Taking Root #17

Nov. 5, 2014

Taking Root

Storing the Harvest

By Gini Bramlett

For the Calapooia Food Alliance

For those who grow fruit trees, berry crops and large vegetable gardens, preserving the harvest is part of the process. We freeze, can, dry, pickle and make jams and jellies out of the fresh-picked, organically-grown food that we grow, as well as what we buy locally to stock our pantries and get us through the wet and cold winter months.

Tomatoes are grown by almost every gardener I know. When the weather cools, tomato production slows. We can still go out and pick tomatoes that have even a fraction of red, and bring them in the house to ripen on the cupboard. When you hear the temperature will be dropping close to freezing (or just really cold), pick all the tomatoes, even the green ones that look like they might be close to turning.

Storing Tomatoes

The best way to store tomatoes is to place them in crates, baskets or cardboard boxes in single layers. You can do two layers, but no more, or the ones on the bottom will bruise. Cover each layer with newspaper and store them in a dry place in the garage, pantry, shed or in the house. The warmer the temperature, the faster they will ripen.

Some people like to wrap each tomato individually in newspaper. That works great, but if you have a lot of tomatoes it’s not practical. It’s also a lot of work.

Just don’t forget about them. Check a couple of times a week for both ripe ones, and ones that may have rotten spots. Remove the rotten ones immediately or they will contaminate the rest.

Storing Root Crops

The best way to have fresh organic carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and beets throughout the winter is to leave them in the ground; just pick what you need as you go unless the ground freezes

That might sound too good to be true; and in some cases it is. I guess it depends on where you live and what kind of critters you have as guests. Personally, I don’t do this anymore. I’d pull up a carrot or two for our dinner, and find that a critter had taken a bite or two for lunch. It is a good, easy way if you can pull it off.

Basically, to store root vegetables you have to mimic their ideal conditions. There are a couple of ways. One is to simply dump them (tops cut off close to the shoulders) into a Rubbermaid-type garbage can or air tight storage container. If the conditions are right (that is moisture and temperature) this works well.

The best way is a little more work, but it ensures fresh produce all winter. Our forefathers preserved their harvest during winter months in root cellars; this method mimics that. Put a one-inch layer of damp sand or peat moss in the bottom of a crate. Cut off the tops of the vegetables close to the shoulders and layer on top of your medium of choice; no touching. Then, do another layer of your medium and another layer of veggies until the crate is full.

Storing Apples

Some apple varieties can be stored for several months in clean wooden or cardboard boxes that are ventilated. Don’t line with paper or wrap them. Ideal storage temperature is around 30-32 degrees, so a refrigerator works great. If you have a second one in the garage, that’s even better.

Storing in garages or sheds work well unless temperatures are above 45 degrees or drop near freezing, so plan accordingly.

Pears store poorly for the most part, so if you have a plethora, use them as soon as possible.

Winter Squash

Most winter squash can be stored for quite awhile after harvest and curing. Single layers (no touching) on shelves in a dry garage or shed works fine. Storing in large, open mesh baskets works well too, but the squash won’t keep quite as long. This is the method I use and have no problems.

The best long term storage squash are Hubbard varieties that keep up to six months. Other varieties such as Butternut and Delicata can last up to three months, and acorn has the shortest of one or two months.

Next Munch Night is Friday, November 21 at 6pm. The movie and location will be announced at a later date.

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