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The Best Way to Store Apples Over Winter: Quick and Easy Tips

Published: April 6, 2021
Woman holding basket of apples in orchard. Best way to store apples over winter.
You've worked hard to grow a wonderful crop of apples...but what is the best way to store your apples over the winter to keep them fresh and delicious?

You have spent the growing season nurturing your apple trees and have enjoyed the harvest. But winter is quickly approaching, and you still have lots of apples that you don’t know what to do with. It would be lovely to enjoy the home-grown fruit throughout the winter months - but you are afraid that within weeks they will shrivel up or turn to mush. What is the best way to store apples over the winter?

To find out, I spoke to David Gilbertson of Gilby’s Nursery and Orchard. He has over 1000 apple trees on his farm in Atkin, Minnesota. And his priority is to ensure that his customers know how to store their apples so they can enjoy a fresh harvest even in the coldest months.  David says there are two main steps to effective apple storage.

  1. You need to harvest your apples at the right time
  2. You need to store the apples at the right temperature.

Let’s start with David’s advice on harvesting apples for winter storage.  

Ripe apples in crates in orchard. Best way to store apples over winter. Apple storage.
If you want to store your apples over the winter, you need to harvest them when they are mature, but not fully ripe.

the best time to harvest apples for winter storage

Most people start thinking about apple storage only after they have plucked their apples off their tree. But when it comes to the best way to store your apples over the winter, your pre-harvest strategy is key! For maximum apple storage life, make sure that you harvest the apples when they are mature, but not fully ripe. That is because apples will continue to ripen while in storage, so ripe or overripe apples will quickly become soft and mealy.

This change happens because your apples breathe through microscopic pathways even after they are harvested. They take in oxygen and supply it to their cells. They also release a gas called ethylene, which causes the apple to ripen and eventually rot. Your post-harvest goal is to slow this respiration process to increase storage life.

According to David Gilbertson, there are several tests you can do to decide if your apples are ready for harvest and storage. Some of these tests are great for beginners and some are more advanced!

When apples are ripe, their seeds will be dark in colour.

testing apple ripeness for beginners

  • Taste the apple 2-3 weeks prior to when you think they are ready. This allows you to determine if the sugars are viable.
  • Look at the colour of the apple’s skin. Starting from the bottom of the apple (the calyx) you will start to see the skin colour change from green to a soft yellow.
  • Cut into the apple and look at the colour of the seeds. You may notice that the seeds are dark at one end and very light (almost clear) on the other end. You want the seeds to be dark, so you should give the apples another one to two weeks.

testing apple ripeness for advanced growers

  • Use a refractometer to test the sugars. This can only be used for certain apple varieties. The sugar content you want also depends on the apple variety, which can be as high as 16 Brix for some apples, like Sweet Tango.
  • Try a starch iodine test. You stain the apple with a 4% potassium iodide and 1% iodine solution. The lighter the stain on the apple, the riper the apple is (i.e. the higher the sugar content).  
  • Use a Penetrometer to test the hardness. You place the plunger of the penetrometer against the apple and it will measure the rupture pressure on a gauge. Different varieties will have different rupture points

Once you have harvested your apples at the optimal time, your next challenge is to store them properly over the winter!

refrigerator thermometer inside the top shelf of a cool food storage fridge to make sure perishables are kept safe and cold enough. Best way to store apples over winter.
Apples will store for longer over the winter if you monitor your fridge temperature carefully. At the right temperature apples will keep for months. At the wrong temperature they will either freeze or degrade. But as you read below, apple storage is better if you keep your fruit in drawstring plastic bags with holes punched into them.

the best way to store apples in your fridge

Once you’ve harvested your apples correctly, you need to store them. Commercial growers use controlled atmosphere storage rooms to do this. But, according to David Gilbertson of Gilby’s Nursery and Orchard, you can use your own fridge! Here are David’s top tips for keeping your apples cool and crunchy.

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Maintain an optimum temperature between 0˚C (32˚F) and 4.4˚C (40˚F)

Despite seeing apples sitting on shelves at the grocery store, it is best to store apples in cold temperatures. But here precision is key so you will need to use a fridge thermometer that can give you an accurate reading. To ensure accuracy, place the thermometer on the shelf or drawer where you will be storing your apples. Do not place it on the shelves on the fridge door as the temperature will be different there.   

The optimum temperature depends on the apple variety, but the sweet spot tends to be 3.3˚C (38˚F) to 4.4˚C (40˚F). You never want to get the temperature down to 0˚C (32˚F) as that is close to freezing and you do not want the apples to freeze.

If you decide instead to leave your apples on your counter or kitchen table, they will ripen and rot very quickly.

“The higher the holding temperature, the greater the softening and respiration rate and the sooner the quality becomes unacceptable,” David Gilbertson explains.

For example, storing apples at be 15.6˚C (60˚F) will cause the apples to degrade 6 times faster, which compromises the quality of the apple.

Maintain an optimum humidity of 90-95%

Apples are 84% water so the best way to store apples over the winter and to keep them fresh and juicy is to maintain the humidity at 90-95%. Professional growers have controlled atmosphere rooms where they can set the humidity. But with an ordinary fridge, you can maintain humidity by using a sealable plastic bag that has some holes punched into it that are about 0.64 cm (0.25 inches) in size.

The holes in the bag allow the ethylene gas to be released, while still maintaining a humidity of 90-95%. You can also use the crisper in your fridge, but you can lose a lot of humidity as you keep opening and closing it. This will cause the apples to shrivel up and compromise as they start to become dehydrated. To effectively use your crisper, it is best to keep the apples in the drawstring plastic bag with small holes, as mentioned above.

apple storage using a plastic bag with holes punched into it.
To ensure air circulation and to maintain optimum humidity, store your apples in the fridge in a drawstring plastic bag that has some holes punched into it as you can see in this photo . Photo credit: http://gilbysorchard.com/

Ensure there is adequate air circulation

As apples respire, they give off an ethylene gas. The higher the ethylene level, the faster the apple wants to respire and that means it will ripen – and eventually rot – more quickly. So, it is important that the apples have room to breathe when in storage. And, as David explained above, If you are storing your apples in bags, it is important that those storage bags have holes in them to allow the apples to breathe. This will also help the ethylene gas escape.

And one more point! You may notice that the apples have produced a wax-like substance. Don’t worry, this is a natural self-protection system. To make sure your apples stay crisp and tasty, David Gilbertson recommends not scrubbing that wax-like substance off.

how long will apples keep in your fridge?

This chart, provided by David Gilbertson, outlines the storage life of popular apple varieties in Minnesota. It shows how different temperatures can affect the storage life. Honeycrisp apples, for example, will stay fresh for 7 months (28 weeks) if they are stored at about 0˚C (32˚F). But if they are stored at around 4.5˚C (40˚F), they will only last for 3.5 months (14 weeks).

Different varieties of apples have different storage lives. Under ideal conditions, Honeycrisp apples can be kept for up to 28 weeks while Cortland apples may stay fresh for just 5 weeks. Chart printed with permission from: https://gilbysorchard.com/

apple storage for professional growers

David Gilbertson’s suggestions are wonderful for home growers. These tips are also helpful for consumers who want to buy their apples inexpensively during the harvest season and enjoy them year-round. But commercial growers have their own challenges in keeping apples fresh for consumers. In the video below, Peter Bosman of Lincoln Line Orchards in Smithville, Ontario describes the steps orchardists have to take to keep their apples fresh during the winter months.

Apple storage is easier for some varieties and harder for others. For professional growers, Honeycrisp apples can be notoriously hard to store. While other unusual and heirloom varieties, including Winesap, Snow and Winter Banana Apples are considered “keepers” that can be kept relatively easily throughout the winter months. While these apple varieties aren’t easy to find in supermarkets, they are great options for home growers. To learn how to grow fruit trees organically, check out orchardpeople.com's premium online fruit tree care courses.

Whether you want to store your own home-grown apples, or whether you want to save money and buy apples from local farms during harvest time, it’s important to know the best way to store your apples over the winter! I hope this article helped you! And if you have so many apples that you can’t physically fit them all in a fridge, you can also freeze them, press them into sweet cider or ferment them into hard cider, or even dehydrate them.

Enjoy the harvest!

This page includes affiliate links.  Orchard People may receive a small commission if you make a purchase. The funds will help support the creation of free resources including our blog, YouTube channel and podcast

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The author of this article is Amy Smith, an intern at OrchardPeople.com. Amy is a student at the University of Guelph studying International Development. She enjoys learning about different cultures and is passionate about social equality.   

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