Storing your own fruits and vegetables at home at the end of the growing season, following a few simple guidelines, will enable you to have food of good nutrition and flavor into the fall and winter. It is a good way to keep extra produce you can’t eat right away from the garden and to save money later at the grocery store. Even if you don’t grow your own produce, you can buy it locally during the season at farm stands and farmers’ markets for home storage.
Successful storage begins with a proper selection of varieties and harvesting.
- Select to store those varieties best suited for this. Catalogs often have this information.
- Harvest fruits and vegetables at their proper stage, usually peak maturity.
- Don’t harvest produce that has signs of disease, or insect damage that can lead to rots.
- Leaving an inch of stem on most vegetables reduces water loss and rots.
- Handle produce carefully to avoid cuts and bruises, again which can lead to rots.
Storage conditions for produce fall into four groups. Cold (32 degrees F) and moist (95 percent relative humidity) should be used for many including asparagus, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts (leave on stalk if possible), cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, sweet corn, lettuce, parsley, peas, spinach, and grapes. Cool (45 to 50 degrees) and moist should be used for snap beans, cucumbers, eggplant, cantaloupe, sweet peppers, potatoes, and tomatoes. Cool and dry (65 to 70 percent relative humidity) should be used for garlic and onions. Warm (55 to 60 degrees) and dry should be used for hot peppers, pumpkins, and winter squash.
How long should you expect for storing these crops in this manner? On the low end are from two to four weeks for asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and most green leafy crops. One to two months, possibly more, are typical for leeks, parsley, and pumpkins. Moderate storage times of between three and five months are typical for apples, cabbage, mature carrots, parsnips, late potatoes, winter squash, and sweet potatoes. Lasting longest in storage are garlic and onions (six to seven months). Others really don’t store well so should be eaten fresh, including corn on the cob (two to three days in husks, less if husked), and cucumbers (one week).
In addition to proper temperature and humidity conditions for each fruit or vegetable, the following tips will lead to the longest storage.
- Keep stored produce in a dark, well-ventilated area.
- Although moist conditions are good for many, wet conditions are not and can lead to rot.
- In general, don’t wash produce until ready to use.
- While many like it cold, none should be allowed to freeze or go below freezing.
- Protect stored produce from mice, chipmunks, and other animal pests.
- Store fruits and vegetables separately as fruits can pick up the flavors of vegetables stored nearby. Also, fruits give off ethylene gas which speeds up the ripening of vegetables.
Indoors, areas that provide the correct storage conditions can be used such as a basement room, unheated room or garage, porch, attic, extra refrigerator, or bulkhead. Outdoors is good for vegetables requiring cool to cold conditions, such as in root cellars, earthen mounds, or outdoor structures such as sheds. Two drawbacks to outdoor storage are the greater chance of freezing and damage by animal pests. More ideas on storage and conditions for each crop can be found in leaflets from Cornell Cooperative Extension (www.gardening.cornell.edu).
STORING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor Emeritus
University of Vermont