We eat apples almost every day so figuring out how to store apples for winter was my mission a few years ago. We don’t have a root cellar like I did growing up so it took some trial and error for me to figure out how to store apples long term without refrigeration or a root cellar. I now have an easy method that has been successful for our family to store apples all winter. We even had apples all the way through March-the only reason they didn’t last longer than that is because we ran out!
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Selecting apples to store long term for winter
In my opinion, this is the most important part of being able to store apples through the winter. If you pick a softer variety of apple, it won’t last nearly as long as a firmer variety even with the ideal temperature and humidity.
When we pick apples to store for winter, I select ones that feel firm in my hand and don’t bruise as easily. Thick skinned apples also seem to last longer in cool storage than a thin skinned variety. If you are getting apples from an orchard, ask for varieties that store well long term. This year we have primarily Empire apples. In years past we had a mix of Honeycrisp and Macintosh.
The apples should have no bruises, marks or soft spots. Only perfect apples should be placed in long term storage. Why? If an apple has a bruise, it will slowly start to rot and this can spread to other apples in storage. This could ruin a whole bunch of your precious food storage supply. All the imperfect apples can be made into some delicious homemade applesauce instead!
Finding a location to store apples for winter without refrigeration
Storing apples long term without them going soft or starting to dry out requires two key things: cool temperature and some moisture (humidity) in the air. Living in Montana we definitely have plenty of cool temperatures but humidity is usually lacking (which makes us really happy in the hot days of summer!)
- Cool Temperature: All the books I’ve read about long term apple storage state the storage area should be cool, 32-40 degrees F is best. At our last homestead, we used an unfinished bathroom on an exterior wall we weren’t using that had temperatures in the 40’s so the water pipes wouldn’t freeze. I kept a thermometer in the room to make sure it stayed cool but not so cold the pipes would freeze. At our new homestead we have an insulated, above ground root cellar the former owners built with shelves crafted in the perfect sizes to store canning jars. This is where our winter storage apples are right now. It will stay cool, but won’t freeze.
- Humidity: According to the books I’ve read on food storage, the ideal humidity level should be about 90%. Since we don’t have a lot of humidity naturally in our air, this one is tricky for us. I kept a cup of water in the apple storage room but that was the extent of it and our apples stayed perfectly fine all the way through winter and into spring.
How to pack apples for storage through winter
I’ve heard of some people wrapping apples in newspaper but I’ve never done that. Honestly I don’t have time for that with two young kids, homeschooling, and being a work from home parent! Instead we use cardboard flats, like the boxes new canning jars come in or big boxes cut in half. These are the same flats we use when we have tons of green tomatoes still needing to ripen after the first frost arrives. We store the boxes in our garden shed so we can reuse them over and over again on the homestead.
I arrange only one layer of apples in the bottom of each cardboard flat. The key is to make sure that the apples do not touch. Why? Because if an apple does start to spoil for some reason, it won’t spread to the apple next to it and ruin that one too.
The cardboard flats we stack crosswise one on top of the other so there is air flow and no apples with anything sitting on top of them.
How to sort storage apples through winter
Each week in the winter I go into our long term apple storage room. I look over each cardboard flat and pull out any apples that catch my eye that may have a bruise I missed before. After they’ve been in storage for a while, I also start start to look for apples that are beginning to look a bit soft or wrinkled.
If you live in an area with higher humidity, you may not ever find long term storage apples that start to look slightly wrinkled as they are getting a bit dry. Here in Montana that is just a part of life. We don’t want the added expense of running a humidifier in our above ground root cellar and the rest of the food storage in there doesn’t need high humidity either.
Our family has successfully been storing apples for winter without refrigeration for several years by following this method. The longest we ever had apples last was March. I’m curious this year to see how long our apples last. Little Brother loves apples and sometimes has more than one in a day. His appetite for apples might not keep apples in our cool storage all the way to spring at this rate!