It’s been a successful growing season and your hard work has paid off with a bounty of fresh produce. Now what? If you’ve got more produce than your family can consume, it’s time to consider long-term storage. The preferred storage methods vary, depending on the vegetable, but almost any vegetable can be successfully stored for long-term use.
Preserving Quality of Stored Vegetables
The first thing to consider when storing vegetables long-term is the quality of the vegetables. The quality is not going to improve in storage, so save only those vegetables that are firm and unblemished. Use ripe produce immediately and discard any that show signs of decay.
Green tomatoes, for example, can be ripened indoors if they are picked before a hard frost nips them. However, only full-size, mature green tomatoes ripen properly. Small tomatoes will likely rot before they ripen and may spread decay to other stored produce. Ripen almost red tomatoes on the counter and use them within a few days.
Green beans are an excellent crop for freezer storage, but large, mature ones won’t taste as tender as smaller ones. Freeze green beans that are no larger than the diameter of a pencil. Discard large, overripe ones, which are dry and woody.
Temperature for Storing Vegetables
Cool temperatures slow down the production of ethylene gas, a naturally-produced chemical that ripens produce. Root crops, such as carrots, beets, parsnips and turnips, store best at temperatures near freezing, while pumpkins and winter squash store best at temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Vegetables with a high moisture content must be dried, canned or frozen to preserve them. Zucchini, for example, stores very well in the freezer for several months to use in soups, breads and muffins. Green beans, broccoli, peas and corn also store well in the freezer. Make sure you follow freezing instructions per vegetable.
Humidity Levels for Storing Vegetables
Humidity is another important consideration when storing vegetables. Too much humidity and veggies rot; too little and they shrivel and dry out. In the refrigerator, vegetables stored in perforated plastic bags receive the ideal level of humidity. Cucumbers, peppers and beans quickly rot if left in a sealed plastic bag, so be sure to poke some holes in the bag.
Root vegetables benefit from a relatively high level of humidity during storage, while squash and pumpkins fare better with dry conditions. Onions prefer cool and dry storage, such as a basement or mudroom pantry.
Ventilation for Storing Vegetables
Ventilation won’t likely be an issue when storing produce in a refrigerator or freezer, but is absolutely necessary to prevent decay and control humidity levels in basements, pantries or root cellars. A small window or vent can provide the needed ventilation. Additionally, store large vegetables, such as pumpkins, so that air circulates freely between them, rather than heaping them in a pile. Store potatoes and onions in ventilated plastic or wicker baskets rather than plastic boxes or bags so air reaches them.
Absence of Light for Storing Vegetables
Many vegetables store longer in dark conditions. A dark root cellar, basement or pantry is the ideal location to ripen tomatoes and store onions and potatoes.
Sanitation for Storing Vegetables
To prolong the storage life of vegetables, wipe down shelves and storage areas with a diluted bleach solution to ensure that they are clean. Check produce frequently for signs of spoilage and discard any that have soft spots or blemishes. In root cellars, a layer of straw can keep bins of carrots and potatoes dry.
When canning, following proper guidelines for sanitizing jars and lids to ensure vegetables are safe. Here’s a link to the USDA Complete Guide to Home Canning.
Tips for Storing Vegetables
- Store asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, peppers, corn and peas in cold, moist storage, typically in a perforated bag in refrigerator. Or a sealed bag in the freezer. Use fresh produce within three to five days. Frozen produce keeps for up to six months.
- Store onions, parsnips, carrots and cabbage in a cold, moist location for up to four months. A root cellar is the ideal place for these crops, but the refrigerator or freezer suffices for modern homes.
- Store potatoes, pumpkins and squash in a cool, dry place, such as a dark basement room.
- Leave kale, chard and other hardy greens in the ground until early winter. They’ll tolerate all but the heaviest frosts.