Your vegetables must be harvested at just the right moment so they’ll take well to storing and won’t decay before you’re ready to use them. Damaged or imperfect vegetables will spoil quickly, so you must be very careful when handling them prior to storing. Never store bruised or damaged vegetables; they can cause spoilage of your whole crop. It’s usually better to clean off but not wash vegetables before storing, because washing can lead to the development of soft rot.
With methods of food preservation, you can process the food and then forget about it until you’re ready to use it. Not so with storage. Since the temperature outdoors is the major factor affecting the. storage of your vegetables, you have to be constantly alert to the changes in weather. If it turns suddenly colder, warmer, or wetter, you must make whatever adjustments are needed to maintain the proper conditions in your storage area. You must also make regular spoilage checks of the boxes, bags, or bins of vegetables stored indoors.
Harvest vegetables as late as possible. For many vegetables, this means plant later than usual in order to get a late harvest. You should wait until the first frost warnings to harvest. Carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and turnips, for example, can stay in the ground even after the first frost or two, if the ground is well mulched.
Pick only perfect vegetables for cold storage and handle them carefully to avoid bruising. One bad item can spread decay to others and ruin the whole box, barrel, or mound.
Check around your property to see if it offers storage areas like those described in this section. Test the temperature and humidity in any area you’re considering before you use it for storing your vegetables. The ideal time to plan your storage area is in winter before you plant.Temperature. You’ll need to put up a reliable indoor/outdoor thermometer in your storage area. Most vegetables are stored at temperatures below 40°F but above freezing. However, there are some exceptions; watery vegetables such as tomatoes, green peppers, winter squash, and pumpkins, must all be cool-stored at temperatures above 40°F to keep from spoiling.
Humidity. Unless extra humidity is provided, your cold-moist and cool-moist stored vegetables will dry up and shrivel when stored indoors. Keep a humidity gauge in your storage area to be sure the vegetables are getting neither too much nor too little humidity, and make any necessary adjustments from time to time. You don’t need fancy equipment or techniques for maintaining the right humidity. You might put pans of water or a tub of dampened sand on the floor; cover the floor with damp straw, sand, or sawdust; use damp sand or sawdust for packing the food; or line packing boxes with plastic bags.Ventilation. You need ventilation in your storage area in case the indoor temperature grows too warm for the vegetables you’re keeping. If that should happen, you must let in some cold winter air to cool things off. Good ventilation can be provided by a vent to the outside, a window, or a door. Although it’s simple enough to open a window or a door to lower the temperature of your storage place, you must also protect your stored vegetables from contact with the air. Oxygen reacts with other substances in food to cause changes that will spoil the food. Since whole vegetables “breathe,” they must be wrapped or packed in materials that will prevent oxidation. You must also keep the vegetables separate from one another so any spoilage won’t be able to spread. To do this, layer the vegetables with clean, dry leaves, sand, moss, or dirt, or wrap each vegetable individually in paper.
If your house has an outside basement entrance with stairs going down, you can use it as a storage area — the stairs become your shelves. You’ll need a door at the top of the stairs, and probably another door at the bottom of the stairs, over the existing house door, to hold in the basement’s heat. Which door you use as access depends on the climate. In a
The outside stairs to your basement can make a good vegetable storage area. Set a plank on each step for insulation and check the temperature on each step.
vegetables. In colder climates, you may need to go through the basement. Cover the outside door to keep your vegetables from freezing.Use a thermometer to check the temperature on each step and put barrels or boxes of food where the temperature is right for each item. It’s a good idea to set a wooden plank as insulation on each step. If you need to add more humidity, set a bucket of damp sand on one of the steps.
Window wells can make nifty little storage areas, if they don’t collect and hold water. Line the wells with
Line dry window wells with straw or bedding, put in the vegetables, then cover with a board or more bedding.
Harvest on a dry day, if possible, and let the vegetables dry on the ground, in the sun, for several hours before packing them away. Onions often need several days of drying; potatoes, however, shouldn’t be exposed to hot sun or strong wind. Produce should be cool when packed.Wash vegetables, if you must, but most experts agree that all you really need to do is brush off excess dirt. The vegetables should be dry before you pack them.
Potatoes, pumpkins, and most types of winter squash have to be cured before storing. Curing is holding the vegetables at a warm temperature — 70°F to 85°F — in a dark, humid place for about 10 days. Curing hardens the skins and rinds and helps heal surface cuts, reducing mold and rot damage.
Some vegetables — potatoes, onions, and squash — can go from the garden right into boxes, barrels, plastic bags, or other containers. Root vegetables — such as beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips — are better packed in some material such as newspaper that will insulate them, slow down their breathing, and keep them from touching one another, so decay can’t spread from root to root.You can wrap the vegetables separately in newspaper, then pack them loosely in boxes, barrels, or plastic bags. If you use plastic bags, poke a few holes in the bags to allow some ventilation. Other packing materials include damp or dry sand, sawdust, peat, sphagnum moss, leaves, straw, or wood shavings. Line the container with a layer of packing wood material, then arrange a layer of vegetables, leave space around each vegetable for packing material. Fill in around each vegetable and then again on top with a layer of packing material. Repeat these steps until the container is full. Be careful to leave enough room for examining the produce at the bottom of the container when you’re making routine spoilage checks.Moist sand is sometimes suggested for packing certain vegetables. You’ll know the sand is just the right consistency if it feels cold and falls apart in your hand when squeezed, leaving just a few particles sticking to your skin.
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