The fall harvest is on - not only in our crop fields but also in our gardens. Tomatoes, potatoes, apples, squash, pumpkins, gourds and the list goes on. There are many ways to handle all of that good food so it doesn't go to waste.
The cost of food is rising, and our gardens can help us stretch our spending dollars long into the winter months. Cindy Tong, Extension post-harvest horticulturist, gives us some ideas on how to handle all of the fall harvest.
When harvesting vegetables, be careful not to break, nick or bruise them. The less vegetables are handled, the longer they will last in storage.
Harvest only vegetables of high quality. Rotting produce cannot be stored for very long and could spread disease to other stored vegetables.
Different vegetables need different storage conditions. Temperature and humidity are the main storage factors to consider; there are three combinations for long-term storage: 1. Cool and dry (50-60F and 60 percent relative humidity), 2. Cold and dry (32-40F and 65 percent relative humidity), and 3. Cold and moist (32-40F and 95 percent relative humidity).
For cold conditions, 32F is the optimal temperature, but it isn't easy to attain in most homes. Expect shortened shelf-lives for your vegetables as storage conditions deviate from the optimal, as much as 25 percent for every 10F increase in temperature. Some vegetables, such as cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, require cool (55F) and moist storage.
These conditions are difficult to maintain in a typical home, so expect to keep vegetables requiring cool and moist storage conditions for only a short period of time.
Where can the different storage conditions be found in a typical home? Basements are generally cool and dry. If storing vegetables in basements, provide your vegetables with some ventilation. Harvested vegetables are not dead but still "breathe" and require oxygen to maintain their high quality. Also, be sure they are protected from rodents.
Home refrigerators are generally cold and dry (40F and 50-60 percent relative humidity). This is fine for long-term storage of garlic and onions but not much else. Putting vegetables in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator will provide cold and moist conditions but only for a moderate amount of time. Unperforated plastic bags often create too humid conditions that lead to condensation and growth of mold or bacteria.
Root cellars provide cold and moist conditions. As with basements, provide ventilation and protection from rodents when storing vegetables in cellars. Materials such as straw, hay or wood shavings can be used as insulation.
If using such insulation, make sure that it is clean and not contaminated with pesticides.
Specific harvest and storage information for some commonly-grown vegetables are listed below and are only estimates as everyone's storage areas are different then the next person's. Basil - when leaves are still tender at room temperature five days keep stems in water; will discolor if kept in refrigerator for 10 days; beets - when 1.25-3 inches in diameter cold and moist five months store without tops; cabbage - when heads compact and firm cold and moist five months; carrots - when tops 1 inch in diameter cold and moist eight months store without tops; kohlrabi - when 2-3 inches in diameter cold and moist two months store without tops ; muskmelons (cantaloupe) - when fruits slip off vine easily, while netting even, fruit firm cold and moist one week develops pitting surface decay with slight freezing; onions - when necks are tight, scales dry cold and dry four months cure at room temperature two to four weeks before storage, do not freeze; parsnips - when roots reach desired size, possibly after light frost cold and moist four months do not wax or allow roots to freeze; sweetens after two weeks storage at 32F; potatoes - when vine dies back cold and moist; keep away from light 6 months cure at 50-60F or 14 days before storage, will sweeten below 38F; pumpkins - when shells harden, before frost cool and dry two months very sensitive to temperatures below 45F ; squash, summer - when fruit 4-6 inches long like cucumbers one week do not store in refrigerator for more than four days; squash, winter - when shells hard, before frost cool and dry two to six months, depending on variety curing unnecessary; do not cure Table Queen; tomatoes, red - when color uniformly pink or red like cucumbers five days loses color, firmness and flavor if stored below 40F; do not refrigerate!
The 2013 Master Gardener Core Course will be taught online and at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The online class will run Jan. 7-May 3. The face-to-face class will run from Jan. 11- Feb. 2, Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
For more information, on gardening you can email me at Stephanie@starpoint.net.