Harvesting and storage
Picking and eating your own organic vegetables and fruits are the joyful outcome of growing. In these pages we help you store your organic produce – either in times of glut, or to tide you through the winter.
The right conditions are crucial for successful storage of any crop, and the produce itself needs to be in perfect condition – no blemishes, or breaks in the skin. It is easy to bruise fruit and veg as you harvest them, and once they are no longer growing they have no means to heal.
Different crops, such as root crops, potatoes, alliums, beans, cabbages, leeks, tomatoes, pumpkins, apples, pears all need different storage conditions. You can also freeze many fruit and vegetables. You may also be interested in learning to seed save from seasonal veggies with our 'Introduction to seed saving webinar'
‘Root’ crops (except potatoes)
i.e. Carrots, parsnips, beetroot, turnip, swede, kohlrabi and celeriac
Interestingly, these roots are the storage organs of biennial plants and therefore - in the right conditions – they store naturally and easily. Harvest carefully, taking care to avoid skin damage. Remove excess soil, but do not wash or scrub as this may damage the skin. Remove leaves by twisting off close to crown. Place in shallow crates/boxes separating layers with a slightly damp packing material such as leaf mould, sand, sieved soil, sawdust (from untreated wood only), coir. Keep very cool from 0 - 4°C.
Require slightly different conditions from ‘root’ crops. They must be kept dry and dark to prevent them turning green – which is when they develop high levels of solanine, a toxic alkaloid. Harvest in dry, cool conditions if possible, and leave exposed to dry for a few hours. 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. Protect from low or freezing temperatures and store at 5°- 10°C.
Alliums – onions, shallots and garlic
Harvest onions and shallots when all the leaves have fallen over naturally. Dig out garlic when just the first 4 or 6 leaves turn yellow. Keep in a hot dry place for a few weeks (if the weather is fine, they can stay outside resting above the ground.) Bulbs are ready to store when skins are dry and papery. Plait into ropes or hang in net sacks which allow the air to circulate freely. Protect from freezing, ideal temp 2 - 4°C.
French and runner beans
If you can’t keep up with the harvest, either freeze or leave some pods to set seed . When the pods are dry, shell out the dry beans and store them in a paper bag.
Firm red and white winter cabbage will store for several months if harvested before the first frost. Leave roots intact or at least 15 cm of stem. Place on slatted shelves, covered with straw or thick layers of newspaper if temperatures drop. Ideal temp 0 - 4°C.
Leeks and Brussels sprouts
Both can normally be left in the ground over winter. However, if extremely bad weather is forecast you can bring a few indoors for immediate use. Dig up entire plants, with roots, and place in a bucket with just enough water to cover the roots. In a cool place they will stay fresh up to a week.
Pick green tomatoes before first frost – ripen either by hanging the whole vine in a cool dry place, or by wrapping individual fruit in paper and storing in trays. You can hasten the ripening by putting them in a closed bag or box with a ripe apple or banana.
Pumpkins and winter squashes
Pumpkins and squashes need a few weeks of sun towards the end of the growing season to develop a tough skin for storage. Harvest before first frost. Cut with a long stalk, with part of the vine attached – this will protect the stem from rotting. Stored cool and dry with plenty of air circulation they can last 6 – 9 months. Ideal temp 10 - 15°C.
It is essential to pick and handle apples with care. Only store perfect fruits. Store in cool, dark and slightly damp conditions. Either place fruits on vegetable crates or slats – taking care they do not touch each other or wrap each apple in paper ensuring fruit is completely covered and put gently into boxes. In all cases, check fruit regularly and remove any bad or diseased ones.
Can be difficult to store well for any length of time. As with apples, it is essential to pick and handle with care. Pick just before fully ripe and store in cool conditions without touching or wrapping, on slatted shelves.
For further examples of storage for individual vegetables and fruit see The HDRA Encyclopaedia of Organic Gardening (Dorling Kindersley).
Vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, peas and beans, leeks can be frozen to help store during a glut. It is best to blanch in boiling water first, and to freeze in manageable quantities. Apples, pears and plums should be stewed first. Strawberries do not freeze well – they go mushy when thawed – but raspberries can be quick frozen individually on trays, before bagging up. Tomatoes are best cooked into a sauce before freezing.