Storing the harvest
Successful storage of fruit and vegetables starts early, before the harvest has even begun. Plants that have been grown in optimum conditions produce the best crops for storage. Immature crops, or those that have struggled to survive through lack of water, nutrients or pest and disease damage will not keep well.
Fragile - harvest with care!
Careful handling is essential. Once harvested, crops have no means of repairing any damage. Even quite sturdy-looking crops can easily be bruised. The damage may not show up immediately, but the likelihood of rots getting in later is greatly increased.
Select the best
Store only the best quality. Anything that has broken skin or shows any sign of pest or disease damage should not be stored.
Although no longer actively growing, crops in storage are still alive and continue to breathe. Air circulation is important to provide oxygen and carry away the heat and moisture produced. Crops have different requirements for temperature and humidity (see below). Providing the correct conditions for each crop ensures the best results.
The storage location 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 due to fluctuations in temperature and humidity.
Frequent health checks
Check stored produce regularly, preferably weekly. Remove anything showing signs of decay to prevent rots from spreading. The unblemished parts can often be salvaged for eating after cutting out the decay. If you end up only eating rotting produce, something's wrong! Either storage conditions are incorrect or the produce was not good quality to start with.
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, taking care to avoid skin damage. Do not wash unless grown in very heavy soil or pest/disease damage is suspected. Harvest on a cool day or cool before storage. Remove leaves by twisting off close to crown. Place in layers in shallow crates/boxes separated with a damp packing material such as leafmould, sand, sieved soil, sawdust (from untreated wood only), coir.
Ideal temperature: 0°- 4°C.
Require slightly different conditions from other root crops. They must be kept dark to prevent them turning green and protected from low temperatures. If stored below 5°C the starch turns to sugar, giving them a sweet taste when eaten. Harvest in dry, cool conditions if possible. Remove any damaged tubers; 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 before weather becomes very cold.
Ideal temperature: 5°- 10°C.
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 skins "rustle", either in the sun or under cover. Store in nets, old tights or make into strings (see below), and hang in a cool, dry place where air can circulate.
Ideal temperature: 2°- 4°C.
Being of sub-tropical origin, these store best at a higher temperature 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 frost, leaving as long a stalk as possible. Check for skin blemishes, and store in a dry, airy place, preferably on slatted shelves or hanging in nets.
Ideal temperature: 10°- 15°C.
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.
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 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.