If handled carefully and placed in the right environment, fruit from your garden may be stored for several weeks, or even months. So, with a little planning, you could be eating your own apples at Christmas.
Timing Autumn to winter
Late ripening cultivars usually store for longer than early season ones. For example, fruit that stores well includes:
Dessert apples: ‘Jonagold’ and ‘Winston’
Culinary apples: ‘Bramley’s Seeding’ and ‘Lane’s Prince Albert’
Dessert pears: ‘Conference’ and ‘Doyenné de Comicé’
Culinary pear: ‘Catillac’
When to store fruit
Fruit can be stored from late autumn to late winter. As a general rule:
- Mid-season apples should keep for four to eight weeks
- Late season apples won’t be ready until they’ve been stored for four or five weeks and can last several months
- Pears will store between two weeks and three months, depending on storage conditions
- Quince should be used up within a month
How to store fruit
A suitable storage place might include a garage, shed or cellar, provided that it is:
- cool, with an even temperature of 2.8-7°C (37-45°F) for apples and even cooler for pears, if possible (pears can even be stored in the salad compartment of a fridge)
- frost free
- slightly humid
- free from mice
Five steps to storing fruit
- Find containers such as crates, slatted shelves, polystyrene or papier-mâché trays or shallow wooden boxes. The ideal container will allow good air movement through the sides and over the top. Special wooden storage racks with draws are available
- Select blemish-free, medium-sized fruits, ideally with their stalk intact. Those picked just under-ripe usually store best
- Lay fruits in a single layer not touching each other. Place fruit carefully so as to avoid bruising. If necessary, apples can be stacked on top of each other but using a container with open-slatted sides will allow air flow. Handle fruit very carefully to prevent bruising
- Try to keep different cultivars separate as they ripen at different rates. Ideally, keep mid-season cultivars away from late-season ones so that they do not speed up ripening. Label the boxes
- Keep fruit away from strong scents that may taint them such as paint, fertilisers and onions. Quince have a very pungent smell and are best kept away from other fruit
Check stored fruit regularly:
- Pears can ripen and pass their best quickly so need daily checking. In warm storage conditions they will soften slightly when ripe but, in cooler storage, ripeness will be indicated by a subtle change in colour and they’ll then need to be brought into the house for a day or two to soften before eating
- When one tray of fruit is reaching optimum ripeness, remove it from storage promptly as the gasses released may speed up the ripening of the remaining fruit in store
- Discard any fruit that show signs of rot to prevent disease spreading
Extra measures such as wrapping apples individually in newspaper or tissue paper can help them keep longer but will be a hindrance to regular inspection.
If no suitable storage conditions are available, small quantities of apples can be put in plastic bags in the fridge to store for a few weeks. Fill a bag with 2-3kg (4lb 6oz - 6lb 10oz) of fruit, pierce several holes in it and fold the top loosely to allow air circulation.
Storing some pears loose in the salad compartment of the fridge can help to delay ripening until after those in store have been used.
Harvesting and storing garden fruit by Raymond Bush (Faber and Faber 1947, ISBN 54053000473672). This book is also made available through the RHS Lindley Library.
Fruit in storage is prone to rotting. Fungal diseases usually attack blemished fruit and are encouraged by poor ventilation. Common rots include brown rot and grey mould. Clean storage areas and containers thoroughly each year to help reduce the risk of brown rot.
Discolouration is not always caused by rots; some disorders appear in storage too;
- Dark blotches known as scald can occur simply as a result of gases emitted from fruit
- Bitter pit causes dry, brown sunken spots which are most apparent during storage
- Core flush (pink or brownish discolouration to flesh around the core) is usually the result of carbon dioxide build-up and is common in apples stored in plastic bags
- Water core is an apple disorder which gives flesh a glassy appearance. It is caused by sap accumulating in the gaps between the fruit cell walls and, like bitter pit, is related to insufficient calcium. It can disappear in storage or lead to the breakdown and browning of flesh
- Pears and quinces are prone to internal browning which can be found at harvest time or develop later in storage. The reasons for this are not fully understood but can be caused by environmental conditions during fruit development, poor storage conditions and internal rots
- Shrivelling can be caused by high temperatures or a lack of humidity. If necessary, damp down the floor occasionally to maintain a moist atmosphere, or store apples in polythene bags
The Royal Horticultural Society is the UK’s leading gardening charity. We aim to enrich everyone’s life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.