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Storing Fruit

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Storage Conditions

While much of the food we grow in home gardens can be stored by freezing--a delightful wonder we take too much for granted--some, notably including fruits, do not freeze well owing to the inevitable loss of texture: no one wants a soggy, mushy apple. Fortunately, many of our favorite fruits and vegetables can be kept for quite a while, meaning a few to many months, by storing in suitable conditions. Of course, not every fruit or vegetable finds the same conditions "suitable", but the ranges are such that we can classify those wanted conditions into four:

But there is another important issue, well known back in the days when most everyone had a "root cellar" for winter storage of foodstuffs, and that issue is ethylene gas (OK, they may not have known what the cause was, but they sure knew the problem). Some foods, notably many fruits, give off ethylene gas as they age in storage. meanwhile, many others, including a lot of vegetables, are badly affected by ethylene. Thus, rather obviously, the two types cannot be stored near each other..

Every home gardener should have a good-sized chest (not upright) freezer. With such a tool, most vegetables not eaten fresh can be stored till the next crop is ready; not all can be stored "fresh"--tomatoes, for example, need to be rendered into paste or sauce--but there are few things we cannot freeze effectively. Moreover, many of those, such as salad ingredients or potherbs, can probably be grown year-round with some care if any suitable indoor space is available. (Melons are probably the chief unfreezeable crop, and they are best regarded as a seaonal delight.) Thus, we needn't wory much about stored fruit affecting stored vegetables, because we won't have any of the latter outside our freezer.

Here is a tabulation of storage-related data for the fruits we feel growable and worth growing hereabouts (as explained on the main fruits page of this site). We omit citrus because we grow those indoors and don't store them (and their conditions are very different anyway.)

Fruit Generates
Sensitive to
in ° F
in %
Apples H Y 30-40 90-95 1 - 12 months storage depends in part on cultivar
Kiwis (?), ripe H Y 32-35 90-95 ? not specified as to kiwi type
Nectarines H N 31-32 90-95 2 - 4 weeks whoa--should be same as peaches...
Peaches H Y 31-32 90-95 2 - 4 weeks whoa--should be same as nectarines...
Pears H Y 29-31 90-95 2 - 7 months storage depends in part on cultivar
Cherries, sweet VL N 32-35 90-95 ?  
Cherries, sour VL N 32 90-95 3 - 7 days  
Kiwis (?), unripe L Y+ 32-35 90-95 ? not specified as to kiwi type
Blueberries VL N 32-35 90-95 ?  
Lingonberries VL N 32-35 90-95 ? assuming same as blueberries
Raspberries VL N 31-32 90-95 2 - 3 days  
Serviceberries VL N 32-35 90-95 ? assuming same as blueberries
Strawberries VL N 32 90-95 3 - 7 days  

What we see at once is that all these fruits store best in the same conditions: 32°F and 90% to 95% humidity. But we also see rather quickly that except for the pomes--the apples and pears--storage times in the best of cases are fleeting. That argues strongly that except for pomes, fruit should either be frozen "as is" (as can be done with some berries) or reduced to a state in which it can be frozen (cooked, pureed, or the like); only the pome fruit seem worth making an effort for, as far as creating special storage conditions.

While much of the food we grow in home gardens can be stored by freezing--a delightful wonder we take too much for granted--some, notably including fruits, do not freeze well owing to the inevitable loss of texture: no one wants a soggy, mushy apple. Fortunately, many of our favorite fruits and vegetables can be kept for quite a while, meaning a few to many months, by storing in conditions not difficult to achieve: a temperature of about 32° and high humidity (ideally 95%).

There is an excellent detailed document on fruit (and vegetable) storage from Cornell University available on line. And the Engineering Toolbox site has another quite detailed list of fruit & vegetable storage requirements. And here's yet another storage-conditions list from the University of Nebraska.

Another consideration when storing fruits and vegetables is which ones emit ethylene gas, something that many do, and which ones are affected by ethylene. (That's why it's hard to store, say, apples and potatoes in the same root cellar--the gas from one affects the other.) The table further below lists fruits, and some vegetables, that are ethylene-compatible and so can all be stored together.

A simple, low-cost storage method is to purchase an old but functioning refrigerator--the bigger the better if we're growing a lot of fruit--and stick it out in the garage or some such place. Buy a decent refrigerator thermomemeter, an inexpensive purchase at any hardware store. Set the refrigerator to maximum cool (refrigerators usually run in the middle to upper 30s at "medium" settings), let it go for a day or so, and check the temperature (be quick or the thermometer reading will literally go up before your eyes). Adjust up if necessary and wait again. When it's running at 30° or 31°, you're set--almost. Two further complications are that: one, some refrigerators tend to "drive down" the temperature if they are not opened over a period of time, so look into that refrigerator every few days; and two, the temperature will not be uniform throughout the storage area--the bottom of will tend to be colder than the top--so put a tiny battery-operated fan somewhere in the middle of everything, and every time you do your eyeball check make sure it's still running (if it quits, change the batteries). The fan will help even out temperature differences and also promote air circulation.

(You could also try a small plug-in fan with an extension cord running out through a tiny slit in the door seal.)

To give you an idea of volumes needed, for apples, one cubic foot of refrigerator will hold about 0.6 bushel. (It will actually hold 0.8 bushel, but we need to leave space for air circulation.) The way to go about placing fruit in such a refrigerator is to use the available shelves so that there is some air space distributed around all the apples.

Relative humidity in refrigerators is quite low, particularly in "frost-free" types. It is thus vital that the fruit (or vegetables) first be placed in plastic bags. The bags should have some holes or perforations for air circulation, to avoid excess moisture build-up and to allow gas exchange (that is, to vent the ethylene). It wouldn't hurt to place a bowl of water somewhere inside, though it might freeze; replace it every time you check the refrigerator.

Here is a list of the fruits and vegetables you can store together this way (we're not even sure what some of those are, but they're all on the list):

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