Some tips on how to keep your apples from going to waste

As apples breathe, they rot. The key to long storage is slowing their breathing, and one way to do that is to keep them cold. Apples in a warehouse are stored just above freezing, in very high humidity. As close to the freezing point as is possible for you to achieve will greatly lengthen storage time.  Be sure that the apples do not actually freeze.

Q: Our apple trees had a good crop, so we would like to keep and eat the extra ones later. When we tried keeping them before, they turned soft and crumbly right away. Stores sell apples for months and months after apple season is over. Is there some way to keep ours for a while?

A: You do not have the facilities to store apples for as long a time as a commercial warehouse, but you can store your apples in a way that slows their ripening and so prolongs their good eating. The breathing of apples absorbs carbon dioxide and gives off oxygen, as well as some esters and ethyls. They are the ripening gases that require apples to be stored separately from other fruits and vegetables.

As apples breathe, they rot. The key to long storage is slowing their breathing, and one way to do that is to keep them cold.

Apples in a warehouse are stored just above freezing, in very high humidity. As close to the freezing point as is possible for you to achieve will greatly lengthen storage time. Be sure that the apples do not actually freeze.

Apples in a warehouse are stored in an atmosphere composed mostly of nitrogen, with oxygen reduced to 4%. When stored in nitrogen, the apples stop producing their ripening gases. That is not possible in a home, but you are not trying to make your apples last a whole year.

If you have a place where you can store apples in temperatures below 40 degrees, that will be perfect. The ideal temperature is 32 degrees, but if the temperature drops even a little more, frozen spots will develop. If you do not have a cold cellar, a refrigerator will work very well. Since apples also require high humidity, store them in plastic bags with a few holes for air circulation. Handle apples as if they were eggs. They bruise easily, and even a small bruise can rot quickly.

All your apples will continue to ripen, but at different rates. If you sort and label the apples before storing them, you can eat first the ones which ripen first. Those which matured on the tree earliest in summer will continue their fast ripening. You will want to eat the sweet early apples, like Gala and Delicious, first. In addition, big apples become soft before small ones. Eat the prime specimens soon.

Apples that are harvested later in the season are tart, hard-skinned, less fragrant but richer in flavor. These are the long keepers. They include Macintosh, Fuji, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Spartan. Interestingly, several of these varieties originated in other countries. Spartan was bred at an experiment station in British Columbia. Several apple varieties come from New Zealand. Gala came from there, as did Braeburn. It is named for Braeburn Farm, near the city of Christchurch on New Zealand’s South Island.

Perhaps the most complicated origin story of an apple belongs to Granny Smith. It is a very old variety which was found on a compost pile, by the elderly wife of a New Zealand apple grower. Her name was Maria Ann Smith. Or perhaps it was a seedling found on the family farm. Or perhaps she had been testing French crabapples from Tasmania and threw the cores out the window, where one sprouted. Since nothing was written down for half a century, we will never know which version of the story is true.

After Granny Smith died, another local orchard owner realized the value of her apple and began growing many trees grafted from it. All the Granny Smith apple trees grown today are clones of her original seedling. The variety was rediscovered by apple experts from the Department of Agriculture in New South Wales, Australia. It became a major export from both countries because it kept for six months and did not bruise easily.

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Honeycrisp, a current favorite among apple varieties, did originate in this country. It was deliberately bred at the Minnesota Agriculture Experiment Station. Honeycrisp is a fairly new variety, released only in 1991. Breeders thought they knew which two apples they had crossed to produce Honeycrisp, but genetic testing proved them wrong. Honeycrisp actually is a cross between Keepsake and another unnamed apple grown at the experiment station. When the same apple is exported from New Zealand, it is called Honeycrunch.

In this country, Honeycrisp is expected soon to claim a third of the market. Its popularity probably results from its being bred for flavor instead of shelf life or ability to tolerate a shipping container.

Q: I have a creeping fig with green and white leaves. Now it has grown a branch with leaves that are plain green. Do I need to do anything to prevent the rest of the plant from turning green too?

A: Yes, you need to cut off the plain green branch. Possibly your variegated green and white leaves came from a viral infection. If that is the cause, you do not need to worry. The virus will stay around, and the leaves will keep their color patterns. However, the emergence of a green branch makes a viral infection unlikely.

There are recognized, named varieties of house plants with variegated leaves which have persisted for decades. Everyone (except the botanists) has long since forgotten that they started with a virus.

The patterned loss of chlorophyll in leaves also can come from a mutation in the plant, and mutations can continue from generation to generation or can disappear unexpectedly. A mutation also may be the cause of variegation in your creeping fig. There is no way to know how stable a mutation is except to wait and see. You can hope that by removing the plain green branch you have saved the color patterns in the rest of the plant. Perhaps you will have done so.

Variegated leaves are most often found in tropical rain forests, in plants which grow in the shade of bigger plants. Since these tropical understory plants are the source of most of our house plants, we see color patterns in our house plants far more often than in our garden plants.

Variegated leaves — most often with white or yellow patterns — are not an asset to a plant. The variegations contain no green chlorophyll, and a plant needs all the chlorophyll it can get to continue manufacturing food.

Variegated plants in nature are weaker than plain green ones, and thus unable to compete with stronger neighbors. Only when gardeners take care of them are variegated plants likely to survive for long.

Variegation in some house plants, including creeping fig, is notorious for being unstable. If other green branches appear, remove them quickly. Know that you are not causing the plant to revert to plain green by the way in which you care for it. If it came from a mutation, the variegation may disappear, despite your best efforts.