Storing your garden harvest for winter

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

In the fall there are many different crops being brought in and prepared for a winter storage. With proper preparations many veggies or even fruit can be held for months to be used during the winter.


In all crops, the full moon is the time to harvest. The full moon’s gravitational pull brings the moisture into the produce ensuring that it be plump and full of juices. As it cures, the sweetness and moisture is trapped in the fruit and gives the best quality.


I dug the potatoes last week on full moon, but then laid them all out on cardboard for a few days to dry off. You want to do this in a protected spot, out of direct sunlight and preferably with air circulation. For me, this is in our hay mow. This gives the skins a chance to harden down and not be easily scrapped off, allowing air and essentially risk of rot. After they have hardened down, I will put them into crates and stack them in a cool, dark place for the winter. In the spring, I will have saved some to be my “seed” to plant and the cycle begins again.


Gathering my squash and pumpkins. So how do you know when your squash and pumpkins are ready to pick? Even though they can be picked and ate anytime after maturity, there is the best time when they are fully ripe and ready to be harvested. You can know if they are ready and if it is the proper time, if you know this trick. The little tendril that is closest to the fruit will begin to dry up and brown. When this happens you know that it is ready and fully mature to pick. These also need to be hardened down, or they may bruise and rot easily during storage. Unlike potatoes, you will want to put these in a warm sunny place to cure. This helps the skin too harden down and cure or dry. For me, this is laying them out in my greenhouse. To know if they are fully cured, Gently stick your finger nail into the skin. If you make an indent, it is not cured enough. If you can’t put your finger nail into the skin, this means it is ready to store and sealed for the optimal winter storage. Unlike potatoes, squash want to be stored long term in a warm dry place and the place it was traditionally stored was the attic above the kitchen.


Onions, also need to be cured for a proper amount of storage time. In order to do these you want to put them in an airy spot that is out of direct sunlight with lots of air circulation. It is best to hang them to do this. I have found the best way is to use a piece of cattle panel fencing. This is a fencing that is different heights, but the key is that it has squares in it that can hold the onion as it dries. This allows the onion top to die down and also the outside layers of skin which help to maintain the integrity of the onion and adds to the length of storage. When the top is completely dry, it will be ready to collect and store. Onions want to be stored long term, at room temperature and a dry, not humid place. For me, this is an upstairs closet.

Apples are another crop that can be stored long term. Different kinds of apples, have different qualities. Some apples are great for storing, While others are softer and not good for storage, but they are great for cider. Some are better for making vinegar, some are better for pies, and some store better. Make sure that you are getting a good hard winter storing apple if you want to try to keep them. Empire and Macintosh are two good ones that will keep a long time if properly stored. There are no preparation’s for apples they just want to be in a dark cool place. Apples and potatoes do not store well together. If you have them in the same storage area make sure that they are as far apart from each other as possible. This is because each gives off different gases which affect the other and causes them to go bad. With these, you need to frequently go through them and make sure that there are none that have any bad spots in them. In all of the above produce bad spots usually form because of a bruise that has happened to the fruit or veggie in transportation from the garden. Always be careful when handling your produce and being gentle to ensure that it has arrived to its winter storage safely.


Next up I pulled the turnips and beets. I then cut the top off just above where it attaches to the vegetable leaving just a little nub. What you are doing here is cutting off the green that will have more of a tendency of rotting because of the moisture content. These also like to be stored in a cool dark location. These I have found the best way to preserve them is to layer them in sawdust and gently wet them Just enough to moisten them. Periodically through the winter, I may take down a little bit of water just to make sure that the sawdust has not completely dried out, but not often as too much water will make them rot.


For carrots, they also can be harvested the same way beets and turnips are and stored the same way in sawdust or Sand. My favorite way to keep them though is to leave them right in the ground, and cover them with a heavy mulch. I usually put bales of hay on top of them. This insulates them in the ground so that they can still be dug throughout the winter with no problems. I just flip over a bale and pull them out as the ground will not freeze around them. Carrots will sweeten as they go through a dormant cool period. There is nothing like digging out a crisp sweet carrot straight from the winter ground.


Storing cabbage’s I am still working on. I have found that they dont keep as long as I would like. With cabbages, like apples, there are certain kinds that are meant for winter storage. You will want to try to grow these to practice storing. The way that I have found which seems to work the best for me is to pull them out of the ground with the whole stem in tact. Then shake off the dirt and hang them upside down, from the stem in a cool dark place.


Believe it or not, tomatoes can even be stored into the winter months if collected before the first frost. I have been able to lengthen our fresh tomato harvest for a few months by layering the "green/ almost turning color" tomatoes in a cardboard box and covering them with a paper bag and putting the box in a backroom. I completely cover the boxes so that there is not any light getting to them. If you want to ripen just take them out and set on the window sill for a couple days. You need to regularly go thru these and sort and check them to make sure that there are none that are starting to rot or becoming ripe and need to be used.

In most cases all of the above will last through the winter and you will come out in the spring still eating from last summer‘s harvest!




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