Storage crops for winter

By Jean English | Nov 13, 2011
Photo by: Jean English Squashes displayed by Curra Family Farm at the Common Ground Fair. If you didn't grow enough squash, onions or other easily stored vegetables, this is a good time to stock up from local farmers and farmers' markets.

Did you grow enough squash, onions, garlic and other easily stored crops to last through winter? If not, consider getting these crops now at a winter farmers’ market or from a local grower. A butternut squash with a red ribbon on it, or a braid of onions or garlic, would make a great holiday gift as well.

How much to buy?  Here are consumption figures for an average American family of four (for fresh foods – not frozen or otherwise processed) for some common storage crops, and ideal storage conditions:

Crop —  Average — Temp. (F) — Relative — Months
Consumption                   humidity %
pounds

Beets — 2 —  32 — 95 — 3-5

Cabbage — 32 — 32 — 95 — 3-4

Carrots — 38 — 32 — 95 — 4-5

Garlic — 10 — 32 — 65-70 — 6-7

Onions — 44 — 32 — 65-70 — 6-7

Pumpkin — 16 — 50-55 — 70-75 — 2-3

Squash, winter — 18 — 50-55 — 50-60 — 2-6

Potatoes — 146 — 39 — 90 — 4-9

Sweet potatoes — 21 — 55-60 — 80-85 — 4-6

Markets that are still operating locally include one on Saturday mornings, year round, at the State of Maine Cheese Co. in Rockport; the Belfast Farmers’ Market on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Aubuchon Hardware on Route 1 (until Dec. 23); and the Unity Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Unity Community Center (until Nov. 19).

When selecting crops for storage, look for produce that has no insect, disease or physical damage. Pulling rotten food out of storage is not fun, so check stored crops regularly and remove anything that looks questionable.

The table above lists ideal temperature and relative humidity conditions for storing common vegetables. Several places in your home may approximate these conditions, including an attic or attic stairwell, unheated spare room or closet, bulkhead, basement window with a well cover, cellar, crawl space or basement, or a porch.

We have a floor-level cabinet in the northeast corner of our kitchen that meets the needs of pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes fairly well. While the kitchen may typically be 60 to 70 F in winter, the temperature inside that cabinet is around 50.

Onions and garlic, stored in baskets, and potatoes stored in paper bags go in the crawl space, which is humid and cool – not 32 F, but closer to 40 or so in winter. If you have a heated basement, you can wall off and insulate a section of it, probably in the northeast corner (if that’s away from any furnace), and store vegetables there.

Carrots and beets also go in the crawl space, in clear, perforated plastic bags, which keep the humidity up and allow the crops to be inspected easily. Others store these crops in moist peat, sand, leaves, vermiculite or other materials.

When a few squashes or onions start to “go,” you can still extend their storage season. Cook squashes that are still good (whole, on the woodstove in a covered pot with a few inches of water in it, for instance), and remove and freeze the flesh. Chop onions that are still good and freeze the pieces in Ziploc-type bags. Garlic cloves can be separated from bulbs, then can be peeled and frozen, unprocessed, in plastic bags. Beets and carrots can be peeled, sliced and frozen.

For more information, see www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/vegetables/storage.pdf.

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