As September rolls around, the children head back to school and gardeners are enjoying eating and processing the harvest from their gardens. It is extremely important when harvesting fruits and vegetables from the garden to ensure the field heat is removed from the harvested produce as soon as possible. If it suits your timetable, pick prior to the heat of the day so that the produce is as cool as possible.
Hopefully, you have been processing and picking the excess throughout the summer as it is important to put food away while it is at the peak of quality. Carefully pick to ensure that the harvest is free of nicks, bruises and other damage, so that you are putting away the best quality of food. If there is damage to the fruit and vegetables you are picking, then those should be consumed at the dinner table as soon as possible rather than stored for winter.
Much of what we harvest, we do not have to process so it is important to understand the proper storage conditions for what you are harvesting. The temperature and the relative humidity (RH) are the main considerations when considering storage of non-processed fruit and vegetables. There are three basic types of storage: cold and dry (0 to 5 C and 65 per cent RH), cool and moist (0 to 10 C with 95 per cent RH), and warm and dry (10 C and 60 per cent RH).
Please note these are optimal conditions for storage and any temperatures or humidity that are different than these optimal conditions will shorten shelf life. Basements are generally cool and dry during colder months and home refrigerators can be considered cold and dry. Putting vegetables in perforated plastic bags will give a good short-term storage option for those that require cold and moist conditions. If you are lucky enough to have a root cellar, then you can likely easily store potatoes for the entire winter and beyond. Do note that any type of storage needs to provide ventilation as the vegetables are still respiring and thus are producing moisture.
I remember a phrase from my first horticulture post-secondary education. One of my instructors consistently said: “Garbage in means garbage out.” This is so true for anything you are storing. Ensure you clean the storage facility prior to storing any products and ensure there are no potential rodent infestations.
On the prairies, we can produce as good an apple as the Okanagan or the Annapolis Valley. If you have space, then ensure you always have apple trees in your garden. There are many dwarf cultivars that can be grown if space is limited. Ensure you choose cultivars in regard to the purpose of your processing or storage. Early apples generally need some type of processing, while later season apples will have a better storability without processing. To store your apples the dark at a temperature just above freezing. A covering of perforated poly will help to prevent shrivelling. As apples exude ethylene gas ensure you do not store them with leafy green or cole crops as those crops are damaged by exposure to ethylene.
Carrots, cabbage, beets, parsnips, new potatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, watermelon, beans and rutabagas like cool/cold, moist conditions with good ventilation. Ensure these crops go into storage when they have dried thoroughly. Beets, parsnips, carrots, cabbage, beans, peppers and rutabagas will lose moisture readily so cover them with perforated poly. They do well at the bottom end of the range at 0 to 5 C. Potatoes will keep the best quality if they are stored at about 4 C when mature. Tomatoes like to be stored a bit warmer at about 10 to 15C. All of these vegetables should be stored in the dark.
Peppers, pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes should be stored in warm, dry conditions.
Garlic and onions prefer cold and dry storage conditions. If you happen to be harvesting seed for next year, most seed will store best if it has matured appropriately, cleaned and then stored in cold, dry conditions.
Hope you have a great harvest, and watch next week for tips on processing your harvest.
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