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Vegetable Storage at Home DrPerry

Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

In-ground pits or containers, unheated cellars, and cool porches or rooms are some of the locations around the home you can store extra garden produce for fall and winter months. Knowing which vegetables store best, and their requirements, will ensure the longest storage life. A leaflet from the University of Washington provides these details, plus details and diagrams on constructing various storage areas.

Tomatoes can be stored for up to two months, celery and leeks up to three months. With proper storage beets can last up to four months, and up to five months for pumpkins and squash. Longest lasting in storage are carrots and potatoes for up to six months, and onions up to seven months.

Some general tips during harvest to ensure longest storage life include:
*Harvest when fruit is dry, not too soon after a rain, as moist fruit easily rots.
*Avoid bruising fruit when harvesting; handle gently.
*Harvest early in the morning to avoid “hot” vegetables, or allow to cool before storing.
*Only harvest healthy, firm fruit and not ones with disease or soft spots.

Two tips are important on mixing varieties. If also storing apples, keep them separate. They give off ethylene gas which can cause potatoes to sprout and carrots to become bitter. On the other side, potatoes may cause apples to have a musty flavor. The other tip is to keep cabbages, turnips, kale and similar outside in storage. They too can give their odors to apples and fruits, as well as permeate a home if stored indoors.

Pick green tomatoes and place in one or two layers in shallow trays or boxes to ripen. Place paper between layers, or around each fruit. Ripening will take up to a month when cool (55 degrees F) or two weeks if warmer (65 degrees).

For kale, endive, and leeks, mulch in the garden until a hard frost. Pull with their rootball still attached, and store upright and close together in moist sand or soil. Do not store with cabbage. These need to stay very moist (90 percent relative humidity) for longest storage.

Root crops such as turnips, beets, carrots, horseradish, and parsnips can be stored in the garden with a one foot mulch of weed-free straw if no rodents are around. Parsnips and horseradish, however, can be harmed by freezing and thawing during winter. For easier access during winter, or if rodents may be a problem, store root vegetables in a basement storage room, or “root cellar”. Keep rutabagas and turnips outside, though, as they can give off odors indoors.

If storing root vegetables indoors, dig them when the soil is dry. Cut the plant tops off one-half inch above the crown. Store them in layers of moist sand or sphagnum peat moss in plastic bags with quarter-inch holes. These really need to be kept below 40 degrees (F) but above freezing, as warmer temperatures cause them to sprout and become woody. A refrigerator may be needed to keep such temperatures. I have an old one in the basement just for such uses.

Pumpkins and most winter squash should be harvested when mature, before frost. You can tell if they are mature as the skin will be hard and difficult to scratch with a fingernail. Leave an inch of stem on when cutting, then “cure” near a furnace or warm area (80 to 85 degrees F) for 10 days. This will harden the rind further, and heal any cuts. Then store dry between 50 and 60 degrees. Below this and they can get chilling damage. Above this and they can get stringy. Acorn squash should be handled similarly, only don’t cure as such warm temperatures will make them stringy.

Potatoes are a commonly grown and stored crop that should be harvested after the vines have died down, and when the ground is dry. Cure in dark and 45 to 60 degrees for two weeks after harvest. Then store at 35 to 40 degrees and moist. As already mentioned, don’t store with apples. Remove sprouts if they appear, indicating too high storage temperature.
Onions are the other very commonly grown crop that lasts long in storage. Harvest these and garlic when mature, and dry well. If grown from sets, or with thick necks, they may be hard to keep. Cure harvested bulbs for two to three weeks spread on newspapers, and out of sunlight. Skins should be papery and roots dried before storage. These are best stored cool (just above freezing), and dry in a well-ventilated location such as an attic or unheated room.

"University of Vermont Extension"


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