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In the spring and summer, gardens are fun, planting with hopes of a big harvest and then pulling in the new crops as they come. By July and August, it’s all hitting a peak, and the output of squashes, tomatoes, and green beans is too overwhelming to keep up with. Once September rolls around, storing for the winter has become the business at hand.
Undoubtedly, by that point, plenty of pickling will have taken place, items will have been canned, and excess produce will have been frozen. If that’s the case, a gardener is well on the way to well-stocked winter selection. Now, it’s time to start looking into the produce that we store fresh. Some fruits and vegetables, when stowed away properly, can last for months as is, no canning necessary, no pickling, no fermenting.
Most of this fresh produce is bulky and perfect for keeping stomachs full when the pickings are lean, so putting them away properly will make a massive difference on just how far September’s harvest will get you into the coming year.
They are easy to grow, a bona fide crowd-pleaser, and store fresh for months. To store them properly, they should be harvested before temperatures get freezing. They should be cured out of the sun in a moist place for about two weeks. Then, they should be stored in covered boxes or baskets in a relatively humid place, i.e. a basement or root cellar. The trick is to let them stay cold but never freeze. Fifty degrees Fahrenheit is ideal.
Onions are great for warding off winter colds and useful flavoring in just about every dish. They are also a low-maintenance crop to grow. They should be harvested when over half the greenery has died and cured in a hot (80+ F) spot for about three weeks, trimming the tops away every week or so. They store well in a box or burlap sack in a cool, humid place, i.e. next to the potatoes.
While it doesn’t offer the bulk of potatoes and onions, garlic is really good at keeping us healthy and making things taste good. Garlic bulbs, too, will store for months without taking up much space. They should be harvested when a little over half the leaves are still green and, like onions, cured in a hot but shaded place with plenty of ventilation. The tops should be trimmed back about four inches each week. They can be stored in the same spot as potatoes and onions.
Source: Jess (Paleo Grubs)/Flickr
A sometimes unsung hero of winter bulk, squashes and pumpkins can provide serious poundage to the harvest, and they can also act as centerpieces to meals. They should be harvested ripe, cut such that a bit of stem remains and cured in a warm place (70-80 degrees) for a couple of weeks. They can be stored in baskets, shallow containers or just on shelves in the basement.
While having gained popularity in the “fries” market, sweet potatoes are still overlooked as a staple food and often overshadowed by potatoes. Nevertheless, they are fun to grow, delicious to eat and always make the Thanksgiving table. They should be harvested when it’s still warm, cured in a hot, humid place for a couple of weeks. Ideally, they are stored in the warmest part of the food cellar, at temperatures nearer to 60 than 50.
Having a delicious, sweet treat in the winter is wonderful, and apple pie often fits the bill. Some apples will store throughout the entire season if handled carefully. Mid-to-late season apples should be harvested when they come off the tree with a decent but reasonable tug. The blemished fruits should be processed for apple butter, homemade ACV or apple sauce, and the choice specimens should be wrapped individually in paper and refrigerated immediately to stop the ripening process. These keep better when kept in a cold place, just above freezing.
Root Veg: Carrots, Rutabagas, Turnips, Celeriac, Beets
Winter is a celebration of root vegetables, particularly roasted, and that’s not by accident. Not only do they grow into cooler weather, but they store well, too. They should be harvested prior to a hard freeze, the green tops should be trimmed down to about half an inch, and the roots should be refrigerated before being packed into moist sand in a sealed container. They should be kept in a cold garage or somewhere like that, a spot that doesn’t freeze but gets close. Root veg like this should be kept away from apples and other fruit which release ethylene.
Source: ecks ecks/Flickr
While many loose-leaf cabbages and greens can grow in an unheated greenhouse or cold frames through much of the winter, heads of cabbage are great for storing. Admittedly, they are also great for sauerkraut which is something else to consider for its probiotic health benefits. Anyway, to store heads of cabbage, harvest them before a hard freeze, remove the outer leaves but leave roots and put them in containers of damp sand. They’ll keep well like that if the buckets are stored a cold garage or something similar.
In combination with an assortment of canned tomatoes, frozen green beans, pickled squash, berry jams, as well as a few homegrown grains and pulses, this fresh produce from the garden can make winter feel like a continually exciting harvested. Eating what keeps is a great way to experience the change in seasons and appreciate fruits and vegetables doing their best work.
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