How To Store Your Garden Harvest Safely

Excerpted from: Storing Fruits and Vegetables From the Home Garden.

When stored and handled properly, fresh fruits and vegetables from the garden can add special appeal to meals long after they were harvested. Many Wisconsin residents enjoy growing fruits and vegetables at home. While our growing season is relatively short, many different kinds of produce can be stored at home well after being harvested.

Sometimes produce can be purchased in bulk during the growing season at a reduced price, but this is only economical if the produce can be stored so that its quality is maintained. Produce can be preserved for longer storage by canning, freezing, pickling or drying.

Yet eggshells are quite useful in adding calcium to homemade fertilizers, or you can simply make calcium water by steeping dried eggshells in water for a couple of days, and then using the strained water for your plants, including houseplants. Plants that haven't been repotted for some time often perk up quickly when given a good drench of eggshell water.

Maximizing Storage Life

Understanding storage needs can help you take steps to maximize storage life.

Store at Ideal Temperature. Fresh fruits and vegetables are living organisms — even after harvest. They consume oxygen and release carbon dioxide in a process called respiration. The rate of respiration depends on the storage temperature and the type of produce. Lowering the temperature slows respiration and extends storage life. Produce should be cooled to the ideal temperature as quickly as possible.

Maintain Moisture. All fresh fruits and vegetables contain water and water is what makes strawberries juicy and potatoes flaky. After harvest, water is released into the air and is not replaced. You can maintain moisture by storing them in perforated plastic bags or by increasing the humidity in the air.

Avoid Temperature Extremes. When fresh fruits and vegetables are exposed to extreme temperatures, the tissue can be damaged. Fresh produce that has been frozen will begin to break down almost immediately after thawing. By contrast, overheating and exposure to sun may cause bleaching, uneven ripening, softening or shriveling.

Remove Diseased Produce. Most produce is quite resistant to disease as long as the skin remains intact. Skin punctures or cuts provide access to disease-causing fungi or bacteria. Before storing, inspect produce for wounds or early signs of disease: tissue discoloration, water soaking, or decay. Routinely inspect stored produce and remove any with signs of decay.

Storing Produce

Few homes have perfect storage conditions but it is possible to create spaces that will help to extend the length of time produce can be stored. The optimum conditions may be divided into 3 main groups.

Cool and Dry. (50-60 ° F and 60% relative humidity). Basements are generally cool and dry — or places in basements can be made cool and dry. These conditions are best for squash and pumpkins.

Cold and Dry. (32-40 ° F and 65% relative humidity). Cold and dry describes most refrigeration or perhaps an insulated garage in the fall or spring. Onions and garlic prefer cold and dry conditions.

Cold and Moist. (32-40 ° F and 95% relative humidity). Cold and moist storage is the most challenging condition to create. Refrigerators provide the cold but they are also dry. Placing produce in perforated plastic bags in a refrigerator can create a cold and moist environment. All fruit that grows in Wisconsin and most tender vegetables require these storage conditions.

While calcium is considered a secondary nutrient for plants, your garden will certainly appreciate the added minerals, especially if you grow tomatoes or peppers as these plants are the most easily affected by calcium-deficency.

Storage Compatibility

Even if fruits and vegetables require similar storage conditions, they can't always be successfully stored together. Produce may give off strong odors which can be absorbed by other items. Onions, for example, give off pungent gases and should not be stored near apples or potatoes. Apples, pears, tomatoes and overripe cucumbers give off a gas known as ethylene. In sensitive crops, exposure to ethylene may cause yellowing, softening and decay.

Storing Fruits

Fruit Temp (° F) Plastic Bag Duration
Apples 32-38 Yes 1-8 months
Apricots 32 Yes 1-2 weeks
Blueberries 32 Yes 7-10 days
Peaches 32 Yes 2-3 weeks
Pears 32 Yes 3-5 months
Plums 32 Yes 2-4 weeks
Raspberries 32 Yes 7-10 days
Strawberries 32 Yes 7-10 days

Storing Vegetables

Vegetable Temp (° F) Plastic Bag Duration
Asparagas 36 Yes 7-10 days
Beans, snap 41-46 Yes 6-12 days
Beets 32-36 No 1-3 months
Broccoli 32 Yes 2-3 weeks
Brussel Sprouts 32 Yes 3-5 weeks
Carrot 32-38 Optional 7-9 months
Eggplant 50-54 No 1-2 weeks
Melon 50 No 7-10 days
Onions, sweet 32 No 1-3 months
Peas 32 Yes 1-2 weeks
Potato 40 No 4-5 months
Sweet Corn 32 Yes 1 week

More Gardening Tips:

 How To Use Coffee Grounds In The Garden
 Do-It-Yourself Safe Pesticides
 Provide Spring Nesting Materials For Birds
 Best Practices For Perennial Plant Fertilization
 How To Use Rooting Hormones
 Spring Pruning Basics

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