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, flowers are blooming like crazy, and the garden is producing more veggies and fruits than we can handle. Although my family bottles and freezes 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 a little extra hard 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, 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. I let carrots and beets mature as long as I can, prepping them for storage sometime after Halloween.
For optimal storage results, you need a cool, dark, slightly humid location to keep your harvest preserved (basement, cold cellar, crawl space under the house, root cellar or even in the garage, for example). Temperatures ranging from 40-55 degrees and a relative humidity of 25-35 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 the key.
Carrots and beets are probably the easiest of all to store through the winter. I don’t even dig them up. All you have to do is gather leaves into large plastic bags and place the bags over the carrot and beet roots in early November. When you want to use the roots, pick up the bags, move them aside, dig up what you want to use and put the bags back. The bag preserves the roots perfectly through the fall and winter elements and makes them easily accessible.
Potatoes might even take less work. After digging the tubers, I 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 to three days in the garden. Gather them up gently after the roots have dried sufficiently and place them in a warm, dry location (a 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 very similarly to the onions. After they mature, cut them from the vines so there is about 2 inches of stem left on the fruit and put them in the warm and dry location for three to four weeks. They definitely need good air circulation in cold storage, so I 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 these are the easiest to keep. If your garden isn’t producing enough, you can buy these veggies very reasonably at a market or roadside stand and prep them just as you would from your garden. You will be surprised how easy, affordable and delicious a little prep can make the winter months.