October 8, 2009 at 8:07 a.m.

Harvesting and storing vegetables

Harvesting and storing vegetables
Harvesting and storing vegetables

The first class in our fall series was on storing your garden vegetables. It was held in the parking area of Peterson's Farm Home and Garden store during the Wednesday night Farmer's Market. There were about 10 that signed up for the class with a panel of four Master Gardeners. It was more sharing ideas, than a class. I know I learned as much from the audience and the other Master Gardeners as they learned from me.

It's important that vegetables are ripe before they are picked and allowed to dry before being stored. Potatoes can be harvested when the tubers are small and immature (new potatoes) or when the crop is fully mature. New potatoes are harvested when the vines are lush and green. These small potatoes have their skins and do not store well. Some refrigerate new potatoes to keep them from getting soft.

Potatoes grown for fall and winter use should be carefully dug after the plants have died and turned brown. To check crop maturity, dig up one or two hills after the plants have dried. If the skin is thin and rubs off easily, the potatoes are not fully mature and will not store well. Allow the crop to mature in the soil for several days before harvesting. Use any damaged potatoes first and as soon as possible.

I know that some wash soil off potatoes before storing, but I prefer to wipe the dirt off after they are dry. Before placing the potatoes in storage, cure the tubers at a temperature of 45 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Curing heals the minor cuts and bruises and thickens the skin. Potatoes should be stored in a dark location with the temperature of 38 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I realize this may be hard to control unless you have a good root cellar. Do not allow the potatoes to freeze. If properly stored they could last for six months before sprouting.

Any standard variety of onion can be used as a green onion when the bulbs are small. Onions that you want to store should be harvested when the tops fall over and turn brown. Put them in a protected area until the dirt is dry. Some cut the tops off one inch above the bulb and place them in a mesh bag for further curing for two to three weeks at room temperature. Some leave the stem attached and braid them together and hang them from the ceiling. Store onions in a well-ventilated area. The variety of onion has a lot to do with the length of shelf life. Bermuda and Sweet Spanish should be used first as they will store only a couple of months. Candy onions can store for four to five months while the Copra onion can store from eight months to a year under the right conditions.

Winter squash have different indicators that they are ripe. Acorn and buttercup will have an orange area at the bottom along with a dry stem. They also have hard rinds or skins that can't be punctured with the thumbnail. Butternut are entirely orange and have a softer skin, so the only way to tell if they are ripe is their dry stems and the absence of green streaks at the stem end.

Store winter squash in single layers to allow air circulation and reduce fruit rot. At our class, one of the Master Gardeners stated that the fruit rot is due to bacteria and dipping them in a solution of 10 parts water to one part bleach before storing will help. Acorn squash can be stored for five to eight weeks. Butternut squash will store for two to three months while hubbards can be stored for three to six months.


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