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Enjoying Fall's Abundance...Later
With food prices going up, saving fall's overabundance to enjoy through the winter becomes more important. Maybe you're not ready to get out Grandma's canning jars, but even an apartment dweller with a P-Patch (or a farmer's market) can keep some food to enjoy in winter's dearth.
The easiest produce to store long term are potatoes, root vegetables, onions, garlic, winter squash, apples, and pears.
First, if you are harvesting your own garden, do it right. Produce harvested at its peak and handled gently stores best. Potatoes, onions, and garlic should be harvested in dry weather after the tops of the plants turn brown. For carrots and beets, size is the main consideration. Parsnips are improved by frost, so wait. Winter squash, on the other hand, can be damaged by frost; cut them off the vine (with about an inch of stem) when they are the right color and the skin is hard enough not to be scratched by a fingernail. Pick apples when they are mature but still hard, pears when the color has changed from dark to light green.
Store only unblemished or undamaged produce. Remember the saying about one bad apple spoiling the barrel? It's literally true.
Root cellaring is the term usually used for cool crop storage. My farmer grandma had the true version: an unheated cellar with an outside door. If you have a basement with a corner you can wall off from the furnace and ventilate, you can get into it seriously. Look at WSU's excellent brochure Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home.
What you need to know to do it on a moderate scale, though, is simple. Potatoes, root vegetables, and fruit like cool and moist. Onions and garlic like cool and dry. Squash likes warm and dry. Keep fruit separated from vegetables, and don't try storing anything smelly (like turnips) with anything else. Not having a cellar in my apartment, I kept 50 pounds of potatoes through April and 20 pounds of carrots and beets till I ran out in January - in a big cooler on my balcony. Through the fall I put a tray of ice cubes in daily to keep the temperature down. In the winter I moved it against the door; in the hardest freezes I brought it inside for a day or two. With two coolers I could have done fruit too. Squash lasted to April in a box in my closet, onions to March. Ripening tomatoes lived on cookie sheets; I ate them until Christmas.
You don't need a lot of space or high technology to save fall's abundance to enjoy later. Just be creative.
Skylights Autumn 2008, Vol 23, No. 3
articles on edibles
articles on more gardening topics