Storing Your Home Vegetables

When my mom was a kid she had a cellar on the farm. It was no problem to know where to store the jars of vegetables and fruits, potatoes, and apples. There was a back porch and space upstairs to ripen pears and store pumpkins and squash. 

Sweet potatoes were cured near the coal-burning furnace or behind the small heater in the kitchen. Onions were tied in bunches and hung in the cellar-house to cure until freezing weather arrived.

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Vegetable Garden in a Compact Home

In our compact new home in town, we do not have these storage facilities. But like many others, we have and enjoy the fresh products from our vegetable garden and fruit trees. 

Each product that can be successfully stored in the fall will mean not only a saving of grocery money but also ensure good eating for many weeks and even months. 

Children who have had vegetable garden projects will not want to see the fruits of their labor wasted if not all have been consumed at the end of the growing season.

Storing of Products

Many families have good refrigerators and freezers and do not want to build cellars. Nor will they want to store their products in outside pits which are not easily accessible during the frozen months, especially if covered with several feet of snow. 

The next best thing, providing you have a basement, is to partition off an area that will provide space for shelves of canned vegetables and fruits, and space for bins, crates, and boxes.

Basement Storage

Most homes with basements have a central heating system located there. Choose a corner for the storage room that does not have heating ducts or hot water pipes running through it, preferably on the east or north side. 

There should be a window for ventilation but a good shade to keep out all light. Insulate the inside walls to keep out the basement heat.

Good Quality of Home Storage

Successful home storage begins long before the actual storage of the product. All must be good quality, and free from insect and disease damage. 

Any that show signs of decay or are bruised or cut in harvesting will not keep long and will cause their neighbors to spoil as well. 

Shelves, bins, crates, and boxes must all be clean. Have them movable so that everything can be thoroughly cleaned before storing. There should be free air circulation around and under them. Mice can cause a lot of damage. Keep them out.

Space and Conditions for Storage

Since conditions and space available for storage vary, it seems best to state simply what the different products require.

Potatoes will keep throughout the fall and winter if the air is moderately moist with a temperature between 35° and 40° degrees. They should be stored in the dark to prevent them from turning green.

Apples and pears require similar conditions except that they can be stored longer if the temperature is kept around 32° degrees. They should be the winter types of fruit.

Separation of Vegetables in a Storage

If quite large quantities are stored each year it would be wise to have a separate area for them for the fruits may absorb odors from potatoes and other vegetables which impair the flavor. 

Both apples and pears should be mature when stored but still hard. Apples should be well-colored but pears should be picked green. 

It has been suggested that such apple varieties as `Grimes Golden’ and ‘Golden Delicious,’ be placed in polyethylene bags, to prevent shriveling. These should have ten or 12” ¼-inch holes to permit air to enter. The bags should not be tied or sealed.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and squash require moderately dry conditions and a 55° degrees temperature.

They are easily damaged and should be handled carefully and as little as possible. If they have been properly cured after gathering, they will keep through the winter under favorable storage conditions. 

Sweet potatoes should be placed in crates or boxes and covered with a heavy cloth to keep the humidity high, at an 80° to 85°degree temperature for ten days. 

(In lower temperatures, 65° to 75° degrees, the curing period is two or three weeks.) 

After curing, store in a part of the basement where the temperature is around 55° to 60° degrees. They require a drier atmosphere and higher temperature than Irish potatoes.

Pumpkins and Squashes

Pumpkins and squashes keep best if a portion of the stem, an inch or 2”, is left on when cutting from the vines. Give the same curing treatment as sweet potatoes and the same storage conditions. 

Neither should be placed directly on a cement basement floor—put them on shelves or in crates above the floor. Pumpkins and squashes are said to get dry and stringy if in temperatures too much above 60° degrees.

Onions in a Dry Place

Onions need a cool, dry place. They will start to grow in any moist location, even if hung up with free air circulation. Those grown from seeds keep better than those grown from sets. 

Onions should keep through the winter in a dry location, either hung in bunches or in airy crates at a temperature close to 32° degrees.

Late Fall Vegetables

Beets, carrots, and turnips are best left in the garden until late fall. They can withstand early frosts. 

When they are dug (when the soil is dry if possible) cut the tops back to 1” inch or less above the crown. The roots, if they must be washed, should be dry when stored. 

Our mothers and grandmothers used to pack their carrots in stone jars (almost collectors items now). They covered each jar with a heavy cloth to prevent shriveling of its contents. 

These three vegetables are like a moist atmosphere at 32° to 40°-degree temperatures. If kept in a warm, dry place they shrivel, and in growing new tops they become woody. They may be laid in shallow flats and covered. Or try storing them in polyethylene bags.

Parsnips for Early Spring

Parsnips may be treated the same way but their flavor is improved if they are left in the garden until late winter or very early spring. Alternate freezing and thawing are not good for them. 

Dig some after the first frosts to store for use during the winter and mulch the rest well after the ground freezes in order to keep the ground frozen. Dig in late winter during a time when soil is not frozen.

Salsify and Horseradish

Salsify (vegetable-oyster) and horseradish are stored in the same way or left undug in the garden until late winter.

Good solid heads of late varieties of cabbage will keep for a while under our “modern storage conditions” if we can give them a place in a moderately moist, 32°-degree temperature. Because of the strong odor, they need to be away from fruits in particular.

Firm and Green Tomatoes

We can enjoy nice tomatoes for a number of weeks longer if the fruits are picked when mature but firm and green, and kept in a moderately dry place at a 55° to 60°-degree temperature. 

Nicer fruits that keep better are picked from late-planted vines rather than the poorer quality from spent vines that have already given us their best fruits. The green fruits should be picked before frost.

Inspection of Vegetables

Even with good care, there may be spoilage and one should inspect them frequently and sort out any that do not ripen properly. 

If they are placed in single layers on a tray or in a flat, one can keep a better watch on them. Whole vines can be pulled and hung up in a basement, or branches with clusters of tomatoes may be hung to ripen.

Bulletin No. 1939—Home Storage of Vegetables and Fruits describes in detail the storing of more products. Send 15c (stamps not accepted) to Superintendent of Documents, Washington 25, D. C.

44659 by Olga Rolf Tiemann