Storing Vegetables for Winter

by Tusha Yakovleva

IMG_2738Winters are, among other things, a time when fresh produce is sorely missed. It’s a time to dream about salads and the juicy crunch of a fresh-picked pepper or cucumber. But, with a little time and effort, not everything fresh has to go away till spring. Preparing the right storage environment for your crops (won’t bring you peppers, cucumbers or greens but) will bring you fresh winter salads in January. When planning for long-term vegetable storage, it’s important to consider the timing of your harvest, select for quality, and set up the right storage environment. Here’s what this looks like for different crops:

Roots crops such as Carrots, Beets, Turnips, Rutabagas, and Winter Radishes can stay in the ground past the first few frosts (harvest them on an as-needed basis) but dig them all out before the ground freezes solidly and holds the roots hostage till spring. Protect them from freezing by hilling soil around their tops and/or mulching heavily with straw. When you do harvest them all, only store roots that don’t have cuts or holes in them, as they will store much longer. Pull off any remaining foliage, but don’t wash the roots.

Parsnips are tough and will withstand winter weather. Leave them in the ground till the ground thaws in spring for an early-season sweet treat.

Potatoes should be harvested after the vines die, then cured before storage.

IMG_3582Root crops, including potatoes, store best in a near freezing (around 34 degrees) and relatively high humidity environment. A refrigerator’s crisper drawer provides this sort of setting, but is also very limiting in space. (The only root crops exception are sweet potatoes, which prefer a warmer temperature: near 55 degrees.)

Winter Squash should be left on the vine until the stems are killed by frost and the skin is hard. Inspect the crops for quality and only select squash that has not cuts or holes. Leave the stems attached to prevent mold and disease from getting into the fruit. Store winter squash in the 50 to 60 degree range, with low humidity.

Onions should be harvested earlier in the season - before the frost – dried, cured, and checked for nicks and bruises and selected before going into long-term storage. Onions, like winter squash, need a place that’s cool, dry, and ventilated.

Garlic, after it’s harvested and cured, can be stored in a similar environment as winter squash: cool, dry, and well ventilated.

Kale, Collards, and Brussels Sprouts can withstand a number of frosts (and will be sweetened by them!) and so, can be stored right on the plant. Their growth rate, however, will be severely stunted by the cold weather. Row covers are a great way to extend their growing season.

Storage Options: If you are lucky enough to live in a house with a root cellar, then you already have the perfect storage solution. Most of us don’t, but there are simple alternatives that are well-suited for nearly any household.

If you have an unheated basement, you can build a root cellar by insulating one corner of the basement. Many plans can be found online.

If you have a cool, but uninsulated area, make a ‘root box’ by layering roots and sawdust or sand in a box, creating a small, cool, and insulated environment.

Another option is to bury a cooler or an old freezer outside, below the frost line, to act as a mini-root cellar.

  • Crops that aren’t good enough for storage because of cuts or holes are still great for eating, just use them quickly.
  • Roots can touch each other in storage, just don’t pack them too tightly.
  • If you find one rotten vegetable, pull it out to prevent the rot from spreading to the other ones.
  • It’s important for the storage temperature to stay consistent. Variations in as little as five degrees can cause the roots to sprout and rot.
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