Harvest when fruits and vegetables are at their peak

Harvest produce in the cool early morning

People have been enjoying fresh produce for a couple months and can continue to do so with certain vegetables. Others can be kept by freezing, dehydrating, canning, pickling and fermenting are commonly used While Gramma’s recipes might be tasty, consult more modern means of processing as research in food safety is ongoing and recommended methods have change over the years.

Condition is a big factor in storing produce storage. Harvest when the fruits and vegetables are at their peak. Handle carefully to avoid bruising or breaking the outer skin. Damaged or overripe fruit or vegetables should be used immediately or discarded as pathogens from a moldy or rotten item can spread quickly.

When fruits and vegetables leave the mother plant or are pulled from the ground, they are not dead. They continue to respire; take in oxygen, break down sugars and other compounds while releasing gasses, heat and moisture. When too much sugar is broken down, the flavor and texture change often making the produce inedible. Loss of moisture results in shriveled produce. Proper handling and storage slows down the process.

For most gardeners, processing the same day as harvest works best. Only harvest or purchase what can be processed that day.

When using cold storage, the 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 do 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. Where possible, set the humidity in a fridge high or add a container of open water in the cold room.

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 allowing the dirt to dry and brush off before packing them in perforated containers and placing in a cold dark area. Potato tubers stored in the light turn green and are bitter tasting. 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 moisture 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. Save some of the big heads to plant the end of September, early October.

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.

Winter squash will last a few months when stored on a shelf in a cool location.

It takes effort but is worth the work to save produce as it always tastes better than what is in the store.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com

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