There are so many newcomers to the area of gardening these days. It just seems like all of us are developing an awareness of obtaining a more self-sufficient lifestyle in one form or another. Well, my self-sufficient lifestyle started well over 30 + years ago.
When I first began to garden, I didn’t have a clue about canning, drying or freezing. During the summer months, I just plucked the food out of the garden and used it right there and then. The biggest problem I had was storing the over-abundance for later use. I ended up giving half of my first year crop away because I did not know how to preserve it. I could only handle just so much information at one time. Sound familiar? Well with that in mind, I would like to share with you some tips and techniques that I have learned throughout my gardening years.
If you do not have a root cellar, do not worry. The following tips and techniques will help you preserve your harvest for longer periods of time:
First of all, always harvest in the morning after the dew has evaporated and before the sun starts to heat the garden. Your produce is more likely to be at their coolest and be ready for handling. Remember that their quality deteriorates rapidly after harvest, so you will want to keep fresh produce out of direct sunlight and cook, process, or pack it away in the proper storage conditions as readily as possible.
Make sure to handle your food with care. Even the slightest bruising or cuts will speed up decomposition and will transfer it to other produce. Remember the old saying, “one bad apple will spoil the whole barrel.” Well that is true with all produce. Additionally, if you are going to store items for long periods, removing the stems could possibly open a “wound” so try to leave the stems intact until ready to be eaten.
Never store food that is over ripe, consume it right away. Always store the food at its peak, preferable right after harvest. A few vegetables, such as the potatoes, squashes, onions as well as garlic, will need to be “cured” for several days in a warm dry setting prior to going into cold storage.
Pack your garden produce in something other than plastic, such as in mesh, brown paper bags or in cardboard or wooden boxes. This will maintain reduced humidity levels. Shake off the loose dirt rather than washing it for longer storage because moisture tends to encourage bacteria growth. Besides, a little dry dirt will not be a storage problem however, always do an inspection for pests. If you really must wash the produce before storage, make sure to dry them thoroughly before packing them away. When you are ready to eat your bounty and have retrieved them from cold storage, do not let your bounty sit in a sink full of water for washing. The bacteria or chemicals to clean the sink as well as the detergent in dish soap will cling to the “skins”. Always wash under running water.
When storing, again try not to use plastic containers, they do not allow the produce to breath and will trap ethylene gas as the produce ripens. Beans are an exception-they will not emit gases. A good quality, breathable, green garden bag will absorb and remove these gases and is safe for storage.
Remember that hot air rises so the coolest, most humid areas are on the floor or near entries. The driest and warmest areas are towards the ceiling. It might be wise to purchase a hygrometer (they measure temperatures as well as humidity). Try to maintain a temperature between 50 – 60 degrees F and a relative humidity level of 80-90 percent. Check your produce and hygrometer regularly and adjust or remove any damaged crops accordingly.
Vegetable that are piled together will generate heat. You will want to place some of the crops on shelves while others can be placed on the floor–always rotate or “air” your crops accordingly. Some crops such as potatoes, apples or pears can be covered in straw or individually wrapped in newspapers to retard the release of ethylene gas.
It would be wise to store cabbage or turnips away from other produce or in a root barrel (more on that in another segment). Their unpleasant odor has been known to permeate an entire dwelling.
Do not store potatoes, berries or fresh tomatoes in the refrigerator. The condensation that develops on the skins surface will speed up decomposition. 50 degree F is recommended for storage. (45 degree F is recommended for refrigerators.)
Never store your produce in the garage. Just think about the chemicals or the gasoline and oil that might be stored there. Additionally, when parking your vehicle after use, it still emits fumes and exhaust. That will be absorbed into your food…Yuk!
Whether you grow produce in your own backyard garden or have taken advantage of the abundance and lower prices at your local Farmers Market, I hope these tips and techniques will help you sustain your bounty for months to come.
Discover more about Harvesting and Drying Herbs Here!
Kali S Winters
Follow Kali’s Entire Series on Storing Garden Produce for Winter
Store Garden Produce For Winter-Part 1
Store Garden Produce #2-When To Harvest Garlic & Best Way To Store Herbs
Store Garden Produce #3-How To Dry Mushrooms & Dry Beans Storage
Store Garden Produce #4- How to Store Ripen Tomatoes-Freezing Fresh Tomatoes
Store Garden Produce #5-How to Freeze-Store Squash-Pumpkin Storage
Parts 6-10: Store Garden Produce For Winter