How are Michigan apples crisp and tasty in February?

In the Midwest, many have memories of picking apples or going straight to the orchard to pick up bags of freshly picked apples and drink just-pressed apple cider. But that’s fall. How can apples from the supermarket taste just as crunchy and freshly picked months later in cold, dreary winter months?

The secret lies in how the apples are stored.

The sealed door to a controlled atmosphere room.

The sealed door to a controlled atmosphere room.

If proper storage techniques are handled in a timely mattered soon after picking, some varieties can last in storage for a year.

First, at Riveridge, we test blocks of apples to test their durability for storage. Weather can play a role in how an apple will keep. And that weather can vary by orchard and even different areas of the orchard. We check pressures, test starches and all the quality checks we do for every pack at the packing facility. Documenting each block, we can estimate when each should be packed. (Separate article to come on this process.)

Those apple blocks that score well head to a controlled atmosphere room which is basically a very large refrigerator with special monitoring capabilities. Apples are stored at 32 to 34 degrees, oxygen is pulled from the room and carbon dioxide is scrubbed from the room (either by old-fashioned lime or carbon dioxide air scrubbing machines). The apples are now ready for hibernation.

Lastly, the rooms are monitored by computers that can send alerts to the phones of growers when there is a change in temperature or an increase in oxygen or carbon dioxide.

Once these rooms are opened, the race is on. The apples are now awake, breathing oxygen, and it’s time to get them to the store shelves and to the refrigerators (and ultimately the stomachs) of consumers. Each room is usually packed and on the road within a week.

Controlled Atmosphere room in summer; Turned off with empty bins.

Controlled Atmosphere room in summer; Turned off with empty bins.

Certain varieties naturally have the genetics to store longer. A firmer, thicker skin often means better storage. This means varieties like Red Delicious, Rome, McIntosh, Gala and Fuji just have it in their DNA to keep longer. But as storage handling improves, so will the shelf life of other softer-skinned varieties.

Cold Storage vs Controlled Atmosphere

You may have heard of cold storage but it is very different. Cold storage is basically putting the apples in the cellar like the olden days – but in larger, refrigerated rooms. The difference between cold storage and controlled atmosphere rooms is just that – there is no controlling the atmosphere in cold storage. Apples are kept this way early in the season when they will be turned quickly. These blocks are headed right to store shelves so there is no need to put the apples to sleep.

By using controlled atmosphere rooms, we are able to suspend the apple in time. Therefore, when a consumer purchases and consumes the apple in winter, it’s as if the apple was recently picked from the tree!

Keeping Track of Weather Trends


Weather Tracking

As temperatures start to warm each spring, questions arise regarding apple crop development.  A resource easily overlooked in agriculture is the extent to which growers – and other industry folks – use scientific data.  Crop development is a perfect example where we can quickly alleviate any concerns about the crop by using the mountain of data available from automated weather stations.

Riveridge growers take advantage of Michigan State University’s Enviroweather network of internet-connected weather stations throughout Michigan.  With a mix of historical and current season data, we can track our crop development this season and compare it to previous seasons.

Empirical data for the Sparta, Michigan, or “Ridge” area, have shown that Green Tip (the first visible sign of foliage) occurs around 127 Base 42F Degree Days in McIntosh.  Growers have used this as their baseline to judge development of the entire crop for years.  As you can see by the graph, we are on track for a slightly earlier Green Tip, but not anything that is concerning.  In fact, this may result in an apple harvest that is slightly earlier than last year.

The winter was milder than the last few and that will result in less winter injury to the trees.  A warm beginning to March gave us a jump start toward tree development, but the final weeks of the month have returned to near normal temperatures and has delayed progress.

Riveridge adds additional Food Safety Role

Riveridge now has two full-time employees focused on Food Safety with the addition of Theresa Badgerow late last year.

Theresa recently joined Riveridge to help support Food Safety.

Theresa recently joined Riveridge to help support Food Safety.

Riveridge prides itself on its current Food Safety practices including the traceability from the orchard to the picker to the packing facility. Due to some high-profile mishandled produce that’s been in the national news recently, today’s savvy consumers want even more reassurance their food is handled the best way possible.

Theresa’s main role will be to oversee good manufacturing processes. She will check in on growers, helping them with their audits and making sure the Packing facilities are using best practices. Official Food Safety regulations may change over time, but Theresa is committed to making sure Riveridge is ahead of the game.


Her day-to-day role will be maintaining all logs and ensuring everything is up to date and prioritizing those needs. This includes scheduled walk throughs at Riveridge Packing to make sure cleaning is done properly and even the small things like smocks and IDs are worn. Incentives for those exhibiting consistent Good Manufacturing Process practices are a new initiative for individuals at Riveridge Packing, rewarding those who go above and beyond.

Each bin of apples on a Riveridge Land Company farm is traceable right down to the picker.

Each bin of apples on a Riveridge Land Company farm is traceable right down to the picker.

Theresa has a vested interest in the apple industry. She married into a grower partner family of Riveridge and is already making an impact in her new role. Theresa recently took over supervision of the sanitation crew at Riveridge Packing and instituted new quarterly check ins to review corrective actions.

We are more than happy to provide information about our practices and invite you for a tour to see how our fruit goes from the tree to your store safely.

Growing Apples on V-trellis: The Details


Justin Finkler, Riveridge Landing Company’s Farm Manager, presented at the 2016 International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan recently. Attendees then had the opportunity to come out to our Grant farm location to see V-trellis and vertical trellis systems in person.

Below is a quick synopsis on the details of V-trellis apple growing. Please reach out to us if you’re interested in additional information.


Why V-trellis?MatureOrchardYield

  • Goals
  • Yields of 20 to 30 percent more than vertical system
  • 90 to 100 bins per acre
  • Highest possible pack-out, grow high quality fruit
  • The system lends itself well to work platforms
  • Easier to manage Pruning, Thinning

Diagram of a tree in full production

  • 70 apples
  • 72/80 size
  • 1,800 bushels/acre











Cost of Planting V-trellis vs Vertical trellis

  • Cost of Planting 10 x 3 ( 1452 trees/acre) vertical trellis
  • 4 wire
  • Wood post at 25 feet
  • Drip irrigationTotalCostsinPlantingYear
  • $19,000.00 per acre not including land cost
  • Cost of Planting 12 x 2 ( 1815 trees/acre)

   V- Trellis

  • 7 wire per side
  • Drip irrigation and micro sprinklers for frost protection
  • Steel orchard stakes at 32 feet with steel end post
  • $26,000.00 per acre not including land cost, frost fans or reflective material

Ground Prep / Pre-Planting

  • Soil Sampling grid samples
  • Variable rate soil amendments appliedTiling1 Tiling2
  • Ground is tiled every 30’ to 40’ 4-inch corrugated black tile
  • Deep ground ripping
  • Root removal
  • Cover crop

Planting Techniques

  • Planting with a two-row planterPlanting
  • GPS
  • Auto Steer
  • Planting 15,000 to 20,000 trees/day




Training TechniqueIMG_20160202_135254913

  • Tape leader to string as it grows
  • Tie Down branches to each wire
    • First with green tape (temporary)
    • Then with black electrical tape (stronger, more permanent)
    • Eliminate unwanted limbs or stub back


Graphs courtesy of ANR.MSU

Riveridge Land Company to share V-trellis system learnings  


Thanks to the Grand Rapids location of this year’s International Fruit Tree Association (IFTA) conference, attendees will have the opportunity to tour West Michigan-area orchards including recent V-trellis system apple tree plantings by Riveridge Land Company.


V-trellis system planting at the Grant Farm.

Riveridge Land Company Operations Manager Justin Finkler will be part of a four-person panel on Saturday, Feb. 6 discussing Optimized Training Systems for Fuji, Gala and Honeycrisp. Justin will be sharing details on vertical and V-trellis system plantings from the Grant, Michigan farm.

Information will include goals of V-trellis systems, start-up costs, land prep, nutrition, training techniques and growth to date along with imagery of one- and two-year established V-trellis systems. A comparison to Vertical trellis systems will also be included.

On Tuesday, Feb. 9, IFTA attendees have an opportunity to see first-hand the one-year and two-year V-trellis system growth at the Riveridge Land Company Farm in Grant, Mich.  The Grant location will be part of a multi-stop tour of orchards in the Ridge area north of Grand Rapids.

While the V-trellis system for apple tree plantings has long been established in other parts of world, namely Washington state, Riveridge Land Company is the first to bring the technique for apples to Michigan.

Benefits of the growing system include increased yields, higher color, better pack outs and easier pruning, thinning and picking management. While Riveridge Land Company V-trellis system program is only going into its third leaf, the trees have taken well and more plantings are planned for 2016.

Winter Prep

Everyone knows farmers bust their tail as soon as the sun stays out a little longer and the ground is able to be broken. But many think there is little to do once the harvest is done. That can’t be further from the truth – because fall and winter can be when some of the toughest, challenging work takes place.

Sure, apple trees do not need to be planted every year but they’re far from being maintenance free. They’re pruned in fall and spring so that the branches left put on a robust amount of blossoms then apples, but also so that ample sunlight gets through to color the apples – much like getting a suntan! Without that sunlight, an apple intended to be fully red, may appear mostly green.

So pruning comes first. Then there is maintenance of the machinery so that it is winterized to be ready to be fired up come spring. But sometimes there is an even more massive undertaking that can happen – prep for replanting.

Most apple trees can put on apples as long as they’re in the ground – but like so many things, after they age, their production will decrease. Therefore, farmers are better off by replacing these older trees – even though it will take another five years to get a steady, mature harvest – but that harvest on the new trees can be will often produce exponentially more apples than the older trees.

Plus, there have been leaps and bounds in agriculture innovation. Today’s trees aren’t always just grafted onto old root stock or planted from a small tree seedling. Many of us remember apple trees we like to call Angry Orchards. These thick-trunked apple trees grow up tall and branches twist all around. While they may elicit wonderful memories and make great family portrait backgrounds, they are not designed to be ladder-friendly for pickers and they’re not the best at putting on fruit.

Today, apple trees are grown closer together on smaller stock systems and many are grown on a trellis system. More to come in later blog posts about that. But for now, we’ve been busy in the orchard putting in drain tile so that when we plant in the spring, those trees will have wonderful drainage to go along with their new irrigation system. As soon as picking ended, the old trees came out. These older, lower-producing varieties are making way for varieties and strains that suit the 21st century taste buds, as well as pack out better so they’re able to store and look good (and taste great!) for upwards of a year.IMG_4184[1]

When you pick up that bag of apples at your favorite retailer, know the tree and the farmer didn’t kick back at the end of harvest.  They worked hard for your purchase! This new blog series will explore the background of apple production and we hope you learn something new.