Preserving And Storing Crops – Part One

Today and on Friday, I thought I would talk about how I preserve and store my crops.

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We all plant our seeds and nurture our plants, until they grow big enough to start producing a wonderful harvest and this year really has been a wonderful harvest.

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After we have picked and eaten as much as we possibly can, what do we do with the rest so it doesn’t go to waste and end up in the compost bin?

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Preserving And Storing Crops.

Years ago, if you didn’t preserve your crops then you would possibly starve.  Today it isn’t so life threatening to do this, as we have supermarkets to fill our food gaps.  However, the food has usually flown thousands of miles to get to us and doesn’t really taste as nice, as it has been bred for its long shelf life rather than its taste.

I love growing vegetables for my family and I know it’s far cheaper to grow my own fruit and vegetables rather than buy them from the supermarket.  I also know that the produce that I harvest are grown organically without the use of pesticides, so it makes sense to preserve and store my produce, ready for use over the winter.

I do buy the odd vegetable in the winter, but mostly I use produce that I have stored, preserved, or I dig up the winter vegetables at my allotment.

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During July, August and September I spend most of my days picking, digging up, preserving and storing my crops.  It gives me a huge sense of satisfaction to be as self-reliant as possible and I feel such a pleasure when my family are eating the food I have grown.

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So How Do I Store And Preserve The Crops I grow?

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Nature:

Firstly, the most natural way to store my vegetables is to leave them to nature.  Crops that are frost hardy such as leeks, parsnips, cabbages, kale, Jerusalem artichokes, celery and spinach will sit happily in the soil over winter until I need them.

  I understand that carrots, beetroot and swedes can also be left in the ground over winter if you mulch them with straw, but when I tried this they suffered a lot of slug damage, so I don’t store them like this anymore.

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Storing:

Some crops are better lifted and stored.  A good example of this is potatoes as the longer you leave them in the ground, the more slug holes you seem to have in them.  Years ago, root crops would have been stored in a ‘clamp’ in the garden, which is an inexpensive way of insulating the crop.  You can still use this method if you want to.  You can read about ‘clamps’ here.

I prefer to store some of my vegetables in a dark, dry, frost free place.

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Garden ‘Cushion Boxes’

 After I have dug up my potatoes I leave them out to dry for a few hours on the soil, turning them once.  I then put them into sacks to store them.  I keep them in boxes (which are actually cushion boxes from B&Q) and even though the temperature has been below freezing for quite a length of time in the last few winters, my produce has been fine.  However, I do live in a town and I’m not sure if these boxes would remain frost free in a rural area.

My potatoes drying in the sun

My potatoes drying in the sun

Early potatoes don’t store as long as main crop potatoes, so we use them first.  Also any that have slug holes or blemishes are eaten first too, as these just don’t store well either.

TIP:  Don’t store potatoes in plastic bags as the humidity will rot them and do check the potatoes for any signs of rotting every so often, as one rotten potato will rot the a whole sack if you don’t notice it.

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I also store carrots, beetroot and swedes in my ‘cushion’ boxes.  It is easy to store them and very convenient to pop outside to get something to prepare for dinner.  I lift the vegetables and twist off the tops and then put them into a wooden box on top of a layer of compost (you can use sand for this too).  I make sure the vegetables aren’t touching and then I cover them with compost.  This way they store beautifully over the winter.

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When my onions and shallots are ready, I lift them and dry them on racks under cover for two or three weeks.  Books tend to tell you to lift them and leave them on the ground for two weeks in full sun…but when do we ever have two weeks of full sun in the UK?  After two or three weeks I put the onions in nets and again I put them in my ‘cushion boxes’.

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I also store my apples over winter. Early varieties of apple don’t store very well, so I store the apples from my later variety of apple trees.  All I do is wrap each apple up individually in newspaper and stack them in a box.  Again I check them every so often as one bad apple can destroy the whole box.

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Finally, winter squashes can be stored for approximately six months in a well ventilated place.  The RHS recommend that winter squashes are kept between 10C and 15C.  I keep mine in our bedroom on top of our chest of draws on a tray, which I know is not the most romantic thing to do, but the squashes last for ages as it’s the coolest room in our house.

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Before storing winter squashes it is important to ‘cure’ your squash.  All this means, is to leave them outside in the sunlight after you have cut them from the plant, for a week to ten days (more if possible).  Ensure you cover them or take them indoors if a frost threatens.  I cure mine in my greenhouse, which gives them some protection.

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I think I’ve written enough for today, so on Friday I’ll continue to write about freezing and preserving our produce.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post.

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17 thoughts on “Preserving And Storing Crops – Part One

  1. We leave our carrots in the ground under straw and usually end up with plenty to see us through – pity your slugs prevent this, Do you find uprooted carrots go a bit soft. We find if we wash them after lifting they don’t keep for as long.

    As for apples they store well in an old fridge in the garage.

    For potatoes we raid the supermarket for those tray type boxes and stack them in the garage.

    • Hi Sue, our carrots don’t go soft as we eat them fairly quickly as my family love them. I wish we didn’t suffer with the slugs.

      I remember Bob Flowerdew storing apples in an old fridge when he used to be in Gardeners World…do they store well in your fridge or does any moisture get to them?….I had forgot all about this and incredibly we are about to get rid of our old fridge so this would be extra storage space for us in our outhouse.

      As regards to your garage…I so wish we had one, it would make my life much easier lol.

  2. Thank you for a very informative post, your advice is brilliant, i have just read out your post to my husband, we are planning out and hoping next year to grow so much more.
    Sue

  3. Last year our potatoes kept well in wooden boxes between layers of newspaper in the garage. Even the sub zero temps didn’t bother them. Our onions kept well too, just braided and hung after they dried out for a bit. We are planning on leaving the carrots in the ground until the snow falls. It usually works, as long as we get them out before we have too much snow.

    • Thats interesting Heidi, you do the same with your carrots as Sue. We must have a big slug problem in our soil lol. I love to see onions braided and hung. Our outhouse leaks like mad, perhaps we really should get it fixed and use it to hang our onions too.

  4. My garden obviousley iusn’t big enough because we eat mostly everything that comes out if it pretty much as it comes. But I am very interested in these techniques as I’m ever hopeful that oneday I will have constant surplus.
    I do, however, take advantage of specials at our fruit and veggie market, and occasionally I end up with a whole heap of whatever that needs to be delt with asap, so …
    I love your blogs, I really do. They are almost like a chat on the phone – only if you ever talked to me on the phone you’d have your ear ‘chewed off’ because I can talk, baby, oh boy!

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