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Storage and Preservation of Garden Vegetables

November 16, 2021 6 min read 0 Comments

food preservation

How do I store food from my garden harvest? 

There are many ways to preserve your harvest and make the most out of the hard work put in to produce your garden. Here I will focus on root cellars and cold room storage because they are simple to implement. Even if you don't have a cellar on your property, you can make a DIY root cellar. You will be able to meet the requirements needed to either use a space you already have or modify one to meet the needs of being a cool, dark, and dry root cellar. 

Root Cellars or Cool Storage 

Root cellars or cool rooms are also a great place to store your tubers, rhizomes, and bulbs as well. Some of the best vegetables to store this way are garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes, cabbages, parsnips, turnips, beets, and apples. 

A root cellar is one of the easier methods of storing your beautiful harvest for later use. With a bit of prep work, some vegetables can be stored this way and last many months, and even as long as until the following summer when you are once again harvesting all of these goodies. 

What if I don't have a root cellar? 

Unfortunately, we don't all have an actual root cellar, but nonetheless, we still can apply this method of storage in other ways. You may have an unheated garage or an unheated basement. Possibly you have a detached shed that stays cool and moisture-free. You can even use a cool room in your home, or a spare closet could work even. Some options can help you apply the root cellar practice. Here is a list of what would work well as a "root cellar" .

● Darkness, you want this space to be fairly dark to help preserve the food as long as possible. 

● Cool temperatures, keeping the temperature of this space at no warmer than 45-50 degrees Fahrenheit 

● Air circulation 

● Moisture control, keep this space dry to ensure your food doesn't rot 

How to Store Garden Vegetables Through the Winter 

Each vegetable has to go through a little bit of a process before being stored for a long length of time. Some are faster than others, but all of them are relatively easy to do. 

To store onions for an extended period, you will need to properly prep them for storage. Once you have dug them out of the garden, they will need to be cured. Curing is a process that you put the vegetable through to extend the quality and length of time to stay fresh and edible. To cure onions, it's quite simple. 

  • Lay them out as a single layer in a warm, dry area with good airflow. 
  • The neck of the onion will dry, and the papery outer skin of the onion will tighten around the bulb.
  • This process only takes about two to three weeks. 

Once cured, you can store them someplace cool. While onions can be stored on the counter in the kitchen, they tend to sprout in the warmth of our homes. You can hold the amount that you plan on using in a timely manner in the kitchen. Cooler temperature rooms or a root cellar work best for this process. Sweet onions will have the shortest shelf life, so it's good to keep this in mind when planning your garden. The strong-flavored, yellow onions will have the most extended shelf life. 

Storing Garlic Properly

Garlic is another great crop to grow and be able to store and use year-round. Garlic is relatively easy to grow as well as preserve. Once you harvest your garlic, you will set it out to cure. Curing garlic is similar to curing onions 

  • Layout in a single layer in a warm, dry area with good airflow 
  • It takes only a couple of weeks 
  • Brush off large dirt clods, but do not wash 

After curing, trim off the stalks. They store best in a cool, dark area. You can store them in a root cellar, unheated garage, or unheated shed. 

What Are The Two Types Of Garlic? 

The two types of garlic are "hardneck" and "softneck" varieties. Each one grows slightly different depending on your region and climate. Both varieties offer a little something different to your garden. 

Hardneck garlic is grown in colder climates and is ideal for northern growers. As the name suggests, the stalk of the plant is hard. This trait makes it more challenging to braid them and is not recommended. It also contributes to their shorter shelf life allowing air and moisture down into the bulb. The flavor of hardneck is more complex and versatile. Hardneck garlic is easier to peel also. 

I love growing hardneck varieties because, in the late spring, you get an extra harvest! Hardneck varieties produce a flower stalk. You will want to remove this stalk to ensure that the plant puts its energy into growing the bulb. The flower stalk is called a scape. You will remove the scape once it has grown and curled but before the flower head has a chance to swell or open. The garlic scape is the flavorful part used in cooking. I dice them and sauté them, adding them to an omelet. They taste delicious. You can also pickle them, which is another excellent use of this bonus harvest. 

The storage life of hardneck garlic is about 4-6 months. After this point, the garlic will start to wither or may even sprout. Once they start sprouting, their flavor goes down and can become a bit bitter.

Softneck garlic is the other type of garlic variety. This variety is less cold-hardy and does better in climates that experience more mild winters. The stalk of the garlic is made up of leaves, hence the name being softneck. Once dry, the neck of the garlic or stalk is soft and easy to braid. If you've ever seen garlic braids, this is the type of garlic that they are using. The shelf life of softneck garlic is much longer. You can expect to get 9-12 months of storage from this variety.  

How do I cure potatoes for storage?

Potatoes store well in a cool environment, between 40-55℉. As with onions and garlic, curing potatoes is a crucial step in storing them properly. To cure potatoes, brush off any large clumps of dirt, but do not wash them. The skins of freshly harvested potatoes are tender. 

Lay potatoes in a single layer in a cool, dark space to cure. Curing takes a couple of weeks. This process helps thicken the skin and will aid in their storage. Potatoes will store well for 4-6 months. You can store them in a cardboard box or any breathable container. Felt grow bags like these work perfectly for storing your vegetables. They are not only breathable, but they also have handles to make them easy to carry or move. I also love the bright colors that they come in. They are food-safe as well.

How do I store squash?

  • Allow Winter squash to ripen on the vine before harvest fully 
  • Leave some of the stems when harvesting to aid in storage 
  • Cure Winter squash in a warm, dry location 

You can store Winter squash for around 5-6 months. Winter squash is different from summer squash because it keeps through the winter. Summer squash has more tender skin and needs to be used sooner. Both types of squash are grown in the summer.  

What is a "Living Root Cellar?"

Another great way of storing some root vegetables is to take advantage of what I like to call "the living root cellar." Root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga will store well in the soil where they are growing. Even when the tops die back, the root in the ground stays fresh and viable through the fall and winter. So I can simply harvest as needed and not worry about storing. 

What are vegetables that don't require curing?

  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Apples
  • Cabbages

    These vegetables don't require curing before storage. They will store best if packed into a container with either damp sand, peat moss, or sawdust. 

    Why Is Preserving Your Harvest Important?

    Preserving your harvests can really be a great way to enjoy your hard work into the Fall and Winter seasons. You know where your food came from and how it was handled. Some vegetables may take an extra step like curing first. This extra effort will pay off in the end. Don't forget to get creative in the space that you call your root cellar. Remember cool, dark, and dry, and you can store your summer harvest long into the winter. 

    As the world around us has seen more chaos, we have seen store shelves becoming empty and some of the produce quality decline due to delays in shipping. We feel the need and desire to become more prepared, have more food on hand and have more of a hand in producing that food. 

    More people are growing gardens and are falling in love with the way that it makes them feel. Gardening is a simple pleasure in life. Homegrown food is undeniably better tasting and more nutritious than store-bought. We can pick our produce at the peak of ripeness and maturity. If you are trying to preserve your summer bounty of baskets full of garlic or buckets of potatoes, food preservation and storing is an essential part of putting up your food safely and effectively to ensure you will be able to enjoy it in the cold months of fall and winter. 

     Written by Robin Lapping @robinsroots


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