If you’ve grown a wonderful harvest of fresh fruit and vegetables but don’t know how to store it correctly, you’ve come to the right place. Learning how to prepare and store your fresh produce stops good food from going to waste and helps you to enjoy eating it for a greater portion of the year. Here are some of the best ways to store your homegrown veg – you’ll be amazed just how long it can last if you get it right.
General principles of storing veg
- Store only blemish free, sound, good quality produce
- Check stored produce regularly and remove anything that shows signs of rot or symptoms of disease
- Never store in polythene as sweating will quickly encourage rotting
- Sheds/garages should be cool but frost free – use blankets for insulation and to blot out the light
- Good air circulation is vital for storing most crops.
Leafy veg like lettuce doesn’t last long, especially soft varieties, however there are steps you can take to give it a refrigerated shelf life of three weeks or more. Remove the root and any damaged outer leaves, then wrap the head in a damp kitchen towel, put it in an airtight container and place it in the fridge.
Keep your salad plants and other greens away from ethylene-producing foods like apples, pears, avocados, bananas, mangos, strawberries, potatoes and celery. As they ripen, these fruits and vegetables produce gas which makes leaves brown and wilt.
As long as you remember to net them to keep the pigeons off, winter cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, savoy and winter cabbage are best left in the ground until you’re ready to use them. Alternatively, dig them up and, leaving the soil attached to the roots, tie them with string and hang them upside down from a beam in your shed. They’ll store for a good couple of months like this.
Pickling and fermenting are also great ways to preserve and store brassicas. Making sauerkraut from brassicas and root vegetables is a great way to use up surplus produce and makes a very tasty and healthy snack or side dish full of gut-healthy bacteria.
Onions, garlic and shallots
Onions and shallots are ready to harvest when the leaves fall over and turn yellow. Lift the bulbs on a dry, sunny but windy day and leave them on the soil surface to ‘set’ the skins. It’s very important to make sure they’re fully dry before storing – the skins should be crisp and papery. If the weather’s too wet, you’ll need to move the bulbs indoors to dry. Try placing them well spaced apart on newspaper in the garage or shed.
Carefully remove any soil from the roots, and store sound bulbs in slatted trays, old tights, polypropylene onion nets or plaited into ropes and hung in the shed. They need to be kept cool, dry and somewhere with plenty of air circulation.
You should harvest your garlic towards the end of June when about half the leaves have yellowed. Lift and spread the bulbs on a board or table to dry outside if possible. Keep them out of full sun because the skins are prone to scorching which damages the flavour and leave the stems on because the bulbs continue to draw nutrients from them as they dry. Be very careful to test the cloves inside the bulb to make sure the skins are fully dry before storing. You can plait soft neck varieties but you should store hard neck varieties as you would onions. Curing garlic usually takes between two and four weeks.
You can leave maincrop beetroot, swedes, turnips, carrots and parsnips in the ground until you’re ready for them, but do bear in mind that storing veg this way may invite soil pests, rodents and other creatures to feast on it. Very cold weather can also damage delicate flavours, so this probably isn’t a great long term storage solution for your prize veggies.
A better way is to lift the crop, twist off the leaves and store the roots in boxes. Layer the veg, covering them and keeping them apart with barely damp multipurpose compost, sieved soil or sand. Place blankets over the boxes to blot out any light and place them somewhere dry and cool, but free from frost.
Leeks and trench celery
You really don’t need to do much with leeks and celery, in fact, these really are best left where they are and lifted as required. To protect the stems from the harshest of weather, earth them up, but other than that, you can leave them alone until needed.
Wait until the leaves die back then lift your potatoes, placing the tubers on the soil to ‘set’ or dry thoroughly. Check your crop for green, diseased or damaged potatoes and discard any that don’t pass muster. Store your spuds in hessian sacks of thick paper bags and cover with a blanket to block out the light. Keep your harvest somewhere cool, dry, and frost-free – the garage is a good place. Well-stored potatoes will last for many months.
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