Best Veggies for Storing
All vegetables have different storage characteristics. There are some that cannot be stored, while others will last for several months with only a little care or attention. Learning which vegetables will store best in your conditions is often based on trial and error. Every vegetable plant has different growing circumstances that will either let it store better or cause it to deteriorate more quickly, and the conditions in your root cellar or storage area vary from year to year as well. This means you may have to deal with different successes or problems every season, however having fresh veggies to eat during the winter months is well worth the effort.
The following vegetables will not store for more than a week in a refrigerator after they have been harvested: lettuce, salad greens, kale, Swiss chard, zucchini, radish, asparagus, corn, celery, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants. These are best used fresh or they need to be canned or frozen for later use.
If you want to grow produce that will store for several weeks or months in your root cellar, choose vegetables such as onions, garlic, squash, root vegetables, and cabbage. These all require varying conditions in order for them to remain fresh and in good enough shape for you to eat them during the off-season.
THE BEST ST ORAGE KEEPERS FOR YOUR ROOT CELLAR
Root crops include beets, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, rutabaga, turnips, and potatoes.
Properly cured onions and garlic will store for several months if placed in the right conditions (see Chapter 6, “Filling Your Root Cellar”). The ideal temperature for storing onions is just above freezing. They can be braided and hung in a cool area of your house or placed in baskets or trays and put in a root cellar or in cold storage area. Onions harvested in the early fall will last until March if they are kept cool. They will start to sprout or become soft and start to rot if the conditions are not ideal, and this will happen more quickly if the area is warm and moist. It is best to check your stored onions at least once a month and pull out any less than perfect ones so any problems do not spread to your whole crop. Your nose will let you know if there are any problems in your onion basket.
Avoid boiling your vegetables if you want them to retain their nutrients as much of the nutritional goodness will dissolve into the water. Instead, steam, microwave, or stir-fry them using a minimal amount of water or oil. They should be cooked until crisp-tender so they retain their color and texture.
Winter squash and pumpkins are even easier to store than onions and garlic. Squash that is in good condition and properly cured (see Chapter 6) can be stored almost anywhere in your home. Squash needs warm conditions with moderate humidity; the optimum temperature would be around sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Store these vegetables in boxes in your attic, under your bed, in a closet, or in a warm basement room. Smaller varieties will keep for at least three months, while larger ones can last for up to six months if stored in ideal conditions. Regularly check the squash for soft spots, and use those up first as one imperfection can cause the squash to turn to mush quickly.
Do not store your potatoes near onions; the onions release a gas that will hasten the spoilage of your potatoes. Do not store potatoes in the refrigerator either; the natural sugars in the potatoes will convert to starch more quickly if they are stored there.
Root crops such as potatoes, rutabaga, carrots, and beets need a storage area that has high humidity and temperatures between thirty-two and forty degrees Fahrenheit. Kept in these kinds of conditions, they will stay good for three to four months. Potatoes, rutabaga, carrots, and beets will rot if they become frozen, so they are best put into a cool root cellar that will not allow them to freeze. Parsnips are one exception; they can be frozen and remain edible, making them a great late winter/early spring vegetable. Remember that most root crops can remain in your garden and be harvested as needed if you live in a mild, dry climate.
To store your root crops in a root cellar, place them into wooden boxes that are kept off the floor and which rest on rocks or pieces of wood. As mentioned previously, placing the box directly on a dirt floor will cause the veggies to rot more quickly. If your root cellar temperature can get below freezing, make sure you insulate the boxes with straw, peat moss, or hay to ensure the veggies do not freeze.
Like your root crops, cabbage will keep three to four months if kept in a cold, high humidity root cellar. However, only green cabbage varieties will store well while other cabbages can also easily be frozen or canned (check out Chapters 8 and 10 for more ideas on processing extra cabbage). The main difference between storing root crops and cabbages is that, whereas cabbage will have a tendency to rot over time, root crops will lose moisture and become dry and limp the longer they are kept in storage. You'll want to check your cabbage on a regular basis to make sure none of it is starting to rot.