People have been enjoying the produce from their garden for a couple months.
As the weather gets colder the last of the garden needs to be removed and stored. If harvested and stored properly, produce can be enjoyed for the maximum amount of time.
Condition is a big factor in storing produce. Handle it carefully to avoid bruising or breaking the outer skin. Damaged fruit or vegetables should be used immediately or discarded. One bad apple can cause the whole barrel to rot.
Fruit and vegetables are not “dead” when they are harvested. They continue to respire, take in oxygen, break down sugars and other compounds while releasing carbon dioxide, heat and moisture.
When too much sugar is broken down, the flavour and texture change, often making the produce inedible. Loss of moisture results in shrivelled produce.
Proper storage slows down the process.
Speed of respiration can be controlled if a few factors are taken into consideration: maturity of the produce, storage temperature, moisture and sugar content of an item, and amount of oxygen is available.
Immature vegetables or fruit have a high respiration rate and do not store well even in optimum conditions. Hence it is best to wait to harvest until the produce is mature.
Temperature can be controlled. Harvest produce in the cool early morning and store at the appropriate temperature. Root crops do well in refrigerators which are generally set just above freezing.
Temperatures in cold rooms vary depending on their construction.
With the exception of onions, garlic and squash, produce does best in areas that contain high humidity — 90 to 95 per cent. It is hard for plants to release moisture in an atmosphere that is already humid.
A pan of water in a cold room will increase the humidity.
Reducing oxygen is as easy as placing the vegetables in a plastic bag that contains numerous small holes. The holes allow a minimum amount of oxygen to reach the produce enabling respiration to continue at a slow rate. When produce is deprived of all oxygen, respiration stops.
A compound is formed within the produce changing the taste and texture.
Potatoes can be harvested when the stems of the plants start to turn yellow or the tops freeze down. The tubers last longer if they are left in the ground long enough to form a thick skin.
If possible, dig potatoes on a warm day. They should be left in the sun for a couple of hours to allow all soil to dry and fall from the tubers.
If the potatoes are removed from wet soil, place them in a warm area to allow them to dry before being stored.
Never place vegetables directly on cement as they will pick up an unpleasant taste. Potatoes can last up to eight months if they are stored in a cold, humid, dark area.
Carrots also develop a thicker skin as they mature. Dig the carrots, remove the tops and wash all the dirt from the roots. Once clean they should be placed in a plastic bag with either the top open slightly or holes in the bag. Placing a paper towel in the bag will help absorb excess that can cause rot. Be sure to change the towel every couple of weeks.
Onions can be dug when their tops bend over.
Do not stamp on the stems as this does not help them mature faster. Once dug, they need to be placed in a warm area to allow their outer skin and roots to dry then store at room temperature in a mesh container.
Garlic is cared for similar to onions.
Tomatoes keep best when stored in a cool, humid area. Place one layer of tomatoes in a box and cover them with newspaper. If they are placed in the fridge or left outside during cold weather, the taste and texture of the fruit will change.
A little extra work now will ensure that the garden can be enjoyed in the coming months.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturist and educator living in Rocky Mountain House. You can contact her at email@example.com