Winter is coming! And before it does, let’s make sure we preserve and store our summer and fall harvests properly. By using the best food storage practices, you can extend the life of your garden harvest for weeks or even months on end. That gives you a fresh supply of produce, all throughout winter.
Onions store quite well, so long as you harvest them properly. Pull them when half of the tops are browning or falling over and don’t harvest if it’s rained in the last few days.
Cure them in a dry area with a temperature of 80°F or over for a week, then trim off the tops. To store them well, put them in mesh bags in a cool, dark place with low to medium humidity. A root cellar works well here.
With any luck, you’ve grown more potatoes than you can eat this season. You know what that means…time to store them! Potatoes must be harvested before your soil cools down for the fall and winter, ideally before it reaches 55°F. Pull them gently and wash to remove the larger chunks of soil.
Potatoes cure well in a 55-60°F, dark, and relatively humid space for a few weeks, then store well in closed boxes. You can even bury them in the ground, so long as it’s cool and humidity is in the middle ranges.
There’s nothing better than a well-stored winter squash that you can pull out of your pantry for a nice squash soup in the dead of winter. As the name implies, winter squash stores quite well. When harvesting it, make sure to leave a few inches of the stem attached to increase shelf life. Wipe the entire squash down with a cloth to remove dirt, bugs, and disease.
Winter squash must be cured in an area with good air flow and temperatures in the 70-80°F range for two weeks. Storage is pretty simple — all winter squash needs is a cool area with medium humidity to last throughout the winter.
Apples are the first fruit we’ll cover, as well as the first piece of produce that requires colder storage. When picking apples, make sure the seeds are dark brown — cut into a sample apple to test seed darkness. For storing, mid and late-season apples are better than early-season varieties.
Individually wrapping apples is the best way to store them. They require quite cold temperatures for best storage, from 32-35°F. They also like high humidity, so a refrigerator crisper box is a great way to store them if you have a small quantity of apples.
There’s nothing better than a cabbage stew in the middle of winter…but to get there, we need to store it well, as cabbage can go bad quickly! When harvesting your cabbage, make sure you harvest before the outer leaves start to brown or discolor. Remove these outer leaves before you store it.
To store, wrap in plastic bags and refrigerate. If you have too much cabbage for a refrigerator, you can place in a root cellar in buckets of sand to keep the plant alive until it needs to be harvested.
Carrots are one of the easier vegetables to store, as they’re hardy, cold-tolerant root crops. When harvesting your carrots, make sure to get them out of the ground before it freezes over. Trim off the tops, leaving 1-2” to prolong shelf life.
They do well in the refrigerator in a crisper drawer, but also store well if they are packed in sand in a closed container and stored in a cold area like a basement.
These are just a few of the many crops you can store from your summer and fall harvest, but the principles remain the same. What you’re trying to do is mimic the growing environment of some plants (cabbage, carrots) or slow down the decomposition rate by storing in a cold, dark, place.
With these tips, you can extend the shelf life of your harvest well into winter and enjoy “fresh”, home-grown produce throughout the snowy months!
About the Author
Kevin is the creator of Epic Gardening, a community dedicated to teaching urban gardening, hydroponics, and aquaponics. He enjoys skateboarding, piano, guitar, business, and experimenting with all kinds of gardening techniques!