the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two sons and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.