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Storage: Cold-season tips for fruits and vegetables

Oct 2nd, 2015 | Category: Growing

by David Pike

The golden light of autumn has arrived and it is time to reap the harvest, and store it. Whether you bought fruits and vegetables in bulk from local farmers, grew your own, or traded, let’s take a look at proper storage methods to keep the food best during the colder months.

Fresh tomatoes might keep at room temperature for a couple weeks, but do not refrigerate as it will damage their texture and flavor. Can them for long term storage, or make batches of salsa, or pasta sauce, which can be frozen or canned.

Fresh tomatoes might keep at room temperature for a couple weeks, but do not refrigerate as it will damage their texture and flavor. Can them for long term storage, or make batches of salsa, or pasta sauce, which can be frozen or canned.

Finding space is often a challenge in itself. Old farmhouses once came standard with root cellars and pantries, but newer homes often lack these practical spaces. If you are not fortunate enough to have a root cellar, a basement, garage, or a cool utility room will suffice.

Some crops keep in the garden over winter. Brussels sprouts keep through the first frost until ready to be used for a fall meal; kale is often harvested well into winter; leeks can remain in the ground and pulled as desired until spring.

How you decide to preserve each crop may depend on availability of storage space. There are various methods; here are some basic guidelines to help you determine how and where to store them.

Apples: To keep fresh apples, sort out any damaged or bruised fruits, then store them in cold and humid conditions. A refrigerator is ideal, a basement or garage works too. Keeping them in a cooler with a cup of water keeps the humidity up. Sort through them weekly and use or discard any going bad. Other possible options: Apple sauce, cider, or dried apple chips in a dehydrator. One further note on apples: they give off ethylene gas which can hasten ripening (spoiling) and sprouting of other vegetables.  Consider storing them away from the rest of your produce.

Basil: Stem and dry in a dehydrator. Alternately, make pesto, freeze in ice-cube trays, pack the pesto-cubes in freezer bags and store in freezer.

Berries: Remove stems and bad berries. You can wash firm berries such as strawberries or blueberries, but washing soft raspberries or ripe blackberries makes them mushy.  Spread on cookie sheets and freeze.  Pack in freezer bags and store in freezer. They can also be dried in a dehydrator.

Beets: Pull from garden and wash. Remove and reserve greens (blanch and freeze greens). Store in “turkey” bags in the refrigerator. Or pickle and can.

Carrots: Some have success with keeping carrots in the ground by hilling soil or straw over the tops to prevent freezing, and digging them as needed. My luck with this method has not been good, as rodents often get them. If rodents are a concern in your garden, pull them up (the carrots, not the rodents), wash and remove tops, pack them in “turkey” bags with a sprinkle of water for humidity and store in the refrigerator.

Cucumbers: Best stored as sweet or dill pickles and relish.

Dry Beans: Spread them out in a single layer to dry in a warm, ventilated space for one to two weeks.Shell them, sorting out any bad beans. If any beans are still soft, spread them out and continue drying until all the beans are firm and dry. Store in rodent proof containers in a cool, dry place.

Garlic: Cure in a warm, dry place for one month. Cut back roots and tops, or braid the tops together (soft-neck garlic only), and remove the first layer of dirty skin. Store in a cool, dry, ventilated space.Use any garlic which has scapes, is small, damaged, diseased, or has misshapen heads first. Consider saving the biggest and best cloves as seed garlic to plant in October or November.

Grapes: Stem and sort. Dehydrate at 125 F for approximately 3 days for delicious raisins. Optionally they can be stemmed, spread on cookie sheets, frozen, bagged, and stored in the freezer.  Or you can make wine of course!

Green Beans: Blanch for 3 minutes and freeze, pressure can, or pickle and can in hot water bath.

Herbs: Dry in a dehydrator on the lowest setting. Store in jars or ziplock bags in a cool, dry place.

Nuts: Shell and freeze to keep their oils from turning rancid.  Their high oil content prevents them from freezing solid, so they can be used directly from the freezer.

Onions: Spread them out in a single layer to cure in a warm, well ventilated space for 1-2 weeks.  You can cut the tops off, or braid them together.  Store in open shallow boxes in a cool and dry place with ventilation. Use any doubles, damaged, or soft onions first.

Peppers: Peppers will keep a couple of weeks at room temperature. For longer storage: stem, seed, slice up and dry in a dehydrator.  The dried pieces can be ground up in a coffee grinder to make pepper powders.

Potatoes: Brush off soil but do not wash. Washing spreads and encourages mold. Sort through and remove any forked, spaded, or damaged spuds and set aside to use first. Cure at room temperature 1-2 weeks, then store in shallow boxes in a cool, dark place. Any light reaching the potatoes causes them to turn green as they produce chlorophyll, and solanine which is toxic.

Snap Peas: Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, spread on cookie sheets and freeze, pack in freezer bags and store in freezer.

Summer Squash and Zucchini: Place on neighbor’s doorstep, and hope they don’t return the favor.  Slice up, blanch for three minutes, and freeze. Better yet, make plenty of chocolate chip zucchini bread. Extra loaves can be frozen (and shared with neighbors).

Sweet Corn: Shuck, blanch for four minutes, cut from cob and freeze.

Tomatoes: Fresh tomatoes might keep at room temperature for a couple weeks, but do not refrigerate as it will damage their texture and flavor. Can them for long term storage, or make batches of salsa, or pasta sauce, which can be frozen or canned. Most tomatoes today do not have adequate acidity to can safely in a hot water bath without the addition of an acid such as citric acid, lemon juice, or vinegar. If not using a pressure canner, look up the recommended ratio of acid per batch or jar of tomatoes. They can also be sliced up and dried in a dehydrator.

Winter Squash and Pumpkins: Leave the stems on, breaking them off will reduce storage time. Wipe clean with a damp cloth and mild soapy water to kill mold spores. Cure at room temperature for two weeks, then move to a cool and dry place where they will not freeze.  Use damaged, stemless, or any with soft or moldy spots first. Can also be cut up and (intentionally) frozen, or make puree and freeze.

Freeze, dry, can

If you have a large freezer take advantage of the space; a big pantry is perfect for canned and dried goods. Just be sure to periodically inspect for mold or bad produce as it can shorten the storage time (one bad apple spoils the bunch).

A small chest freezer is an excellent accessory. Freezing vegetables retains the best flavor, texture, and nutrients. Before freezing, it’s a good idea to quickly blanch (dip in boiling water) to kill off bacteria, followed by a dip in ice water to stop them from cooking and getting mushy. Also consider investing in a food dehydrator to dry fruits and herbs. Silica desiccant packets absorb excess moisture and can be bought cheaply online. Put them in jars of dried food, herbs, and spices to keep them truly dry and extend shelf life. The silica packets can be put in a dehydrator to be “recharged.” By removing their moisture content, they are ready to absorb more. Another handy product is nylon “turkey” oven bags which are more food safe than garbage bags. Their jumbo size accommodates plenty of produce when you need to pack it in your fridge.

Label all frozen, canned, and dried goods with the contents and a date.

Be aware that there are two different methods of canning: water bath, and pressure canning. Its important to can low acid foods in a pressure canner to preserve them safely.

Published in the October 2015 issue of Grow Northwest

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