By Mark Anderson, owner, Anderson’s Seed and Garden
I CAN’T THINK of a better time of year to enjoy our yard: Temperatures have cooled to comfortable levels, flowers are blooming like crazy, and the garden is producing way more veggies and fruits than we can handle. Although we bottle and freeze a great portion of our excess harvest, many of our fall and winter favorites can last many months, even until spring, if prepared and stored properly. Potatoes, onions, carrots, beets, and winter squash just need a little care, preparation, and a cool location and your food storage surplus just increased exponentially with little extra work.
Timing can make a huge difference when harvesting and storing some vegetables like onions and potatoes — even winter squash keep best when allowed to mature in the garden. If you wait too long to harvest most vegetables, though, their quality suffers and they won’t taste as good, let alone keep as well as if you picked them on time. Onions and potatoes usually start to die down when they are ready for harvest, generally late August through early September. Winter squash definitely taste better if they get nipped with a light frost, but as soon as they develop their mature color and a hard exterior skin that is dry when scratched, they can be harvested for winter storage. Carrots and beets should mature as long as possible, prepping them for storage sometime after Halloween.
For optimal storage results, you need a cool, dark, slightly humid location to keep your harvest preserved, like a basement, cold cellar, crawl space, root cellar, or even in the garage. Temperatures ranging from 40-55 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity of 25 to 35 percent make the best storage conditions. Make sure it doesn’t get cold enough to freeze or warm enough to make things start to spoil — consistency is key.
Carrots and beets are nearly the easiest of all to store through the winter. I don’t even dig them up. All you have to do is gather leaves up in large plastic bags and place the bags over the carrot and beet roots in early November. When you want to use the roots just pick up the bags, move them aside, dig up what you want to use, and put the bags back. No worries about snow, ice, mud — all the elements — the bag preserves the roots perfectly and makes them easily accessible.
Tip of the Month
Bulbs can make even the most challenged gardener seem like a flower pro. September and October are prime time for planting tulips, daffodils, crocus, and many other fall planted bulbs. It doesn’t get any easier: dig, drop, done! Dig your hole, drop in some fertilizer and the bulbs, backfill the holes with dirt, and it’s as easy as that. The bulbs do all the rest!
Potatoes might even take less work. After digging the tubers, I’ll gently place them in burlap sacks and immediately put them in their permanent storage location. Depending on variety, they can keep for up to six months.
Onions take only a little more care to prepare. After digging the bulbs, I let them dry, root side up, for two or three days in the garden. Gently gather them up after the roots have dried sufficiently and place them in a warm, dry location (garage, barn, storage shed) for three to four weeks so they can develop a firm, hard outer wrapper skin. Once they have dried, cut off the tops, place them in mesh bags with good air circulation, and move them to your permanent storage spot. Most storage onions will keep four to six months without issue, and some will last even longer.
Prepare winter squash similarly to onions. After they mature, cut them from the vines so there is about two inches of stem left on the fruit and put them in the warm, dry location for three to four weeks, then move them to your cool storage location. They definitely need good air circulation in cold storage, so I’ll usually find a pallet or crate to place them on. Most winter squashes keep three to five months.
There are more veggies that can store well through the winter to fill your pantry, but those mentioned here are the easiest to keep. If your garden isn’t producing enough, you can buy these veggies very reasonably at the market or at a roadside stand and prep them just as you would from your own garden. You’ll be surprised how easy, affordable, and delicious a little preparation can make those winter months.