Storage Tips for Winter Produce

From Jenny Wooster, Picadilly Farm

Here are some tips for harvesting and storing produce for the winter, in a typical home without a root cellar.  Things to think about include: variety choice; harvest and post-harvest handling; storage temperature, humidity, and ventilation.

To find good places to store food in your house, pick up a max-min thermometer, and place it in different spots, to get an idea of average temperatures in each potential storage spot. It is important is to have realistic expectations about how long and how well you veggies will store, and to expect to lose some to spoilage – especially as you figure out what will store best where in your house.

Most Root Crops (carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, celeriac, parsnips, and storage radishes)
Best Varieties: Bolero carrots, Necoras carrots, Winterkeeper/Lutz beets, Detroit Dark Red beets, Misato Rose radishes.

Harvest: All can be left in the ground up until just before hard frost, usually mid-November. Carrots will start to have splits in the shoulders if there are lots of freezes and thaws before harvest. Harvest on a warm day, when the roots aren’t frozen. Parsnips will overwinter in the ground for early spring harvest. Mulched carrots may survive over winter as well (though they will more likely rot).

Storage: Store roots unwashed, at as cold a temperature as possible without freezing. A plastic bag in the fridge is great for very long storage. Or store in crates or in burlap sacks in a very cold spot in the basement – though if it is too dry, the roots will wilt. One very effective home storage method is to find a cold spot in the house, gather a few 5 gallon buckets, dump the unwashed roots in, and cover with sand. Every once in a while, check the roots – if they begin to get wilty, sprinkle a bit of water onto the sand. The sand seems to allow for a more forgiving range of temperature fluctuations. They’ll last until early spring, even if the temperature fluctuates a bit. Stored roots will likely start to sprout in early spring, when temperatures warm up consistently – so, don’t plan to have these roots until May, but perhaps until March or April. Or plan to stock whatever is left in your fridge for an additional month or two in early spring.

Potatoes

Best Varieties: Many are good for long storage, check your seed catalogs or ask the farmer you are buying from.

Harvest: Dig by around mid-October – don’t let them sit too long in really wet soils.

Storage: Potatoes are best stored just a little bit warmer than the root crops, around 37-40 degrees, and dark. Colder is better than warmer, though don’t let them freeze. Try attic stairs or an inside wall of your garage. Store in a crate or box (not in plastic, as condensation will lead to fast rotting). Sort them every once in a while to get rid of rotten ones.

Sweet Potatoes

Best Varieties: Beauregard and Covington are reliable, orange-fleshed sweeties in our climate.

Harvest: Harvest sweet potatoes at the end of September, early October, before too many frosts. Harvest carefully, so as not to damage them.

Storage: Sweet potatoes prefer more humidity than the normal house has, so a damp cellar may be just the place if it’s also well ventilated. They want to be stored at 50-55 degrees, no colder, with at least one air change per day. Use the smaller ones first, as the larger ones will be slower to wilt over time. We’ve found that we can only store sweet potatoes in our house until January or so before they lose their sweetness and spoil.

Winter Squash

Best Varieties: Use up delicatas and buttercup varieties first in the early winter. Butternuts store well into January. Hubbard-type squashes store longest. Nantucket Pie (also called Long Pie) is a nice long-storage, edible pumpkin.

Harvest: Bring in squash when the vines die back, in September. Don’t let the ripe fruits sit in the full sun in the garden, and take care not to nick the skins when you are picking. Keep unblemished fruits for storage. Squash will keep best if it is cured right after harvest, for several weeks at 70-80 degrees – we do this in our greenhouses with shade cloths on top of the plastic, but curing on a sun porch could also do the trick.  Keep the squash warmer than 50 degrees at night to avoid a cumulative chilling injury that would affect storage and flavor.

Storage: Store at about 50-55 degrees – a very cool cupboard in the kitchen, a not-too damp cellar, attic stairs, or a warm-ish mudroom might suffice. Well-cured squash will store into January – longer, depending on variety.  If possible, store squashes not touching each other – rot can easily spread. Check often, and use any that develop soft spots.

Onions

Varieties: Prince, Copra and Gunnison yellows; Mars and Redwing reds.

Harvest: Bring in from the garden when the tops fall over, usually  in August. Cure in a hot, dry place until the stems are totally dried down (not too sunny – a warm barn or garage loft? We do it in our greenhouse with the shade cloth on).

Storage: Onions can be stored with the squash and sweet potatoes, but prefer it even colder. If it is too warm, or too light, they’ll begin to sprout. Store in a box or crate, not a plastic bag. Sort them every once in a while to get rid of rotten ones. Expect onions to begin sprouting and softening by March or April.

Popcorn

Best Variety: Robust.

Harvest: Let the cobs dry on the stalk as long as possible, as long as they aren’t getting moldy – we know folks who leave them out into the winter, though we usually harvest in October and finish drying the cobs down in the greenhouse or barn.

Storage: Popcorn can be stored on the cob in a dry place – hang bunches in the house until you are ready to use them (though they can get too dry, especially around the woodstove; or they can mold if the house is too humid. Make sure critters can’t get to the kernels). Try popping a few kernels every once in a while – when they pop well, the popcorn is ready. Push the kernels off the cob and store in an airtight jar. If they are too moist going into the jar, they will mold – keep an eye out.

Spiced Parsnip Soup

Submitted by Jenny Wooster, Picadilly Farm

1 1/2 lb parsnips, peeled and cubed
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cardamom seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground ginger
2 pints vegetable stock

Dry roast the seeds and grind together. Sauté the onion and garlic. Add the spices and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the parsnips and stock and simmer gently until tender. Puree and serve.

Farm of the Month: Picadilly Farm

By Jan Sevene

Picadilly Farm
264 South Parish Rd
Winchester, NH 03470
csa@picadillyfarm.com

Three years ago, the 71-acre former Hudson dairy farm in Winchester became Picadilly Farm. New owners Jenny and Bruce Wooster — with 10 years CSA organic community experience and with reverence to a healthy environment — set a course to practice sustainable farming methods and fair working conditions for their farm crew.  Since then, they have created their own CSA program and obtained USDA Organic Certification.

“Here,” Jenny Wooster says, emphasizing less waste and happier shareholders, “CSA customers can choose what they’d like to have in their box.” Picadilly Farms’ CSA program consists of weekly pick-ups in a “Mix and Match” system, where shareholders chose 8 or 9 items from the available harvested produce (amount determined by weather), plus access to an additional dozen or so crops — such as herbs, green beans, tomatoes, flowers, and just this year, pop corn — growing in the farm’s Pick-Your-Own Garden.

Pick-up time provides instant feedback. Continually connecting with customers, Jenny says, “We’re constantly tweaking our crop plants…we have a pretty good handle, generally, on what people want. New this year is sweet corn. Root crops are popular.”

Among the many are: carrots, beets, parsnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, daikon radishes, rutabagas, turnips, garlic, and kohlrabi. “Leeks store particularly well on a home scale,” she adds.
“They’re good chopped and frozen, or with roots stuck into a pail of sand — under the right conditions — leeks can last into January.” Winter squash is also available.

This fall Picadilly Farm is offering extended-season CSA shares of their organic produce, available at the farm or pre-boxed and delivered to Keene: four deliveries every other week, November and December.

Call or email for details, or visit http://www.picadillyfarm.com (after Sept. 15 for sign-up information) for more on what Picadilly Farm has to offer.  Eat healthy and eat fresh, while supporting our local farms.

Other farm-direct produce:

Green Wagon Farm
Bill Jarrell
Upper Court St.
Keene, NH
603-355-3258

Ingalls Farm
168 Ingalls Rd
Jaffrey, NH 03452
603-562-5775

Stonewall Farm
Chesterfield Rd.
Keene, NH 03431
603-352-0457