Harvesting, curing, storing fruits and veggies

Harvesting, curing, storing fruits and veggies

As the growing season comes to a close and crops are being harvested this fall, many growers may look at storing some crops in order to be able to sell them throughout the winter and early spring.

Some commonly stored vegetables include potatoes, onions and garlic. Much of the work done with fruit crops, in terms of long-term storage, primarily is focused on apples and pears. Proper care and storage of these products can provide additional income throughout the winter months when the majority of fruit and vegetable crops are unable to be grown and marketed locally. These storage practices may be useful for those just simply looking to store crops for home use as well.

Looking into the practice of storing vegetable crops, to start out, you want to make sure you are only attempting to store what would be considered “firsts” or products of the highest quality grade. Think of long-term storage as a hotel, not a hospital. The fruits and vegetables you put into storage will not improve in quality; you are simply trying to maintain the quality that the produce had at the time of harvest. Products that have blemishes or defects are not suitable for long-term storage. Attempting to work some of the “seconds” into your stored products can be risky and may result in a higher loss of product during the storage process.

Some other considerations before putting away crops over winter include finding varieties that are better suited for winter storage, planting the crops so that at the end of the season you are harvesting the crops in their prime — which is when they will store best — and having an area where you can provide suitable conditions for storage of the desired crops.

Another important step in the process is called curing. Curing is a process that allows the skin to become more durable, which helps to extend shelf life. Potatoes cured at 60-70 F for four to five days can be kept for four to five months. Onions need to be cured for approximately two weeks, where they need to be spread out and dried until the outer skin becomes papery and dry. Garlic is cured in a very similar manner as onions. Winter squash and sweet potatoes that are cured for 10-14 days at 75-80 F can be stored for several months.

Appropriate storage conditions are another major factor in being able to keep vegetables long term. Potatoes are best kept at between 40-50 F with higher humidity and no light. Large temperature fluctuations or too much light can induce sprouting. Sweet potatoes also store best in higher humidity and with temperatures between 45 and 60 F. Pumpkins and squash store better in low-humidity environments. Garlic is stored best at temperatures near 35-40 F and with low humidity and no light. Onions' storage temperatures are recommended at around 35 F with moderate humidity.

These areas also need to be well ventilated to prevent excess moisture from building up and to provide the area with “clean,” fresh air. Storage areas should not only be set up to allow for good airflow, but they also should be set up in a way to allow you to inspect the crops at various times throughout the winter. It is important to watch the stored crops closely and remove any decaying products as soon as possible. The longer a decaying fruit or vegetable is allowed to be there, the higher the risk of others being affected.

Apple and pear storage is not too different from vegetable storage. They also need to be harvested at the correct time to prevent them from becoming over ripe in storage and in a cool and well-ventilated space with no light. The ventilation also prevents the buildup of ethylene, which helps to slow down the ripening process. Ethylene increases the speed at which the fruit ripens. It is important to note these storage spaces should not drop below freezing. Freezing temperatures followed by above-freezing temperatures will damage fruit and vegetables and make long-term storage nearly impossible.

Apples and pears also need to be checked to make sure there is no fruit going bad. The saying goes “one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel,” and that is true for both fruits and vegetables. When fruits and vegetables are harvested at the correct time and given good storage conditions, they can be enjoyed many months after the growing season has wrapped up.

Frank Becker is an OSU Extension agriculture and natural resources program assistant and IPM program coordinator. He may be called at 330-264-8722.

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