Storing the harvest
✶ Careful handling is essential. Once harvested, crops have no means of repairing damage.
✶ Select the best. Store only the best quality: anything that has broken skin or shows signs of pest or disease should not be stored.
Although no longer growing, crops in storage are still alive and continue to breathe. Air circulation is important to provide oxygen and carry away heat and moisture produced. Crops have different requirements for temperature and humidity.
✶ Location. Storage must be frost free, safe from pests, rain proof and ideally at a constant temperature. A garden shed or garage can be used, but may need extra insulation in severe weather. Basements, cellars or unheated rooms are also suitable. Attics are not very good because of fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
✶ Check stored produce regularly (preferably weekly). Remove anything showing signs of decay to prevent rot from spreading. The unblemished parts can often be salvaged for eating.
✶ Apples: Early season apples do not store well. Mid season apples can last well for 4-5 weeks in the right conditions. Late season fruit does not develop its full flavour until it has been stored for some time, and can keep for several months. Keep apples that ripen at different times, separate.
They should be picked with the palm of the hand, avoiding finger pressure if possible. Leave stalks intact. Medium sized fruit store better than very small or very large ones. Store on slatted shelves, on fruit trays or in boxes. Apples benefit from being individually wrapped in paper. Alternatively, store small quantities in plastic bags, not more than 2-3 kilos together. Fold the top of the bag loosely and make two pencil sized holes for each kilo of fruit. Ideal temperature: 2 - 5° C.
✶ Pears: Time of harvest is critical to good storage of pears. They should be picked when still firm and not left to ripen on the tree. Late season varieties should not be picked too early or they may shrivel and not develop their full flavour.
Store on slatted shelves or trays in a single layer. Do not wrap or store in plastic bags. Pears are at their best for a short time only, so inspect frequently and bring into a warm room when nearing ripeness to finish off the process. Ideal temperature: 0 - 1° C.
✶ Carrots, parsnips, celeriac, beetroot, turnip, swede, kohlrabi, horseradish, salsify: these crops all require the same conditions. They usually last well, as most are the storage organs of biennial plants, so would naturally stay dormant in the soil overwinter. Harvest carefully, making sure not to damage the skin. Do not wash, unless grown in very heavy soil or pest damage is suspected. Harvest on a cool day or cool before storage. Remove leaves by twisting off close to the crown. Place in layers in shallow crates or boxes separated with damp packing material e.g. leafmould, sand, sieved soil or sawdust (from untreated wood). Ideal temperature: 0 - minus 4°.
✶ Potatoes require different conditions from other root crops. They must be kept dark to prevent them turning green and must be protected from low temperatures. If stored below 5° the starch turns to sugar, giving them a sweet taste when eaten. Harvest on a cool dry day if possible. Remove damaged tubers and store good ones in thick paper sacks closed at the neck to conserve moisture. Do not use plastic sacks (the humidity will be too high, which stimulates sprouting). Give extra insulation if weather becomes very cold. Ideal temperature: 5 to 10°.
✶ Onions and garlic: lift garlic when only 4-6 outer leaves have turned yellow. Leave onions longer, until the tops have completely died away. Do not bend tops over prematurely. Both need to be dried until the skins rustle, either in the sun or under cover. Store in nets or make into strings, and hang in a cool dry place where air can circulate. Ideal temperature: 2 - 4°.
✶ Pumpkins, squash and marrows: being sub tropical in origin, these store best at higher temperatures with lower humidity than most other crops. They are very affected by growing conditions as they need a few weeks of warm sun in August/September to develop a tough skin for successful storage. Harvest before the first frosts, leaving the stalk as long as possible. Check for skin blemishes and store in a dry, airy place, preferable on slatted shelves or hanging in nets.
This information originally published in Garden Organic