Storing vegetables

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by 50connect editorial

Successful vegetable storage depends on proper temperature and humidity, gentle handling and starting with high-quality vegetables, according to a vegetable specialist in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Garden vegetables brighten winter with proper storage

Peter Ferretti, professor of vegetable crops, advises harvesting vegetables at peak maturity for best results. "Select vegetables that are free of disease, insect injury and frost or mechanical damage."

"Vegetables grown in the soil, like potatoes and carrots, will look better if you wash them," he said. "But wash gently so you don't bruise or skin them. If you want to use a small amount immediately, just wash them under a trickle of running water - the way a surgeon scrubs."

Ferretti describes a simple method for washing large amounts of produce at home. Place around 27 kilograms of vegetables at a time in a slatted hamper. Submerge the hamper in a tub or container full of water, and soak for 10 to 20 minutes to soften the soil. Lift the hamper and tip it slightly, gently rolling to tumble the vegetables. Spray any remaining soil away with water, then dump the vegetables - gently, gently - into clean hampers to drain and dry. After an hour or so, your vegetables will be ready to store.

For best results, store each vegetable according to its special requirements. Most produce stores best at freezing point, but some - such as pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes and green tomatoes - can be injured below 10°C. If you have to store crops together, use the higher temperature, but you may reduce the storage life of the lower-temperature crop.

Ferretti suggests some rules of thumb for storing common garden vegetables. These vegetables all store best in darkness or very subdued light.

Store onions in a dry, well-ventilated place around 0°C. Store cabbage, cauliflower, celery, endive and kohlrabi in a moderately moist place at 0 to 1°C. "It won't hurt if they're subject to a light freeze," Ferretti added, "as long as you don't handle them while frozen."

Peppers keep well in a dry place at 7 to 10°C, such as an attic, an unheated room or the warmest spot in a refrigerator - but not in a storage cellar. At or below 4°C, peppers can decay in as little as three weeks.

Root crops like beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas and winter radishes keep best in a humid place, between 2 and 4°C. At 7°C, they sprout and become woody. The moisture prevents them from shriveling. For the sweetest root crops, wait until late autumn to pick them, so more of the starches can be converted to sugars by the colder weather.

Cure potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins and gourds to keep them from rotting. Curing hardens the skins and heals cuts. Keep them in a moist place for a week or two at 16 to 24°C - wounds don't heal at 10°C or below. Then, store them in the dark so they don't turn green. As soon as outdoor temperatures permit, lower the temperature to 2 to 4°C.

Winter squash and pumpkins should be fully mature before going into storage. Cut them from the vine just before the first frost, leaving the stems attached. "Handle them carefully," said Ferretti. "They may look tough, but they bruise easily." Winter squash and pumpkins - except acorn squash - should be cured at 27 to 29°C for 10 days, then stored at to 13 to 16°C - the temperature of a typical house basement. At or below 10°C, they can get chill damage. Above 16°C, they dry out and get stringy. Store acorn squash in a dry place at 7 to 10°C; they decay quickly at or below 4°C.

Gardeners often end up with a lot of unripe tomatoes just before the first frost. To ripen them, store them in one layer - not touching - in a basement or outbuilding at 13 to 14°C. Keep them in a moderately moist place - too much dampness encourages decay. Choose tomatoes that have already lightened or turned pink. Spread them on a table or in shallow trays. Check regularly to remove ripe or rotting fruits. It doesn't matter if they're in the light or dark, but avoid direct sunlight. Don't let temperatures drop below 13°, or go higher than 24°. Never store any tomatoes, except cut pieces that should be used in cooking, in the refrigerator where temperatures are always below 13°.

Dry beans, peas and popcorn store best in a dry place, like an attic, porch or unheated room. Pick popcorn or pods as soon as they mature, then spread them in a warm place to dry. Dry popcorn on the cobs since popping quality depends on moisture content. Once the popcorn pops well by test, store it in plastic bags, tin cans or glass jars to maintain the desired moisture. Shell dry beans, then use one of the following treatments to protect them from moths, weevils and seed maggots: refrigerate at -18°C or below for three or four days, or heat in a 82°C oven for 15 minutes. After turning off the heat, keep beans in the oven for another hour. Store them in tight containers, such as plastic bags, glass jars or cans.

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