With an abundance of harvest at this time of year, I always look for ways to stretch my fresh food through the winter months until spring returns again. As much as possible, I supplement our usual winter diet of canned, frozen and dehydrated foods with fresh, unprocessed fruits and vegetables that I have grown and stored.
In addition to utilizing the garden, a coldframe, basement or root cellar are possibilities for storing produce. Even if you don’t have a garden, you can profit with winter storage techniques by buying from markets or roadside stands during the fall when prices are usually lower.
There are many areas that can be used for fresh food storage. Here are a few ideas you may wish to experiment with:
In-Ground Storage. This is one of the easiest methods of storing. Carrots, leeks, Brussels sprouts and parsnips store well if left in the soil where they grew. In late fall, when the ground begins to freeze, cover the crops with a heavy mulch of straw or leaves – about 12 to 24 inches high. When the vegetables are needed, pull back the mulch and dig up just the vegetables you want to use.
Cold frame or plastic cover. Salad greens and other cool-weather vegetables will survive winter’s blasts if they are covered with a cold frame, plastic sheet, or a floating row cover. Here on our farm, in October, I cover the beds of produce I intend to save. I particularly like Reemay, a spun-polyester floating row cover that looks like cheese cloth. Fresh spinach, kale, Swiss chard, parsley and chives are available for the dinner table until January. In March these vegetables begin to grow again to give me an early harvest in spring.
Outside root cellar. If you don’t have a basement, or don’t wish to give up basement space for fresh food storage, or if you have large amounts of fruits and vegetables to store, you might consider constructing a traditional root cellar. This storage area can be completely under ground or dug into a hillside. Below five feet, the soil temperature stays around 55º no matter how cold it is above ground – Nature’s refrigerator.
Basement storage. A simple, but effective, insulated food storage room can be created in any basement. With minimal expense a corner of the basement can be converted into an indoor root cellar. An area 8 feet by 10 is ample for a family of four. If possible, chose the northeast corner, to minimize solar heat on basement walls. For best results, construct it with two separate compartments, and provide vents for both. The reason for this is to provide two storage environments.
Optimal Storage Environments
To get the longest storage and best quality, you need to know the conditions which are required for different fruits and vegetables. Roughly speaking, there are two classes of fruits and vegetables:
- those that require cool temperatures of 45-65º F and low humidity (below 75 percent): onions, winter squash and sweet potatoes, prefer cool and dry conditions,
- those that keep best in cold temperatures of 35-45º F and high humidity (over 80 percent): white potatoes, root crops and apples demand a cold, moist environment.
Perhaps the most important determinants of success are the close monitoring of humidity, temperature, and frequent inspection of the stored fruits and vegetables.
Maximizing Storage Life and Quality
By following simple procedures, you can ensure high-quality fresh produce during the winter ahead.
- Select the most suitable vegetables and fruits for storage, which are the late maturing varieties. If you purchase your produce, it is best to buy in the fall. If you grow your own, select varieties for keeping quality.
- Pick or purchase produce that is not overripe or tough.
- Do not expose root vegetables to the sun after harvesting.
- Vegetables dug during dry weather keep better.
- Place only perfect specimens in storage.
- Inspect stored crops regularly to remove any vegetable or fruit that is spoiled.
- Wrap cabbage and other strong-smelling vegetables in newspapers and store in separate container.
- Keep the storage area dark.
- Keep storage facilities clean.
Fresh food storage can be very satisfying. Eating garden vegetables during the cold of winter is an added benefit of gardening; I especially like to have spinach salad during the winter holidays. It requires very little time and energy to save some of the vegetables, but it does require planning ahead.
VEGETABLES AND FRUITS FOR EXTENDED STORAGE
Vegetables Place to store Temperature Humidity Storage time(in months)
Beets RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Broccoli RC, Garden Cold Moist 1-2
Brussels sprouts RC, Garden Cold Moist 4
Cabbage RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Carrot RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Celeriac RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Celery RC Cold Moist 4
Chinese Cabbage RC, Garden Cold Moist 2-3
Eggplant RC Cool Moist 1-2
Garlic Garden Cool Dry 6
Kale Garden Cold Moist 6
Leek RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Lettuce Garden Cold Moist 2
Melon RC Cool Moist 1-2
Onion RC Cool Dry 6
Parsnip RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Pepper RC Cool Moist 1-2
Pumpkin RC Cool Dry 6
Potatoes, sweet RC Cool Dry 4
Potatoes, white RC Cold Moist 6
Radish, winter RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Salsify RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Squash, winter RC Cool Dry 6
Spinach Garden Cold Moist 6
Swiss Chard Garden Cold Moist 6
Tomato, green RC Cool Dry 1-2
Tomato, ripe RC Cold Moist 1-2
Turnip RC, Garden Cold Moist 6
Apple RC Cold Moist 6
Grape RC Cold Moist 1-2
Grapefruit RC Cold Moist 1-2
Orange RC Cold Moist 1-2
Pear RC Cold Moist 6
- RC – Root Cellar or Basement
- Cold – 35 to 45 degrees Moist – Humidity above 80 percent
- Cool – 45 to 65 degrees Dry – Humidity below 75 percent