Harvesting and Storing Apples

, written by Jeremy Dore gb flag

Red apples

Apples are my favorite fruit. This probably stems from childhood memories of when my parents would take me to the local apple orchard to choose from a wonderful range of delicious varieties, most of which were never available on supermarket shelves. We also had a large cooking apple tree in our garden which provided many delicious desserts and as a result I still have a soft spot for home made blackberry and apple crumble with custard! No surprise then that the start of the apple harvest is a time of year I look forward to with great anticipation and this year’s English apple harvest is reported to be one of the best on record because of the harsh winter and warm early summer.

In recent years I have planted a number of small cordon apple trees in my garden, choosing eating apple varieties known for their taste: Fiesta, Discovery and James Grieve. These are all early varieties as it is important to include more than one from the same pollination group so that they cross-pollinate to give a good crop. Then as the first apples emerge there will be the important job of thinning the fruit to ensure bigger apples and less stress on the trees so I diligently remove over half the apples during June and early July.

When to Harvest

Aside from the early June apple drop, the first full-sized apples to fall from the tree are a good indication of when the crop is ready. In previous years Discovery has provided my first apples but this year James Grieve was two weeks ahead so it seems seasonal variations can often affect the harvest date by as much as three weeks each way.

Apples need to be handled carefully when picking them to avoid any bumps or bruises which will prevent them keeping well. Cupping your hand under the apple, remove the fruit and the small stalk at the top as well if you are planning to store them.

Child with apple
Harvesting apples is an activity that children love to get involved with at an early age

Early apples generally don’t keep well and should be consumed soon after picking if they are to retain their crisp texture. Mid-season apples can be persuaded to keep a for a few weeks if they are picked just before reaching full ripeness and then stored in suitable cool conditions but, again, they are superior if consumed quickly at their peak. Late keeping varieties are the best for storing and are usually picked near to the first frost or slightly earlier if birds are beginning to share the harvest.

Assess Your Success

While harvesting a lot can be learned by assessing the fruit to help prevent problems in the future. The most common problems are:

  • Codling Moth: The larvae of codling moth bury into the apple, usually making holes in the core (what many people refer to as ‘maggoty apples’) and often emerging at the base. Various traps are available to help identify or control codling moth including pheromone traps, corrugated cardboard bands and nematodes.
  • Sawfly: Narrow holes coming out anywhere on the apple are likely to be caused by sawfly. These are difficult to control and will often bury into more than one fruit so the best course of action is to remove and destroy any affected fruits when thinning. Chickens can also help if they are allowed to roam under the trees.
  • Apple Scab also known as Apple Black Spot: This causes scabby black or brown spots or blotches on the fruit and black blotches on leaves which curl up. Scab-resistant apple varieties are available but if you find that your trees are affected then good garden hygiene is essential, particularly removing dead wood and old fallen apples and leaves on which the fungal spores can survive to re-infect the tree next year. Apple scab does not affect the eating quality of the fruit although if it causes the skin to crack then they will not store well.

Storing and Preserving

Apples are best stored in trays with shredded newspaper, straw or special padded cardboard liners (sometimes thrown out by greengrocers). It is essential to pick over the fruit first, removing any with bruises or blemishes and especially windfalls – these will not store well and are best cooked into apple sauce or puree for freezing or using in jams and deserts. When storing whole apples the temperature needs to be cool but not frosty. Most homes will be too warm so it’s better to store them in a cellar, shed or garage, as long as they are rodent-proof.

Different varieties will be best at different times so it is essential to label the harvest and eat them as they are at their best. Apples need to be kept separate from crops with strong smells such as onions and garlic. They should also not be stored near potatoes which start to release a gas which prevents them keeping well. Experts also recommend keeping early and late apples separate and also apples separate from pears. A good late keeping variety, stored well in a dark cool place, can keep for six months or longer. When grown with early varieties this means you can be eating home-harvested apples for the majority of the year.

Aside from storing the apples or converting them to sauce for freezing, apples dry well when cut into rings, can be used as the basis of many fruit leathers (often combined with berries) and can be juiced. To extend the life the juice can be frozen or made into cider. All in all I think apples must be one of the most versatile fruits that can be grown in a garden, they store well through winter and make delicious desserts – an all round winner!

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Show Comments


"I have two of the most disease-resistant apples in the US, Enterprise (midseason) and Liberty (late). One remarkable thing about both varieties is that their flavor seems to improve slightly after a week or two in the refrigerator. Not that the fresh ones are not excellent!"
Barbara Pleasant on Tuesday 14 September 2010
"I came upon your site by searching apple black spot. It was a great help. Thanks!"
Teressa Niven on Thursday 23 September 2010
"Could you help, My son needs to explain how apples fall from trees as a grade 5 homework assignment. We live in Dubai and aren't exactly used to seeing apples grow here. "
Miran Ellahee on Saturday 2 October 2010
"This may be a little advanced for 5th grade, but you can interpret. The key word to learn is abscission http://plantphys.info/plants_human/fruitgrowripe.shtml Some apples fall from trees, but other must be picked (pulled) or they will hang until they are overripe. It depends on variety. "
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 2 October 2010
"i have 6 apple trees and iwant to store them, when i was young i remember my mother peeling the aples and putting them in a barree of water with salt added, can you give me your apinion on this, great site ,i live in portugal,we have so much fruit from grapes ,avacados, oranges, lemons, apricots, bananas, plums peaches,and much more the problem is that when there ripe we loose most of the harvest, apart from oranges and lemons which stay on the trees, its sad to loose so much fruit."
pat, o' neill on Sunday 31 July 2011
"Very very helpful"
james mullen on Friday 23 September 2011
"Dear Barbara, Helen and Ben We have two apples trees in our garden that year in, year out give abundant fruit which goes to waste as we cannot eat it all. We are thinking of buying apple storer but need to be sure that the apples we have do store well in the long term. One tree is James Grieve and the other is George Cave and we live on the Welsh coast. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated."
Mona O'Connor on Saturday 1 October 2011
"Every year we have an abundance of Bramleys and store many of them in accordance with all of the tips we have read about. However as soon as weunrap any of them to use we find that inside the skin they are covered with brown spots and consequently we have to throw them away. Can you please give us some idea what is causing this. The apples when first stored are in perfect condition and it is so sad to have to waste them. Many thanks."
JohnTaylor on Friday 7 October 2011
"Every year we have an abundance of Bramleys and store many of them in accordance with all of the tips we have read about. However as soon as weunrap any of them to use we find that inside the skin they are covered with brown spots and consequently we have to throw them away. Can you please give us some idea what is causing this. The apples when first stored are in perfect condition and it is so sad to have to waste them. Many thanks."
JohnTaylor on Friday 7 October 2011
"Quote "Every year we have an abundance of Bramleys...but" I do too, John and though generally successful in storing them through to February, was trawling the Net for additional tips and came upon this lovely site. Slightly stunned to find I've been doing it wrong all these years! Maybe the acidic Bramley is an exception... this is what I do, maybe you could risk a few and try it too: I pick when the incidence of windfalls gets worrying - generally about now I store in wooden boxes about 9" deep and the size of a small wheeelbarrow I never wrap or use cardboard separators and to the contrary, try to preserve some ventilation through the stack. The boxes themselves are 'gappy', traditional apple boxes! They sit off the floor in an open fronted shed, protected from frost with loose weave sacks over them, stacked 2 or 3 high. All stored apples lose a degree of juiciness in store, particularly post-xmas, but they've always been ok for cooking. Happy picking! "
Chas on Saturday 8 October 2011
"hello there, we have a 3 year old 'James Grieve'escalier that is producing its first significant crop of apples, some already quite large but very green. We have never grown apples before and therefore wondering when best to pick them etc. Thank you. :-) UK"
Demelza on Sunday 5 August 2012
"Different apples show distinctive signs of ripeness, so you do need to get to know your tree as an individual. Should any fruits drop, cut them open and check the maturity of the seeds. Ripe apples have brown seeds, whereas green ones have beige seeds. Ripe apples also come away easily when picked, but again this is relative. I have one tree that throws its fruit on the ground when it's ripe, and another that would hold apples until Christmas if we didn't pick them in early September. There is also usually a color change in the underlying green shade, which brightens to creamy green or yellow as apples ripen. Good luck! "
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 6 August 2012
"I want to know ! effection price in the absenceof ware house facilities?"
aman on Wednesday 17 October 2012
"Thank you for this the comments have helped too. We have an old orchard with many varieties. I don't know any of the namesDo you know as much about pears? We have three types not sure how to tell when to pick them?"
Emily on Monday 19 August 2013
"Emily, pears are trickier than apples, because most varieties do best if picked slightly underripe, and slowly ripened indoors. When a few pears look promising, I cut them open and see if the seeds have darkened. If so we harvest them and keep them in coolers with ice packs for up to a month as they finish ripening at around 50 degrees F."
Barbara Pleasant on Monday 19 August 2013
"What is the best way to ensure rodents do not eat your beautifully stored apples? We are gradually planting a good orchard of mixed varieties and I am anticipating a reasonably good harvest next year from the first trees in. Wooden boxes of some sort seem worth investing in but living in an old farmhouse and having lots of outbuildings along with plenty of rodent visitors we have to deal with, can you suggest the best method for ensuring our crop doesn't get demolished over the winter?"
Caroline Dearing on Thursday 14 November 2013
"Many gardeners with small orchards keep a second refrigerator, often an old one plugged in seasonally outdoors, for temporary storage of apples and pears. When the weather gets cold you can turn it off and it serves as an insulated storage box for the fruit. "
Barbara Pleasant on Friday 15 November 2013
"Can I eat the first crop of apples ?"
Ken Thomas on Monday 14 August 2017
"Ken, you can eat slightly green apples, but refrigerated storage for a week or so might improve their flavor. Historically, green apples were used for jelly because they are naturally high in pectin."
Barbara Pleasant on Saturday 19 August 2017
"Excellent info, many thanks Jo"
Jo on Saturday 9 September 2017
"That was an amazing amount of useful information in one place! Thank you. We have our first 3 acre farm in Northern California and we're trying so hard not to waste anything. Heading out to pick apples this afternoon. "
Heidi on Tuesday 26 September 2017
"I learned a lot from these people. Thank you. Loved it. Did not know that green apples was for jelly. Will try that. "
Maxie Gunderson on Wednesday 26 August 2020

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