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How to store garden produce
by Frann Leach
You go to all the trouble of growing your tasty, nutritious, organic vegetables. You wait eagerly for picking time, and then they all come in at once. What do you do with what you can't eat straight away?
You might become temporarily very popular, but it's better to feed your family with it, rather than your neighbours! Most crops store perfectly well, if you select the correct methods, and in many cases, you can end up with something a bit different for the store cupboard as well.
Dried beans and peas
Set aside some plants to produce beans or peas for drying, and let them grow until the pods are bulging and yellow. Finish off drying indoors (hang the whole plant upside down somewhere dry).
Some need blanching first, others can go without. Peas, beans, soft fruit, rhubarb and cauliflowers emerge as close to fresh as any stored food can be. Other fruits and vegetables can be cooked, or prepared as necessary, and frozen. Peas of all types can be frozen for up to 6 months without blanching. Courgettes can be frozen in slices without blanching. Cabbage, celery, peppers and spinach can be frozen after blanching. Beetroot can be frozen if cooked and cut up. Soft fruit freezes well, except strawberries. Most herbs freeze well. You could even rescue all the lettuces, for example, by making them into soup and freezing it.
Pick them before flowering, on a sunny day, when they are dry. Protect them by putting them inside paper bags, with holes in for ventilation. Let them dry in the airing cupboard, then hang them upside down in a dark dry place for 2-3 weeks. Then crush them, remove the stalks, and store in airtight jars. You can also freeze chopped herbs, either individual portions in ice cubes, or just loose in a bag. Herb vinegar is made by soaking 6tblsp fresh chopped herb in 1 pint of warmed vinegar for 2 weeks, then straining.
These crops can be left in the ground with a straw mulch all winter, and lifted as required: Winter brassicas, maincrop carrots, celeriac, Chinese and Jerusalem artichokes, kohl rabi (purple varieties), leeks, swedes, salsify, parsnips and beetroot (but remember that parsnips taste better after frost).
After they have been lifted, they can be stored in polythene bags or arranged in layers in boxes of moist peat or sand, making sure they do not touch. Arrange the layers so that the smallest are used first. Do not store damaged vegetables.
In peat or sand
You can also use sawdust or woodchips. Store them in trays, not touching. Beetroot, carrots, celeriac, parsnips, winter radishes, turnips and swede can be stored in this way.
Onions and shallots
Hang onions in traditional ropes, cotton or plastic nets, or discarded stockings. Shallots can be stored in shallow boxes, nets or stockings. They keep best at a temperature of 32°F (0°C).
Spiced vinegar should be made at least 24 hours in advance using 1 tblsp whole pickling spice to each 1 pint vinegar. (Place in a steamer and steam the covered bowl for 15 minutes and leave to stand overnight, still covered. Alternatively, place spices in cold vinegar and leave for 3 to 4 weeks before straining and using.) Prepare onions or shallots by soaking in brine (made with 2oz salt to each pint of water) for 24 hours before peeling. Peeled onions/shallots and other firm vegetables should then be soaked in brine again for 24-36 hours, depending on size, and drained well. Courgettes or cucumbers should be layered in a bowl with salt for 24 hours, then drained, rinsed and drained well. Pack the vegetables tightly into jars, cover with vinegar to within 1" of the top, tap the bottom to release air bubbles. Cover with plastic tops, label and leave for several weeks to allow the flavour to develop before use.
These crops should be stored at 42-50°F (5-10°C) in loosely-tied polythene bags after cooling: French beans, runner beans, sweet peppers, cucumbers, courgettes, marrows and tomatoes.
These crops should be stored at 32°F (0°C) in polythene bags, folded over or tied to restrict air: lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, Jerusalem artichokes, cauliflowers and calabrese.
If root crops need to be lifted because of possible pest damage, they can be stored in ventilated polythene bags, though storage in sand or peat is better.
Maincrop potatoes and winter squashes
Store at 40-50°F (4-10°C) in double thickness paper sacks or hessian sacks. Loosely tie neck to restrict ventilation.
Plums, cherries, peaches and nectarines must be bottled in Kilner jars (if you can get hold of any) or used for jam, chutney or pickle. Soft fruits can be frozen or made into jam.
Runner beans lose much of their flavour when frozen, but retain their just-picked flavour if stored in salt. Use an earthenware pot, glazed on the inside. Slice and wash the beans and put in layers in the container. Between each layer give a generous sprinkling of coarse cooking or sea salt. Cover with a muslin cloth. They will keep for up to three months. To use, rinse thoroughly and cook in the usual way. French beans may also be preserved in the same way.
Apples and pears can be stored in trays. Store only sound, undamaged fruits, with stalks intact. Choose medium sized fruits. Ideally, apples should be wrapped individually in oiled paper and stored in wooden fruit trays in a dark, rather humid place with some air circulation. Temperature should be between 39-46°F (4-8°C), ideally. Pears should not be wrapped, but placed on trays so that they do not touch. Try to make sure that nothing touches its neighbour.
|Crop||Expected quality after storage by this method: max. months in store|
|Frozen||Bottled||Dried||Dry store/attic||Humid store/cellar||In ground||Other|
|Asparagus||Excellent: 12||Good: 12+||Fair: 12+||-||-||-||-|
|Aubergine||Fair: 8||Fair: 12+||Fair: 12+||-||Excellent: 6||Excellent: 4||Pickled: 12+|
|Broad beans||Excellent: 12||Fair: 12+||Excellent: 12+||-||-||-||-|
|French/Runner beans||Good: 12||Fair: 12+||Fair: 12+||-||-||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Kidney beans||-||Fair: 12+||Excellent: 12+||-||-||-||Sprouts|
|Lima beans||Excellent: 12||Fair: 12+||Excellent: 12+||-||-||-||-|
|Mung beans||-||-||Excellent: 12+||-||-||-||(use for sprouts)|
|Beetroot||Fair: 8||Good: 12+||Fair: 12+||-||Excellent: 5||Excellent: 4||Pickled: 12+|
|Broccoli||Excellent: 12||Fair: 12+||Fair: 12+||-||Fair: 1||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Brussels sprouts||Good: 12||Fair: 12+||-||-||Fair: 1||Good: 2||Pickled: 12+|
|Cabbage||Fair: 8||-||Fair: 12+||-||Excellent: 4||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Chinese cabbage||Fair: 8||-||-||-||Good: 4||-||In cold frame|
|Carrots||Fair: 8||Fair: 12+||Fair: 12+||-||Excellent: 8||Excellent: 4||Pickled: 12+|
|Cauliflower||Excellent: 12||Fair: 12+||-||-||Good: 2||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Celery||Good: 5||Fair: 12+||Good: 12+||-||Good: 3||-||-|
|Garlic||-||-||Excellent: 12||Excellent: 5||-||-||-|
|Horseradish||-||-||-||-||Excellent: 6||Excellent: 4||Pickled: 12+|
|Kale||Good: 12||Good: 12+||Fair: 12+||-||Fair: 10||Good:2||-|
|Kohl rabi||Fair: 8||-||-||-||Good: 3||-||-|
|Leeks||Fair: 3||-||-||-||Good:3||Excellent: 5||-|
|Melons||Good: 3||-||-||-||Fair: 1||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Mustard||Good: 8||-||-||-||-||Good: 2||In cold frame|
|Onions||Fair: 3||Good: 12+||Good: 12||Excellent: 5||-||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Parsley||Good||-||Good||-||-||-||Indoors in pot|
|Parsnips||Fair: 8||Good: 12+||Good: 12+||-||Excellent: 5||Excellent: 4||-|
|Peas (all)||Excellent: 12||Good: 12+||Good: 12+||-||-||-||-|
|Peppers, hot||Fair: 3||Good: 12+||Excellent: 12+||-||-||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Peppers, sweet||Fair: 3||Good: 12+||Excellent: 12+||-||-||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Sweet potatoes||Good: 8||Good: 12+||Good: 12+||Excellent: 4||-||-||-|
|Pumpkins||Good: 8||Good: 12+||Good: 12+||Excellent: 5||-||-||-|
|Radishes, white||-||-||-||-||Excellent: 4||Good: 2||Pickled: 12+|
|Salsify||-||-||-||-||Excellent: 6||Excellent: 4||-|
|Shallots||-||-||Excellent: 12||Excellent: 5||-||-||-|
|Spinach||Excellent: 12||Good: 12+||-||-||-||-||In cold frame|
|Squash, summer||Fair: 8||Good: 12+||Good: 12+||-||-||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Squash, winter||Good: 8||Good: 12+||Good: 12+||Excellent: 5||-||-||-|
|Strawberries||Excellent: 12||-||As fruit leather||-||-||-||-|
|Swede||Fair: 8||Good: 12+||-||-||Excellent: 6||Excellent: 4||-|
|Sweetcorn||Good: 8||Excellent: 12+||Good: 12+||-||-||-||Pickled: 12+|
|Swiss chard||Good: 12||Good: 12+||-||-||-||-||In cold frame|
|Tomatoes||Good: 8||Excellent: 12+||Good: 12+||Green, to ripen||-||-||Chutney: 12+|
|Turnips||Fair: 8||Good: 12+||-||-||Excellent: 4||Excellent: 4||Pickled: 12+|
|Watermelon||Fair: 3||-||-||-||Fair: 2||-||Pickled: 12+|