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How to Cure and Store Your Fruits and Veggies: No Root Cellar Required

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Years ago, everyone had a root cellar and because of that, storing produce was fairly simple. While root cellars have gone the way of the dinosaur, you can still store your fruits and veggies so they will last for many months, but you need to know what conditions each items stores best in. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of fruits and veggies and how to pick and store them. I’ve broken them down into 2 categories: Cold and Cool Storage.

Cold Storage Crops: 32-45 degrees F

These fruits and veggies thrive in cold refrigerator-type temps; however you can prolong the storage life for 2 months+ in slightly higher temps using the methods listed.

Apples: Pick when fruit pulls away with a small tug. If you have to use force, they aren’t ready. Do not mix varieties as different varieties ripen at different rate. Late-ripening varieties {harvested in October} like Red Delicious, Rome, Fuji or Crispin usually keep well {and smaller apples sort best!}. Store apples as soon after picking as possible.

Also, make sure to inspect all apples for bruises, cuts and soft spots. Unless the apple is perfect, it won’t last and will actually ruin your perfectly good fruit. Find a place to store them with a temperature between 30-35 degrees F. A root cellar is preferable, but a cool basement, garage, fruit cellar or refrigerator will work just fine.

Apples also store best around 90% humidity, so if you live in a dry climate, you can place a damp paper towel over the apples to help keep the air moist. Store apples in perforated plastic bags or in boxes lined with perforated plastic, or individually wrap the apples in paper towels or black and white newspaper to keep the apples from potentially touching and bruising each other.

Beets/Carrots:Remove the tops {the green parts} because they will pull moisture from the actual carrot, making them dry and cracked. Harvest them before the hard freeze. Trim tops to one half-inch. For small harvests, wash gently in cool water. Pat dry and refrigerate in plastic bags.

For larger harvests, take unwashed carrots/beets {make sure none of them are damaged in anyway–those ones will spoil quickly} and cut off the leaves as close to the base of the edible part as you possible can without damaging it. Brush off any loose dirt and then place the carrots/beets in boxes full of SLIGHTLY damp sand, alternating rows of carrots/beets with rows of sand. Store in a cold basement, garage or root cellar.

Cabbage:
Harvest before the hard freeze when leaves start losing their color. Before storing, remove the outer leaves and then refrigerate in plastic bags. You can also store cabbage heads
with roots still attached in buckets of damp sand in a cold greenhouse or root cellar.

Parsnips: For best taste, allow them to stay in the ground through the first hard freeze. The freeze will turn the starches into sugar, creating a yummy little treat. Parsnips will also over-winter really well, if you cover the leaves with soil and then top that off with a healthy layer of hay or straw.

If you do harvest, first trim tops to one half-inch, wash in cool water. Pat dry and then refrigerate in plastic bags. You can also store in buckets of damp sand in a sealed container in a basement, garage, cold greenhouse or root cellar.

Pears: Harvest when fruit is still firm to the touch but it has turned a lighter shade of green.  Pick as green fruits turn a lighter shade of green. Cure for about a week in a cool place. Remove any blemished fruit, and then wrap each pear individually in paper. Store in perforated plastic below 40 degrees in a high humidity area. A fridge is best if possible. Check weekly for pears that go bad and remove them.

Rutabaga: Begin harvesting rutabaga when they’re 3 to 5 inches in diameter, about the size of a grapefruit and before a hard freeze. Cut off taproot and trim tops to one half-inch. Wash, pat dry and refrigerate in plastic bags in the refrigerator. Rutabagas can be kept refrigerated, or stored in buckets of damp sand in a sealed container in a basement, garage, cold greenhouse or root cellar.

Turnips: Pick when they reach 2-3″ in diameter {they taste better when they are smaller} before the hard freeeze. Harvest the roots like you would a potato or rutabaga, being careful not to damage the turnip. Don’t wash them, just cut off the greens and place them in a single layer in a box. Then store the box in a cool, well-ventilated area.

Cool Storage Crops: 45-60 degrees F

These fruits and veggies thrive in a cool place, like a garage or basement.

Dry beans: Dry beans are ready to harvest when the skin is paper thin, and you can shake the pod and hear a rattling sound. Clean before storing. To clean them, use a blow dryer and blow off the debris. If the beans are still soft, spread them on a cookie tray and allow them to dry a little longer. Before you store them, freeze the beans overnight to kill any tiny bugs that might be still lurking, then place them in an airtight container and keep them in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.

Garlic: Hardneck varieties are usually ready somewhere between early July through August. Harvest when the bottom 5 leaves or so have turned brown, and the top ones are still green. Dig and remove. Don’t pull garlic out like a weed.  The bulb is fragile, and needs all its pieces intact to cure properly for storage.

Hang it to dry in a cool dark place for 2 weeks to cure. Don’t remove the stalk or the roots when curing. About a week into the drying process, you can braid the stalks together for storage if you’d like. If you didn’t braid it, cut off the roots and stalks after curing. Store in a cool dark place {a pantry or a basement, if there’s no humidity} in a brown paper bag with holes punched into it for circulation.

Onions: Onions are ready to be harvested when the necks are nice and dry. Avoid harvesting in wet weather. Pull up the onions, and lay them flat on the soil for a day or two to dry out in the sun, then move your onions to a warm, ventilated area {out of the sun} for a few weeks to finish curing. Brush off any excess dirt and place onions in mesh bags or storage crates in a cool, dark place. The ideal temp for storing onions is around 40 degrees.

Potatoes:  Harvest them once the plant has started to die back and before the soil temp falls below 55 degrees. To cure potatoes, lay them out on newspaper in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place. Let them sit there for about 2 weeks, that will give their skin a chance to toughen up for storage.

Don’t wash the potatoes until you are ready to use them. Protect them from the sun. Using a box {with plenty of holes for circulation, but not enough to let light in} layer potatoes and newspaper. First, line the bottom of the box with newspaper, then a flat layer of potatoes. Cover the layer of potatoes with newspaper and repeat the process until you fill the box. Tuck the sides of the newspaper in on each layer. Store in a cool dark place {basement, cellar, etc.}.

Pumpkins: Cut or twist pumpkin off of the vine, leaving enough of the vine for a stem. Wipe with a damp cloth to remove excess soil. Cure in a warm, ventilated area {out of the sun} for a few weeks, then store on shelves or in bushel baskets in a cool place with moderate humidity.

Sweet potatoes: Harvest them once the plant has started to die back, while the weather is still warm and before the soil temp falls below 55 degrees. To cure, lay them out on newspaper in a cool, humid, dark, and well-ventilated place. Let them sit there for about 2 weeks, that will give their skin a chance to toughen up for storage. Store in a cool, dark, room temperature place {basement, cellar, etc.}. Avoid chilling!

Winter squash: Picked squash shouldn’t be wet at all, so don’t pick after the sprinklers have come on or after a rain. Cut the squash from the vine, instead of pulling it. That way, you won’t accidentally break off the stem too close to the squash, causing a blemish that will speed up rot. Also, make sure to pick it before the nighttime temperatures dip into the 40’s. Don’t let the name fool you, winter squash does not like it to be too cold. Wipe with a damp cloth to remove any excess soil. Cure somewhere warmish {70-80 degrees} with good air circulation and let sit undisturbed for a week and a half to two weeks. Store in a coolish, dry place {garage shelves are perfect}.

And there you have it. My number one tip even if you follow all those suggestions above? Check everything regularly for spoilage.

I hope that helps a little. How do you prepare your crops for storage? How do you store them?

~Mavis