Storing a garden harvest properly

Gardens can produce an abundance of vegetables, usually too much to be consumed straight from the vine. The problem can be solved by either giving excess away to friends, neighbours, community programs or through proper storage.

Gardens can produce an abundance of vegetables, usually too much to be consumed straight from the vine. The problem can be solved by either giving excess away to friends, neighbours, community programs or through proper storage.

Canning, freezing and dehydrating are definite options but they are time consuming and distort the texture and taste of the produce. Cold storage is a method of storing produce which can last a week to eight months depending on the vegetable or fruit, their maturity, condition, temperature and what is being stored in the same area. It is best to harvest vegetables when they are mature as immature vegetables breakdown quickly when removed from the plant or the earth.

On the other hand fruits are often harvested when they are immature as they will continue to mature in storage. The trick is to slow the maturing process to a minimum by placing them in a cool area. Speeding up the process is as easy as placing them in a paper bag in a warm area.

All produce stores best if it is clean and free of blemishes. Soil can harbour bacteria that will cause fruit and vegetables to decompose. Carefully washing and drying the produce before storing it will ensure that it will last longer in storage.

It is inevitable that some produce will get damaged at harvest. Separate all damaged goods to either be consumed immediately or to be discarded. Breaks in the skin allows pathogens to enter the produce with the end result being mould or rot.

Disease or mouldy produce should be discarded immediately as it will quickly spread from one item to the next.

Store produce according to the preferred temperature, humidity and how that specific type of produce relates to ethylene gas. Cooler temperatures slow down the maturing of all produce. Cold rooms and fridges both work. The advantage of a cold room is that it is much larger, better air circulation and more can be stored. Building a cold room takes time, room and money.

Old fridges are readily available. They are smaller, can freeze produce if packed too tightly and use electricity.

In any storage facility the average temperature is usually between 1 to 4C.

Humidity levels are important in produce storage. Some items need high humidity to keep in the moisture, others will rot. Ethylene gas causes most produce to mature. While it is a necessity for most fruits, it will quickly destroy vegetables. It is best to store fruits and vegetables separately. Never place them in the same cold room. When storing fruits and vegetables for the long term they should be kept in different fridges.

Remove the tops of carrots, beets, and parsnips then place them in a plastic bag with some holes and place in the fridge. Putting a paper towel in the bag will soak up excess moisture which causes rot. Be sure to change the paper tower on a regular basis. Once the tops and roots of rutabagas and turnips are removed they can be placed in the fridge or a humid cold room.

Potatoes need to be stored in a cool, humid location that has good air circulation. Refrigerators are too small to store large quantities of this produce.

Onions, squash and garlic should be stored in a cool, dark, dry location. Onions and squash produce ethylene gas and can be stored with garlic but not with other vegetables that do not produce the gas.

Place green tomatoes in a cool but not cold location and cover them with paper. The ethylene gas they produce will help them mature. Never place tomatoes in the refrigerator as it alters the texture and taste of the fruit.

Apples and pears will keep in a fridge for up to a couple of months. Do not store vegetables in the same fridge.

The condition of the produce at storage time is directly reflected in how long the produce stays edible.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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