How to Store Vegetables for the Winter

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Storing most vegetables for winter consumption is actually pretty easy… that is, IF you know a few tips & tricks to extend the storage life for the various types of vegetables.

Most families used to store more of their food through the fall and winter, and a return to this tradition is welcome. You can increase your food security tremendously by stocking up on good-quality produce when it’s available in the fall, and then draw from your stash for your meals all winter long. Plus, buying in bulk often means you can save some dollars, instead of buying in smaller quantities every week or two.

If space is an issue for you, choose vegetables that have storage requirements that your home can provide. Even storing a couple types of vegetables is so worthwhile.

First, how much?

Think about how much your family typically consumes in a week or a month, whatever span of time is easier for you to work with.

How many pounds of potatoes? How many sweet potatoes? How many onions? How much squash?

Then, count the number of weeks until that particular crop is available locally again.

For example, I try to store enough potatoes to last for at least 8 months (or, 32 weeks, but it’s actually a bit over 32 weeks). That will see me through October to the end of May, and then the first of the new potatoes should be ready in June.

I also give some padding to the number, to account for a bit of loss (a generous 1 - 2%), and add some to the stash for bigger family gatherings or meals with visitors.

And now, the how:

The very easiest-to-store vegetables don’t require anything more than sitting at room temperature, or slightly below room temperature. At the other end of the spectrum, there are vegetables that require refrigeration, or a root cellar that is cool enough to keep produce dormant.

The list below discusses the most common storage vegetables from easiest to store, to those requiring specific conditions.

  1. Room Temperature / Darkness

Sweet potatoes are one of the very easiest vegetable to store. They do best in a 16 - 20C temperature range, and darkness is ideal (or, at least not in bright light).

For example: store them in cardboard boxes in a guest room where the heating vents are closed. Or, store them in boxes in the basement. They can keep for several months this way, and the only care they need is for tiny sprouts to be removed, if they begin to sprout in the spring.

Garlic can also be kept at room temperature or cooler, but it doesn’t require the coldness of a refrigerator.

A tip for garlic: there are many varieties of garlic, and some naturally have a longer storage capacity than others. Some stay firm until December, and some stay firm until May!

Check your stash of garlic every couple weeks, and if it’s starting to soften, then process the rest to keep it usable for the rest of the winter.

Some ideas for preserving garlic: ferment it in a salt brine (it’s excellent), or peel the cloves and submerge them in vinegar (keep it in fridge), or peel the cloves and ferment them into a paste.

Squash can be stored at room temperature or in the basement. It isn’t affected by light, but should be out of direct sunlight. Check your squash when you’re putting them away, and use any first that have a soft spot or blemish. If any start to spoil before you’re ready to use them, simply bake them and freeze the flesh to use another time (it freezes very well after it’s cooked).

The different varieties of squash have different storage capacities. The longest keepers are usually butternuts and buttercups, and the shortest keepers are vegetable spaghetti, delicata and sweet dumplings. For these last three types, keep them in a cooler area to keep them for a longer time.

2. Cool temperature / darkness / good ventilation

Potatoes do best in relatively cool temperatures, but don’t require the coldness of a fridge. A root cellar is perfect for them, especially if it’s below 10C. They need the humidity of a root cellar, with air circulation (eg, a burlap bag, open paper bag, or vented waxed box), and they also need total darkness. Even a cool corner of the basement can work. In these conditions, potatoes can easily keep until the next spring.

Onions also require good ventilation (which is why they’re so often sold in mesh bags). They can be stored in the range of 15 - 20C, but keep even better below 10C. They don’t need darkness, but it helps keep them for longer.

3. Cold temperature / high humidity

Beets, carrots, parsnips, and other root vegetables keep best in cold temperatures (below 5C), and in vented plastic. The second best option (a very close second) is waxed cardboard boxes.

The traditional method for storing root vegetables is in buckets in damp sand in a cold root cellar: humidity, darkness, cold.

Cabbages can keep for months in the right conditions: cold, wrapped, and in a fairly humid environment. A fridge works… but, a fridge can only hold so many cabbages!

An ideal wrapping for cabbages is a sheet of newspaper. Then, store them in the lower part of a fridge, or in a waxed cardboard box in a cooler or cold root cellar.

Check first & check often

One last piece of advice: as you’re storing your fall produce, check each item to make sure there are no bruises, skin injuries or bad spots. If you find a blemish, set aside that produce to use first. As they used to say: one bad apple spoils the whole lot… so keep an eye out for potential issues before putting everything away.

Then, check your produce once in a while through the winter. With a bit of practice, it can be done very quickly and easily. You’ll soon learn what to notice: the slight odour of an onion or potato starting to go soft, or a bit of moisture seeping from a blemish, or a soft spot beginning on a squash. When you’re getting into your stash on a regular basis, you’ll soon recognize if something is starting to go “off”, and can use that item before it spoils.

Do you have other tips for storing produce for the fall and winter? Leave your tips in the comment section below!

Deanna van den DriesComment