Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Tips for Specific Crops
If you haven’t already, check out “Winter Vegetable Storage, Part 1.”
Brassicas (Non-Root): Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Chinese Cabbage (Bok Choy), Kale, Kohlrabi – 32 degrees at 90-95% humidity
All of these crops have very similar storage requirements. For the heading crops, remove any loose surrounding leaves and keep just the compact head. It is important to note that the quality of the stem diminishes after being stored and tends to get slightly woodier the longer it is stored. Therefore, if you would like to eat the stem (which is delicious!) do so before freezing/storing for prolonged periods (it will still be good to eat, just a little bit woodier and sometimes stringy). Place in a paper or plastic bag with some holes in it to let moisture escape. This is important as you want to keep an aerobic environment to prevent excess moisture, condensation from transpiration, and mold from forming. It is important to note the shelf life of the various brassicas to help organize storage.
Root Vegetables (Including Potatoes): Beets, Carrots, Celeriac, Parsnips, Potatoes, Rutabaga, Salsify, Turnip, Winter Radishes (Daikon) – 32 degrees at 90-95% humidity
There are a couple different ways to store root vegetables as long as you have a space that stays continuously cool throughout the year, or if you have fridge space. Again, you can store these in the crisper box of your refrigerator in a paper or plastic bag, same as above. The list says they will keep for 2-4 months, although I still have some rutabagas, carrots, turnips, and just finished my last beet all from last growing season. When storing roots, first carefully remove the dirt without bruising or cutting the root and let dry completely. Remove the tops of all veggies about ½” above the root crown and if you’re storing rutabagas, remove the tap root as well. This is not necessary for other root crops. There are a couple make-shift root cellars you can make for your home if you do not have the space in your fridge as well. It can be as simple a plastic-lined laundry basket or plastic storage container alternatively filled with moist sand and roots. Sand can also be replaced with news paper, sawdust, or any other material that can provide good insulation and a humid environment. Since we live with more extreme summers it would be important to periodically check if the roots are starting to grow mold or growing new leaves. It would be a good idea to consume as soon as either tell is revealed. You would want to store the “root cellar” in a space that does not receive too much light and stays a pretty constant, cool temperature, which can be hard to come by in our summer months. It is very important the environment is moist. Otherwise they will quickly shrivel.
Lettuces are stored differently than other crops. They should not be wet when stored and you want to encourage an air-tight environment. The best method for storing lettuce would be to first wash and dry your lettuce, preferably with a salad spinner if available, otherwise you can dab with a towel. You can either place all lettuce leafs on a paper towel and wrap the leaves in the towel, or you can alternate layers of paper towels and leaves. Next place the lettuce and paper towel in a plastic air-tight bag and squeeze all the air out and store. You can do this with a larger bin as well, in which the best method would be layering the lettuce with paper towels. Compact head lettuce, such as iceberg or buttercrunch lettuce you follow the same procedure, just remove the loose leaves and store just the compact head. There is no need to wash every leaf.
Cilantro and Parsley
There is much debate over the best strategy of storing these herbs. I have seen them stored in similar ways to the lettuce above, but I found the best means of storage, space permitting, is to keep the trimmed stems in a jar in your fridge with a plastic bag over the leaves. This should keep them fresh for a longer period of time, but it is important to note that they are faster to perish than most other crops/ herbs.
Celery- 32 degrees at 90-95% humidity
You can store Celery very simply or you can get creative if you don’t want to use more fridge space. They will keep fine in a bag in your refrigerator, with roots removed. If you want to get creative, you can store them in moist sand in a dark closet. For this, you will want to keep the roots intact and store the roots in the moist sand as if you’re transplanting the celery. This will keep the celery significantly longer than in a fridge, but not nearly as convenient. The same can be done with endive. Depending on whether the celery was blanched (stems deprived of sun to achieve tender white stems) you have to either keep it in a dark closet or light can be permitted.
Winter Squash, Onions, and Garlic
While these two have different temperature requirements, the storage can be similar. For onions, after harvest and after the tops have dried, cut the tops a little above the bulb, about an inch or so and let cure for another week in a well ventilated, cool environment. For garlic, you want to leave the entire plant intact, roots and leaves, and they must cure for two weeks. Typically you want to hang in a dry environment, although temperatures can be higher for the curing process, even temperatures into the 80s are fine. You can braid the garlic together by threading the stalks, but don’t overcrowd a braid as you want significant airflow all around the garlic bulb to properly cure. After two weeks of curing, the garlic will be ready to be stored by keeping them hanging or really anywhere convenient that receives good airflow and nowhere too moist.
Storing winter squash can get creative. When harvesting, you want to leave some of the stem on and cure in a warm, dry environment for about two weeks. It is important that the squash is “fingernail safe” that is you can’t indent or pierce the squash with a fingernail alone. Once cured, you can keep in a cooler environment for months, usually long into the spring and following summer. When you start noticing mold blemishes or soft spots, it is important to promptly eat the fruit. The flesh will still be edible despite soft spots or light mold on the surface. You can keep squash in a bin in your garage, attic space, or even under your bed for quick access and a midnight snack. Any damaged crops should be consumed before storing.
While these are guidelines to store the winter veggies, there are a few more important things to note. When storing veggies, never store them with fruits, such as apples, pears, etc. as they release ethylene, which is a gas that promotes senescence or aging. Also, as soon as a plant begins to mold it is important to remove it so as to not infect the rest of the crops. Enjoy the harvest and the art of storing winter vegetables!