Grow-How: Store Now, Feast Later

by Isabel Vinton

Pull out your cookbooks and your soup pots. Make some goodie bags for friends and neighbors. It's fall harvest time, and sometimes the amount of veg you're pulling out of your garden can feel overwhelming, pushing your creative cooking limits. But don't forget: the bounty won't last forever, and you'll thank yourself in mid-winter if you've stored away some of the harvest. The hows and whens of winter storage vary by vegetable. Some can stay out in the field longer than others, withstanding different temperature ranges and frost conditions. Heed these winter harvest guidelines to have your veggies and eat them, too!

HARVEST BEFORE FROST

Frost will damage some storage crops, making them rot instantly or significantly reducing their storage abilities. Frost can occur between 33 and 39 degrees, depending on humidity.

Winter Squash

Harvest: Winter squash and pumpkins are ripe when their flesh is full color and the stem is hard and dry. For best storage, always harvest before temperatures dip below 43, even if they aren't all quite fully ripe. Handling: For most winter squash, a curing process is necessary to extend their storage abilities and convert starches to sugars, sweetening them up. Post-harvest, remove any dirt or debris and lay squash in a single layer in a warm, sunny spot. We use our greenhouse with all fans on to keep moisture from collecting on the skins. Cure for at least 2 weeks. The exception to this is Delicata and Acorn types. The curing process will diminish their flavor and storage capacity. Storage: Store in a dry, dark, cool place. Do not allow them to freeze. Pantries and attic spaces are ideal places in the home.

 

Dry Beans

Harvest: In the Northeast, I recommend harvesting dry beans before frost, especially if the entire crop is not fully dry. Ideally, harvest your beans when the pods are dry. For faster processing, harvest the entire plant and place in a warm dry sunny spot to fully dry. Handling: The handling process for dry beans is basically seed saving. Once the plants and pods are fully dry and crisp, thresh them. Place dry and crisp plants clean tarps and whack each plant till all the pods shatter. Collect the beans and make sure they are fully dry before storing. Storage: Store in an airtight container once dry.

 

 

Potatoes

Harvest and Handling: Potatoes also require a curing process, though this happens before harvest. Once your plants have died back, be sure to leave them in the ground for at least 2 weeks. This period allows the skin to toughen. To harvest, gently dig potatoes with a garden fork, taking care not to spear any. Do not wash. Storage: Potatoes like air flow, but not totally dry storage. This can a tricky environment to create. One year we placed our potatoes in tubs with lids, but too much humidity collected in the winter. We now use crates that we cover with plastic in our cold storage room. However, a dry basement or attic space is also a great spot with a similar set up.

 

 

HARVEST BEFORE A HARD FREEZE

Most roots benefit from a frost, however can't handle a hard freeze. Plan to harvest these up to 3 weeks after your first fall frost, but keep an eye on the nightly lows, and harvest them before temperature dip below 30 degrees. Though these crops can handle a frost, be sure they are completely thawed when harvesting.

Fennel

Harvest: Fennel is the least cold tolerant of the vegetables in this category. The bulb rests on top of the soil making it more susceptible to freeze damage. However, it thrives in the cold, so it is one of the more time sensitive storage crops. I always time my planting for as late as possible. Handling: Fennel is not an excellent keeper but will store for 4 weeks. We plan to have fennel for our customers in November and into December, depending on when a freeze occurs. Harvest by cutting the bulb from the root just under the soil surface. To prep for storage, trim all the fronds back to 1/4-1/2 inch above the bulb. Storage: Store in cold conditions in a moderately humid environment. We use stackable bins in a cold storage room, but a plastic bag in a refrigerator works great!

 

Storage RadishesTurnips

Harvest: Leave your turnips and radishes in the ground for a frost and you won't be sorry. In general, turnips and radishes are very cold hardy and can withstand temperatures in the low 30s, however they cannot handle temperatures in the 20s, even with layers of protection. Harvest by pulling roots out by the base of the tops. Daikon radishes may need the assistance of a garden fork, take care not to spear the roots. Handling: Do not wash the roots, but remove any loose or clumping dirt from them by shaking them off. Trim the tops to 1/2 inch above the root. Storage: Turnips and radishes prefer a cold, humid environment and will keep for several months if properly stored, 33-42 degrees is ideal. Placing dry roots in a plastic bag or bin is ideal. Excess moisture on the roots will cause them to rot, however, check them periodically to make sure they are not too dry, and spritz them with water to keep them moist.

Beets

Chioggia Guardsmark Improved Beet

Harvest: Beets are similar to turnips. Harvest after frost but before temperatures dip into the twenties. Simply pull out by the tops. Handling: Do not wash the roots, but remove any loose or clumping dirt from them by shaking them off. Trim, do not rip, the tops off, leaving a 1/2 inch of stem. Storage: Beets prefer a cold, humid environment and will keep for several months if properly stored, 33-42 degrees is ideal. Placing dry roots in a plastic bag or bin is ideal. Excess moisture on the roots will cause them to rot, however, check them periodically to make sure they are not too dry, and spritz them with water to keep them moist.

 

 

Cabbage

Harvest: European storage cabbages are much hardier than Chinese cabbages, though for optimum storage-ability, harvest before the heads freeze. Harvest both varieties by cutting the head at its base, removing only damaged leaves. Handling: Be sure to remove dirty and damaged outer leaves, and remove any cabbage worms and pests before storing. Leave some outer leaves though, these act as a storage barrier that help keep the interior fresh. Storage: Cabbages will keep in a cold, humid environment, ideally 33-42 degrees. They can be packed in bins in cold storage, or kept in a refrigerator for several months.

 

 

HARVEST BEFORE GROUND FREEZES SOLID

A few roots are extremely cold hardy and can be left under mulch layers, until after the ground freezes. We prefer to harvest them before this point for ease of access. The ground freezes solid once day lengths are under 10 hours and temperatures are consistently in the low 20's at night.

Carrots

Harvest: Our storage carrots elicit Ooo's and Ahhh's. While we'd love to attribute their sweetness to expert farming prowess, the secret is simply that we time our seeding so that they mature in mid-November and experience very cold temperatures. If the temperatures are going to reach the mid-to-low 20's, we cover them with several layers of row cover to keep the very tops of the roots from getting freeze burn. Handling: Do not wash the roots, but remove any loose or clumping dirt from them by shaking them off. Trim, do not rip, the tops off, leaving a 1/2 inch of stem. Storage: Carrots prefer a cold, humid environment and will keep for several months if properly stored, 33-42 degrees is ideal. Placing dry roots in a plastic bag or bin is ideal. Excess moisture on the roots will cause them to rot, however, check them periodically to make sure they are not too dry, and spritz them with water to keep them moist.

Parsnips

Harvest: Parsnips are the hardiest root of all--they will readily over winter in our climate. Like carrots though, we prefer to let them, experience a freeze, then harvest. Make sure the roots are not frozen when digging. Use a garden fork, but take extra special care not to spear the roots. (Parsnips are the most tricky to fork.) Handling: Do not wash the roots, but remove any loose or clumping dirt from them by shaking them off. Trim, do not rip, the tops off, leaving a 1/2 inch of stem. Storage: Parsnips prefer a cold, humid environment and will keep for several months if properly stored, 33-42 degrees is ideal. Placing dry roots in a plastic bag or bin is ideal. Excess moisture on the roots will cause them to rot, however, check them periodically to make sure they are not too dry, and spritz them with water to keep them moist.

 

Once you've successfully harvested everything, you'll probably be wondering what to do with it all! Preservation is the next step. Read up on how to preserve your harvests for winter, and your tummy is sure to be delightfully full all winter long.