Storage of Vegetables

One of the great delights of gardening is the improved flavour and texture of fresh vegetables. One of the main reasons store bought produce is so lacklustre is the fact that the fruit and vegetables have been stored, and poorly at that. Fruit is picked before it is ripe. It is tougher then and withstands the rigours of transport better. The same varieties allowed to ripen on the tree, or vine, taste much better. Nevertheless, there are gaps in production and there is ample reason for storing produce to carry us through. As well, some produce is grown specifically for storage.

The most economic place to store produce is in the ground where it is growing. Where the soil is well drained, deep frosts do not occur, and the winters are reasonably cool, roots are best kept in the garden. The overseas practice of using root cellars and earth covered mounds (clamps), is totally unnecessary. The brief gap between them running to seed in the spring and the harvest of the earliest from the new plantings gives the palate time to relearn how to relish them.

Peas and beans are particularly suited to drying. Allowed to ripen on the vine and shelled out, they will keep for a couple of years. There is no need to grow the special varieties developed for this. We prefer broad beans to limas, which we could not grow in southern Tasmania anyway. Home dried peas and beans seem to cook quicker than the shop bought sorts. Another product worth drying is the mushroom. When there is a glut of field mushrooms, we dry and crumble them for thickening and flavouring winter soups made with the relatively bland dried peas and beans.

Garlic and onions ripen fully in the summer and autumn, and must be dried for storage. Hung in a cool, well ventilated place, they will keep for several months.

Tomatoes can be stewed until they thicken to make tomato paste. The home made paste is infinitely superior to the factory product. Do not believe the commercials that tell you only the best produce is used to make this and other processed products. The price received by the grower from the processor is much less than the price for fresh. Only the malformed, over ripe, inferior stuff is sold to the factory. In the home kitchen, the cook is generally more discerning than the manufacturer.

Apples an be harvested at two stages of maturity. For storage, they are picked when still unripe. To test if they are ready, cut the apple across the middle, between the stem and blossom end, squeeze and taste the juice with the tip of your tongue. If it has a woody taste, it is not yet ready for harvest. Apples keep best when stored in a cool, well ventilated place. Some varieties, notably Lady Williams, will keep well at relatively high temperatures. You will only be able to grow this variety if your growing season is long. Red Fuji, which does grow in cooler places, also keeps well without needing special storage facilities. See the page about Apples and Pears.

Several varieties of pear will fall from the tree before ripening. They are picked and stored unripe, and kept in a cool, well ventilated place until needed. The pears are brought into a warm room for several days to ripen.

Conditions for long storage of vegetables

Vegetable Temp Relative humidity Approximate storage life
Artichoke, globe 0C Very high 3-6 wks
Asparagus 0 Very high 2-4 wks
Bean 7 High 2-4 wks
Beetroot (topped) 0 High 12-20 wks
Broccoli 0 High 1-2 wks
Brussels sprouts 0 Very high 2-4 wks
Cabbage 0 Very high 1-3 mths
Capsicum 7 High 2-3 wks
Carrot 0 Very high 1-5 mths
Cauliflower 0 Very high 2-4 wks
Celery 0 High 6-10 wks
Cucumber 7 High 2-3 wks
Eggplant 7 High 10 days
Endive 0 High 2-3 wks
Garlic 0 Dry 6-7 mths
Leafy greens 0 Very high 1-2 wks
Leeks 0 High 1-3 mths
Lettuce 0 High 1-3 wks
Marrow (hard) 10 Dry 6-12 wks
Melon 5 Medium 2-3 wks
Mushroom 0 High 1 wk
Okra 7 High 2 wks
Onion 0 Dry 1-8 mths
Parsley 0 Very high 1 mth
Parsnip 0 Very high 6 mths
Pea 0 High 1-3 wks
Potato 7 Medium 4-6 mths
Pumpkin 10 Dry 2-4 mths *
Rhubarb 0 Very high 2-3 wks
Shallot 0 Very high 1-2 wks
Silver Beet 0 Very high 1-2 wks
Spinach 0 Very high 1-2 wks
Squash (summer) 7 Very high 1-3 wks
Squash (winter) 10 Dry 2-4 mths *
Sweet Corn 0 High 4-8 days
Sweet Potato 13 Medium 4-6 mths
Tomato (ripe) 7 Medium 4 days
Tomato (unripe) 13 Medium 2-4 wks
Turnip 0 High 4-5 mths
Water Melon 7 Medium 2-3 mths
Zucchini 7 High 1-2 wks

* Some varieties will keep up to 24 months, though the flavour deteriorates slowly.

Root vegetables must be topped as the leaves continue to transpire moisture. Leaving them on will shrivel the roots.

Ethylene gas is given off by ripening fruit. We use this property when we put unripe tomatoes in an unventilated paper bag with a banana or apple. The tomatoes ripen quicker because the apple or banana increases the level of ethylene. Some vegetables are very sensitive to ethylene and will deteriorate rapidly when stored alongside fruit giving off the gas.

 

Produces Ethylene Sensitive to Ethylene
Apple Asparagus Potato
Apricot Bean Rhubarb
Avocado Broccoli  Shallot
Banana Brussels sprouts Silver Beet
Fig Cabbage Squash
Kiwi Fruit Carrot Sweet Corn
Mango Cauliflower Sweet Potato
Nectarine Celery Zucchini
Papaw Cucumber
Passion Fruit Endive
Peach Gooseberry
Pear Leafy Greens
Plum Lettuce
Rock Melon Okra
Tomato Parsley

 

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Jonathan Sturm 2003 - 2011

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