Storing Summer Harvest

Here at Myhills, we know how satisfying it is to be able to eat food from your garden amidst a cold, snowy winter. There is an abundance of summer-grown crops that can be stored with ease to nourish you and your family until the next growing season. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Crops that are harvested at their prime – not before or after – store best. Time your plantings so they mature at the close of the season.
  • Only first quality, unblemished produce is suitable for storage.
  • Optimum temperature and humidity for storage varies by crop, so be sure that the crops you plan to store match the storage conditions you can provide.

Potatoes

If you want to store some potatoes for eating through the winter months, you’ll need to plant varieties that are well-suited to storage as well as to your growing area.  You need to keep your plants as healthy as possible, so the more foliage your plants have, the better the harvest will be.

Your potatoes can be ‘cured’ for storage in the late summer. Curing toughens up the skin and extends its storage life. Cure the tubers by laying them out on newspaper in a well-ventilated place that’s cool (50 – 60 degrees F.) and dark, so they don’t turn green. After about two weeks, the skins will have toughened up. Rub off any large clumps of dirt (potatoes should never be washed before storage) and cull any damaged tubers, which should be eaten, not stored.

Store your spuds out of any sunlight, in a container with perforated sides. Even a little light will cause potatoes to turn green and then have to be disposed of. The ideal storage temperature for potatoes is 35 – 40 degrees, though they will usually keep for several months at 45 to 50 degrees.

Onions

Onions should be cured before they are stored. In late summer, the leaves of onion plants flop over. This signals that it’s time for the plants to stop growing and start preparing for winter. Allow the plants to remain where they are until the necks begin to tighten and the foliage yellows.

If the weather is dry and there’s no danger of frost, onions can be harvested and laid right on top of the soil to dry for a week or two. If the weather is wet or frost is possible, harvest your onions and keep them in a protected and dry location.

The floor of the garage works well. Spread the onions out in a single layer and let them “cure” for two weeks. During this time the necks will wither and turn brown, and the papery skins will tighten around the bulbs. Once the necks have dried and there’s no more moisture in the stem or leaves, you can bring your onions indoors and store them in mesh bags or bushel baskets. Keep them cool (35 to 45 degrees F.) and away from light.

Beets and Carrots

To maintain good eating quality, carrots and beets need to be kept at a constant temperature of between 32 – 40 degrees F, and at 90 – 95% humidity. There are three ways that home gardeners can provide these ideal storage conditions: in a refrigerator, in moist sand or right in the garden.

To store these crops in a refrigerator or in sand, start by harvesting the roots. Handle them gently to avoid bruising or nicking. Use scissors to cut off all but 1/2″ of the foliage. Rub the roots gently (do not wash them in water) to remove most soil. Don’t cut off the root end because this will invite decay.

For refrigerator storage, lie similar-sized, same-variety vegetables in a single layer in freezer bags. Beets  and carrots will stay hard and sweet for five months or more.