How To Store Apples & Related Fruit From UK Gardens So They Stay Fresh & Sweet Longer. Here’s A Lesson From My Orchard Owning Grandfather. Read More Below.
I learnt how to store apples from my grandfather who owned a 5 acre orchard in Devon. He grew a mixture of cider, eating and cooking apples as well as cherries, pears, plums and a few other fruit species as part of a food forest.
When to Store Fruit
The simple answer is the time to store fruit is when they are just approaching ripe. Don’t wait until they re fully ripe as they will bruise easily and rot in store. I don’t bother storing very early ripening apples but once the later ones start to ripen I start storing them
In case you are wondering how to assess if an apple is ripe the simple test I use is to cup the apple in my hand and give at a half turn on the stem. If it is ripe it falls into my hand. the trick then is to work out when nearly ripe is. We don’t want v very underripe but we don’t want over ripe. It’s hard to describe this stage in words, but you’ll start to recognise it as you get experienced.
As for which month we start storing, it’s normally late autumn to early winter for apples.
How Long Will Apples Store?
Late autumn ripening apples will normally keep for 4-8 weeks, often longer.
Early winter ripening apples will store until Christmas. Some varieties store well until Spring. If picked at the right stage they will not be ready for eating until they’ve been in store a month or more.
Depending on variety and storage conditions pears can store up to three months .. sometimes longer. But quinces don’t keep more than a few weeks. A month or so at the outside. But I always think quinces need using as soon as harvested and cant see much point in saving them. Make quince jelly and membrillo as soon as you can. Membrillo is wonderful served with cheese!
How and Where To Store Apple’s & Other Fruit
The best places are cool, frost free, wet ventilated, slightly humid, dark and rodent free!
Garages, cellars and sheds are places used by many.
My grandfather had a large Apple Store he build from reclaimed wood and corrugated metal. Inside it was racked our with shelves stacked like bunks one above the other .. from floor to ceiling. The shelves had sides and were made with slatted timber (reclaimed floorboards) that were lined with straw. Layers of apples were placed in them with straw between them so no apple touched another.
Every few weeks the apples were inspected. Any that were beginning to rot were removed. A bad apple ruins the barrel! Those that were at the right stage of ripeness were taken to the local shops where he bartered for necessities such as tea, butter, milk etc. In those days barter was quite common and cash only resorted to if you had more produce than need for the goods. It was a simple life but very healthy.
As a side note he also kept chicken, pigs, a goose of three and the food forest also produced other goodies such as elderflowers for wine, hips for a tisane and elixir etc.
Home Alternative For Fruit Storage
Most of us will not be building an Apple Store (it’s interesting that as I type those words my spellcheck capitalises them as if they referred to the store where a certain IT company sell s phones, laptops etc.). So what are the alternatives?
I use plastic veg trays that I still have from when I had my market garden. They’ve lasted several decades and are still as good as new. Not all plastic is bad single use stuff.
Alternatives are wooden crates, cardboard boxes or shallow trays.
What you are aiming for is plenty of air movement. So punch some large air holes on the side and base of cardboard boxes.
The fruit being saved need to be dry, blemish free, with stem intact and no leaves attached (they introduce moisture).
Put the fruit in layers so they don’t touch one another and only add more layers to a box if you can ensure air movement. Containers can be stacked but ensure the air can still move.
Label the boxes and keep varieties separate if possible.
Ensure there is no paint, fuel, and other strong smelling substances near the fruit, or they will get tainted and taste of paraffin or whatever.
Early ripening fruit kept with late fruit will encourage the late ones to ripen early.
When trying to ripen tomatoes and other fruit we are often advised to put a banana with them. Why people say a banana I don’t know. Almost any ripening fruit will do. The way it works is that the reopening fruit gives off ethylene and that speeds ripening. There are plenty of fruit that give off as much ethylene as bananas, including apples.
That’s why we need to keep earlies from later varieties.
Speeding Up Ripening Of Apples
If we want apples to ripen a bit faster then do what you do with green tomatoes in autumn. Add a ripe fruit to them. My grandad would sometimes put half a hundredweight of apples tougher, add a few ripe fruit and cover them with a tarpaulin or similar so they ripened quicker. A few days later he had much riper fruit.
Checking & Inspecting Fruit
Apples need checking every few weeks, more often as they ripen. Pick them over, remove bad one and eat the ripe ones. Its that simple.
Pears ripen much faster. One day they have sat there for weeks and not seemed to change at all. The next day they are over ripe and spoiling! the clue os often a slight change in skin colour and a ripe smell they didn’t have before. If you have a box of them and get close you’ll often smell the difference as they start to ripen.
How to Prolong Apple Storage
The easiest way is to keep them cool. the cooler they are the longer any given variety will last. If you’re only a few and they start to ripen, put them in the fridge. It’ll give them a few extra weeks of life.
Don’t forget we aren’t after the perfect stored apple. We don’t need shop quality, with a perfect shine and great colour. We need edible fruit that stored well.
As I write this it is Feb 1st 2023. We have some stored eating apples in the garage. The skins are now very slightly wrinkled and they are very slightly soft. A shop wouldn’t put them on the shelf. But the flavour is better now than it’s been all year. I’m still very happy to eat these fruit.
Rotting and rats are the two biggest problem apple store owners had to guard against. Mice was. the third. I don’t have any rodent problems and we’ve had very few apples rot. maybe 2-3 out of hundreds of stored apples.
But we also have a few that suffer physical problems such as the flesh looking a bit brown and “bruised”. In most cases it a physiological use rather than normal rot. Apple scald is caused by gases produced by the fruit and there’s not a lot we can do about it on a garden scale. Some varieties are worse than others. just eat the offenders before you get the problem. Bitter pit is another throwing disorder. It’s the brown sunken dry spots you sometimes see in an apple. It’s caused by excessive CO2. Plenty of ventilation helps.
I mentioned shrivelling previously. A more humid atmosphere slows it down but can speed up rots and grey mould (botrytis). So it’s a balance. this year we had very little in the way of rots and a few shrivelled apples after Christmas. that seem the right compromise to me.
If you get rot or botrytis in a container then either ditch it our clean if before using it again. It will carry over to the next year and enter any fruit with damaged skin.