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 homemade 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 can 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
* Some varieties will keep up to 24 mths, though the flavour deteriorates slowly.
|Vegetable||Temp°C||Relative humidity||Approx. storage life|
|Artichoke, globe||0||Very high||3-6 wks|
|Asparagus||0||Very high||2-4 wks|
|Beetroot (topped)||0||High||12-20 wks|
|Brussels sprouts||0||Very high||2-4 wks|
|Cabbage||0||Very high||1-3 mths|
|Carrot||0||Very high||1-5 mths|
|Cauliflower||0||Very high||2-4 wks|
|Leafy greens||0||Very high||1-2 wks|
|Marrow (hard)||10||Dry||6-12 wks|
|Parsley||0||Very high||1 mth|
|Parsnip||0||Very high||6 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|
|Water Melon||7||Medium||2-3 mths|
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 putunripe 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.