How to Store Vegetables

A Feast in Store

Summer surpluses and winter shortages — gluts and gaps. It’s the tale of many a kitchen garden. One of the challenges of growing vegetables has always been to store enough of the summer produce to keep one going during the winter, though the advent of deep freezers has to some extent lessened the need for conventional storing.

Root vegetables have always been considered the mainstay of the winter kitchen, some being left in the ground until required, others lifted and stored in boxes or clamps.

store-carrots-in-boxes-of-soil Only the very hardiest can be left in the soil without deteriorating or being damaged by frost. Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, Hamburg parsley, Chinese winter radishes, salsify, scorzonera and celeriac are prime examples. Parsnips, indeed, are said to improve in the soil, becoming sweeter. Where these roots are left in the ground, mark the ends of the rows with sticks so that they can be found even if it snows. It is also worth covering the rows with straw, bracken or dead leaves, to try and prevent the ground from being frozen solid. Otherwise it may prove impossible to lift the roots in severe weather.

Swedes, turnips and carrots tolerate a fair amount of frost, but tend to lay down cellulose in winter, becoming progressively woodier and less palatable. There is also the risk of damage by slugs, mice and even rabbits if they are left in the soil. So they are normally lifted and stored in boxes or clamps. In very light soil they are sometimes left in the ground, though the carrots would normally be covered with straw as protection against frost. But in most circumstances it is easier and pleasanter, in the depths of winter, to retrieve vegetables from boxes or clamps than to dig them out of muddy ground.

cross section of a root clamp With potatoes there is no option: they are easily damaged by frost so must be lifted by late autumn, dried in the sun for a couple of hours, then stored in root clamps outdoors, or under cover in hessian sacks or double-thickness paper sacks, tied at the neck. If kept in sheds or cellars they are best stood up against an inside wall. Give them extra protection with sacking or straw if severe frost threatens. The ideal temperature for storing potatoes is between 4-10°C (39-50°F); at lower temperatures they may become unpleasantly sweetened. They should always be kept in the dark, or the tubers become green with the formation of poisonous alkaloids. (Any green parts should be cut out before cooking.)

There are a few ‘golden rules’ of storage: Discard any diseased or damaged vegetables, as they will rot quickly in store. If necessary store them separately and use them first.

Handle vegetables for storage very gently. Even invisible bruises and tiny surface scratches provide a foothold for storage rots and diseases. This is especially true of onions and garlic. They should be handled like peaches!

Carefully rub off surplus mud and remove rotting leaves. The foliage of root crops should be cut off an inch or so above the root. With beet it should be twisted off to minimize bleeding.

Store under cool conditions. With root crops (other than potatoes), onions, and cabbage the temperature should be as near zero as possible. In most cases the atmosphere should not be too dry or the vegetables will shrivel.

Inspect stored vegetables regularly and remove any which are rotting.

storing-garlic-roots-and-all The simplest method of storing lifted roots is in some kind of a box, tub or bin, laying them down in layers separated by slightly moist sand, peat, coke or coal ashes, or even soil. The largest roots are put at the bottom, the smallest, because they dry out first, at the top. Cover the top layer when the box is full. If mice are likely to be a problem, set traps or put down poison: it is astonishing how they nose out stored roots in winter.

Storing vegetables in clamps may be rather old-fashioned, but it is an excellent way of conserving their flavour and quality. Choose a well-drained piece of ground, and start with a layer of straw about 20cm (8in) thick. Pile up the roots in a neat heap, covering the top layer with another 20cm (8in) of straw. Then leave them to sweat for a few days, before covering the whole heap with a 15cm (6in) layer of earth. This can be taken from the perimeter of the clamp, so making a dip around it which will serve for drainage. You can omit the soil layer for swedes, which are the hardiest of the vegetables normally lifted.

Stored onions, shallots and garlic need both low temperatures and plenty of ventilation. They are best hung in nets or old nylon stockings, or if there is enough leaf attached to the bulb, plaited into ropes. Otherwise, spread them out in trays, rejecting any thick-necked onions which never store well.

The key to successful storing lies in good harvesting. Onions, shallots and garlic should be left in the soil until the foliage has died down naturally (the practice of bending over the tops does nothing to help the process; if anything it is harmful). Then ease them gently out of the ground, and leave them to dry in the sun for a week or so, preferably raised off the ground on sacks or upturned boxes. Try to dry them as fast and thoroughly as possible, so that the skins are tanned and crisp. However, if the weather is damp, bring them inside after a few days, and complete the drying under cover — in an airy kitchen, for example.

Pumpkins are one of the most under-utilized of winter vegetables, the basis for superb sweet and savoury pies, soups, marmalade and pickles. But, like onions, they will only store well if harvested well. Leave them on the plants as long as possible, that is, until the skins feel hard, or frost seems likely (although pumpkins will stand light frost). Then cut them off the plant with a piece of stem to serve as a handle, and put them in a warm sunny spot, a wall is ideal, for several days. This allows them to colour up and harden further.

trimmed-Witloof-chicory-stored-in-peat-until-required-for-forcing They can be stored on shelves or suspended in nets in a cool, airy, frost-free shed, but cover them up if very frosty conditions are expected. All the winter gourds — Hubbard, acorn and butternut squash, for example, can be harvested and stored in the same way.

We don’t usually think of peppers in terms of storage, but although green peppers freeze well, one of the simplest methods of storage is to uproot the plants at the end of the season before they are affected by frost, and to hang the whole plant in a cool airy place, peppers attached. The peppers keep in a reasonable condition for several months.

chilli peppers Hot cayenne peppers can be treated similarly, but they can be hung in a kitchen. Even when shrivelled by the warm atmosphere their hot flavour is unimpaired; in fact they will keep up to two years ‘on the branch’.

Again, where peas and beans are grown for drying, the plants can be left in the ground until the end of the season so that the pods can, as far as possible, mature and dry on the plant. When the pods seem reasonably dry, or when damp autumnal weather makes further drying seem unlikely, uproot the plants and hang them somewhere airy and dry until the pods are crisp enough to snap open. Shell them, and store the peas or beans in screw-top jars for winter.

Strangely enough, there is no tradition of storing cabbage in this country. Instead, we rely on our hardy Savoy cabbages, which can let us down in very hard winters. Yet the less hardy red cabbages, and the Dutch winter white cabbages can be stored, and are a wonderful winter standby.

Cabbages destined for storage should be cut before the outer leaves are affected by frost. Cut the heads with several inches of stalk, which is useful for handling, and also tends to rot first, so prolonging the useful life of the head. They can be stored in a cold frame, the cabbages just raised off the ground on wooden slats. Cover the frame lights with sacking or mats in cold weather, but open them up for ventilation on warm days. Alternatively, they can be stored in cellars or sheds, on racks, suspended in nets, or simply built up in heaps. In all cases cover them with straw or sacking in exceptionally cold weather. Inspect the cabbages from time to time, and with the palm of the hand, gently rub off any shrivelled outer leaves.


13. May 2011 by admin
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on How to Store Vegetables


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