Laying in for Winter
Successful vegetable storage is based primarily on harvest and handling. Keep these tips in mind. Let vegetables and fruits cool overnight from “field heat” before storing them. Harvest during dry weather and allow the surfaces of the produce to dry before storing.
Handle carefully to minimize bruising. Pick up some standard apple boxes from your grocer to use for storage. Wooden vegetable shipping crates work well, too. Storing vegetables and fruits effectively depends on providing the right temperature, humidity and ventilation. Check with your local agricultural extension service agent for the techniques that work best where you live. Some crops do okay outside for a short time.
Root crops such carrots, turnips and parsnips can remain in the ground where they grew for part of the winter. Mulch heavily with straw or hay after the ground begins to freeze. However, ground temperatures below 26 degrees can hurt carrots. Beets, cabbages, kale, and onions are crops that can survive light frosts when they are under a layer of mulch.
Any clean, buried metal container can be effective for storage. Drill holes in the bottom for drainage and keep the top rim 2 inches above the ground, to thwart rainwater. Then layer the vegetables with straw. Put the lid on and cover it with a thick layer of mulch.
Many existing areas within a house may serve for storage, without the expense of adding the insulation, ventilation and humidity control that a proper long-term storage area needs.
Basement window wells can be adapted for storage for apples or root crops. Plan to insulate the vegetables with straw. Unfinished basements or crawl spaces can make excellent storage areas, as long as they are evenly cool between 32 and 60 degrees.
Use unheated crawl spaces or cellars with dirt floors that remain cool (35 to 40 degrees) and moist to store potatoes or apples and pears. Basements with central heat that are warm (55 to 60 degrees) and dry offer superb conditions for ripening tomatoes and short term storage of winter squash, sweet potatoes, and onions.
Enclose vegetables in perforated polyethylene bags to inhibit moisture loss and prevent condensation. The bags should have multiple 1/4-inch holes throughout.
Here are the storage times for some commonly grown vegetables:
Beets: 4 to 6 months.
Late cabbage: 5 to 6 months.
Carrots: 7 to 9 months.
Onions: 1 to 8 months.
Potatoes: 5 to 10 months.
Winter squash: 1 to 6 months.
Sweet potatoes: 4 to 7 months.
Green tomatoes, while ripening: 1 to 2 months.
Do not store potatoes and apples or potatoes and onions together–they will spoil each other. Cabbage is also best stored separately.