The method of harvesting and location of storing your garden produce will determine how long it lasts and how nutritious it will be. In a quest for storage space that won’t freeze produce, some folks use their crawl space, but that can be unpleasantly populated by spiders and mice. Mice can quickly destroy your stored food, too, unless stored in rodent-proof containers.
For potatoes, withhold water for a couple of weeks after the haulms (potato vines) have died back, to let skins toughen. Tougher skins result in longer storage before sprouting for regrowth. When you dig potatoes, gently brush off soil before putting them in storage. I like to store potatoes in liquor boxes. Don’t try to store them in plastic bags, for that promotes rot. Store potatoes in your basement or the coolest room in your house, preferably in darkness. Sunlight triggers the production of solanine, a toxic substance that shows as green on potato skins. I store apples in cardboard boxes, too, physically removed as far as possible from potatoes. Apples should be stored in a cool room, but since apples emit ethylene gas through their skins, their proximity will trigger potato sprouting.
Alliums such as onions, shallots and garlic heads or bulbs should be stored to take advantage of the best air circulation you can manage. Hanging a net bag of allium bulbs from a joist or rafter is the best way. Some clever people find ways to braid garlic or onion leaves so they can cut off the bottom head or bulb for use.
You can take a chance on leaving carrots in the ground for winter if you wish, since El Nino winter (forecast) usually means dry and mild for us. I don’t like to leave them in ground, though, because carrot rust fly larvae damage carrots well into winter, and some cold spells may result in splitting roots. Dig, wash and dry carrots, and store them in green preservation bags such as Debbie Meyer brand in the refrigerator hydrator. In that storage, they’ll grow more fine roots, but are usable and good for about a year. Beets may be similarly stored, with about an inch of tops intact.
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Winter squash, picked when you cannot penetrate rind with a thumbnail, stores in usual household temperatures. I like to store them on racks in a bedroom used as a seed-storage catch-all room.
When frost is forecast, you can pull up tomato plants and hang them upside down in your garage or toolshed, allowing tomatoes there to continue ripening. That’s usually a good treatment for cherry tomato plants, but for larger tomatoes, we pick all green tomatoes of about two inch diameter and larger, and store them indoors in shallow boxes, away from direct sunlight.
Some advise wrapping them individually in newspaper sheets, but that’s labor-intensive and tomatoes will ripen and rot unseen by human eyes. Store them no deeper than two tomatoes deep and sort out the coloring fruits into other boxes. They will ripen in their own time.
Bell peppers, when ripe (usually that means red, sometimes brown or yellow), should be chopped and stored in Ziplok bags in the freezer, arranged flat. If later you need a few chopped peppers, you can open the bag, break off what you need and reseal the bag.
Hot peppers can be stored shallowly in cardboard boxes, where they’ll ripen and dry. If they’re stored too deeply, they’ll rot. As long as husks on undamaged tomatillos are intact, the fruits will be good, even if exposed to heat.
Some cantaloupes “pick” themselves free of the vine, others don’t. Pick them up sufficiently far to see if millipedes are invading the belly of the melon. If so, it’s ripe. Pick it and refrigerate until you’re ready to eat it. Watermelons are ripe when the belly is yellow and the nearest tendril of the vine has dried, according to some. I rely on thumping melons and listen for a “ripe” deep sound. Watermelons keep for quite a while in cool conditions.
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