Storing your fall vegetable harvest

By Dawn Pettinelli - UConn Home & Garden Education Center
Featured Article - posted Wed., Sep. 18, 2013
- Contributed Photo

Backyard vegetable gardening not only gives us plenty of fresh produce for tasty eating during the growing season, but often enough to squirrel away for the cold, wintry days ahead. A good number of vegetables can be stored fresh for varying periods of time; others are better suited to freezing, canning, pickling or drying.

As their name implies, winter squash store well, with some varieties lasting longer than others. Harvest before they are hit by a heavy frost. Light frosts will not harm them.

Inspect each squash for nicks or other signs of damage. Use these first. Clean soil off with a damp cloth. Cure in a warm area for about 10 days and store in a dark, cool (50 degrees F) place. Among the best storage varieties are butternut, buttercup, Hubbard, Lakota and Delicata. Acorn types do not need curing, but they will only keep for about two months.

Green tomatoes can be picked before a heavy frost threatens and wrapped individually in newspaper. They will gradually ripen in a cool, dark spot. For tomatoes through the fall, try Burpee’s “Long-Keeper.” This storage tomato is picked when it turns a whitish green. Again, wrap in newspaper and they should slowly ripen in about 12 weeks. They are not quite as flavorful as fresh-picked ones, but they beat the supermarket kinds. A few years back, I tried “Golden Treasure” - a yellow, long-storing tomato - but was not impressed with the results.

Onions vary in their storage ability. It is important to cure them first by laying them on screens in the sun for a week or so to dry. You can also braid them and hang them to dry. Keep them cool in storage. Onions can take temperatures down to 35 degrees F, but the humidity needs to be low. Good storing types include “Copra,” “Prince,” “Ruby Ring” and “Patterson.”

Cure garlic in the same manner. I generally store my garlic in a paper bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator, as I do not grow that much and it gets used up pretty quickly.

Have more leeks than you can use? Dig them just before the ground freezes. Trim the roots and the tops and place on their sides in a box of damp sand. They will also keep in the vegetable crisper for a month or so.

Beets, carrots and rutabagas are best stored in boxes of moist sand. I tried storing my beets in sawdust a few years ago, but they shriveled and became rubbery. I am not sure is this was because the sawdust was not moist enough or because the cellar stayed warmer than usual due to the mild fall we had.

Cut the top growth off root crops when storing, otherwise they will lose moisture through their leaves. Lightly brush off any soil and arrange so they are not touching. “Lutz Green Leaf” is my favorite storage beet but other recommended varieties are “Red Ace” and “Cylindra.”

Parsnips can be left in the garden. Cover with a heavy layer of a non-matting mulch such as hay or oak leaves. If you want to harvest throughout the winter, place a tarp over the mulch to keep it from getting wet and freezing.

Russet potato varieties like “Butte” and “Yukon Gold” are supposed to be especially long-lived in storage, but I have found that most potatoes store fairly well. It is important to store them in the dark, as light causes poisonous alkaloids to form, showing up as that green tinge on and under the skin. Potatoes keep longest in a cool, dark, humid environment. Store only damage-free tubers and do not wash before putting away, but just wipe the soil off and let the potatoes air dry if the soil was moist.

Late-season cabbage should be harvested when heads are young and firm. Wrap individually in newspaper and store in as cold of a spot as possible above freezing. As you may gather from its name, “Storage No. 4” is a choice keeping variety.

Check your produce from time to time and discard any rotting specimens. You may have to experiment to find the perfect place to keep your vegetables, but with every bite, you will be glad you did.

For more information on small fruit or on any home or garden question, contact the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, toll-free, at 877-486-6271, visit or contact your local Cooperative Extension office.

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