There is plenty to harvest from the vegetable plot, and if you have a glut it might not be possible to eat them all at once. To enjoy vegetables throughout autumn and winter it’s vital to store them correctly. Here’s our simple guide to storing your home grown vegetables.
Keep vegetables fresher for longer
It’s important that no damaged or rotting vegetables are put into storage. Over time, damaged fruit or veg will infect any vegetables nearby, causing them to rot. This bears out the old adage ‘a bad apple spoils the bunch.’ There’s no need to waste damaged produce – if you have vegetables which are less than perfect, simply set them aside to use first.
Only place completely dry vegetables in storage. It’s best not to wash vegetables with water before they are stored. Instead, any excess dirt should be gently brushed off. Cut off any top growth from root vegetables before storage.
These general rules apply to all veg, but different vegetables dictate different methods of storage. For example, two of our favourite crops, onions and potatoes, are as different as chalk and cheese when it comes to the best methods of storing them.
How to store potatoes
It is crucial that potatoes are stored in a dark, and ideally cool place. Light causes potatoes to produce chlorophyll, which produces solanine, a natural toxin present in green potatoes which causes an upset stomach. You mustn’t eat green potatoes.
Once the potatoes have been lifted, they should be cleaned of soil and only put into storage once dry. A good storage area for potatoes – and a number of other vegetables – is in a garage because it’s a cool, frost-free space.
Potatoes store well in hessian sacks, or if these are not to hand, a box or potato sacks can be used with layers of newspaper to exclude all light and to ensure that the tubers remain dry. An ideal storage combination would be hessian or potato sacks inside a container that excludes light, left slightly open to allow air circulation.
Like many root crops, potatoes need to be kept cool. Greenhouses and conservatories are not recommended, as they tend to be too light.
Storing alliums: leeks, onions and garlic
Onions and garlic need to be kept dry and stored in the light. Traditionally, onions are lifted and left resting on the soil for a few days to dry, which is all very well if your harvest coincides with a dry spell. Since our weather is often capricious, it’s best to lay out onions and garlic to dry indoors or under glass. This usually takes up to a week.
Onions and garlic can be strung together or woven into decorative plaits and stored. Once the top growth has dried out it will plait easily. Start with the large onions or garlic bulbs and plait in descending size ending with the smallest. If there is not enough top growth, weave in raffia to make more to plait with.
Although onion plaits and strings look decorative in the kitchen, it’s not an ideal storage area as it can be humid. Onions and garlic are best stored in a cool, dry environment such as a porch, conservatory, or greenhouse. Onions and garlic can also be stored in string bags or nets.
Leeks, although members of the Allium family, are different again. Leeks are best left in the ground over winter and dug up as and when required. Traditional varieties such as ‘Musselburgh’ will withstand winter and can be harvested from December to March.
Parsnips are another crop which can be left in the ground until needed, and their flavour is reputed to be better after hard frost.
Not so for carrot and beetroots, which need to be lifted in autumn before the weather turns wet and cold. There are traditional methods for storing root crops in sand and compost, but it is easier to put them in hessian sacks or string nets, and store in a cool dark place.
Turnips and Swede can be left in the ground but if your plot is wet, (and also bearing in mind the difficulties of lifting vegetables from frozen ground), both crops can be lifted and stored in the same way.
Storing peas and beans
In the centuries up to our modern times, large estate houses had areas of cellars and rooms dedicated for storage to feed the family and estate workers through the winter. Today, we have freezers. Freezing is the only way to store French, runner, and broad beans, and peas including varieties such as mange tout.
These vegetables need to be prepared and blanched in boiling water for two minutes. After two minutes, drain and plunge them into ice cold water to stop them from cooking any further, and bag up into the freezer. This way you can enjoy your home-grown peas or beans with Sunday lunch for weeks to come.
How to ripen green tomatoes
Tomatoes, especially when in the greenhouse, will keep ripening until late in the season depending on the autumn weather. If you have a glut of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, there is no need to resort to green chutney. Tomatoes will ripen indoors and be perfectly edible.
Cut good sized tomatoes on the vine as soon as the temperature begins to cool and bring indoors into the warm. Make sure the fruits you put out to ripen are all without blemish and in good condition. Lay out the vines on newspaper, ideally in a conservatory or on a warm south facing windowsill. The majority will continue to ripen over October and early November.
Whatever type of crop you are storing over winter, it is a good idea to check on them from time to time. Remove any damaged vegetables to ensure they continue to store well.
Carol Bartlett, The Sunday Gardener, lives in the north of England where she has created a diverse garden including wildflowers, natural areas, herbaceous borders, a wildlife pond, trees and wetland plants, along with a vegetable plot. She has been gardening, reading, researching and photographing plants for over twenty years and her website is a popular resource for gardeners young and old.