How to store the harvest

Garden Life
Share article

Tips from Sarah the Gardener

Gardening requires months of planning and dreaming of the perfect garden, and even more months of digging and weeding to prepare the ground in order to provide the best possible environment for the horticultural dreams to come true. More time is spent gently and patiently tending and nurturing tiny seedlings until they are big enough to be planted into the well-prepared garden that is ready and waiting for them. And more recently there is the watering, weeding, feeding and watching as the plants grow to fill their place in the garden and waiting for the formative signs of the harvest to come.

This is the main concept of gardening. All of the work that largely takes place outside. But when growing food in a vegetable garden, this stage is only part of the story. Food that emerges from the greenery will eventually continue the journey into the kitchen and onto the table to be gratefully eaten as a reward for all of that hard work and months of effort to get to this point.

Some harvests don’t make it out of the garden and are consumed right there in the garden, still warm from the sun and as fresh as they can get. Sometimes in secret because those first fruits are too good to share! Others need to be processed or stored in a way that would ensure the summer sun can be released at mealtimes throughout the bleak winter.

Making the most of the harvest, so it doesn’t go to waste can involve a variety of techniques depending on the crop.

The Fridge

Keeping the vegetables in the fridge may seem like the best place for the recently harvested; however this doesn’t suit all crops. Tomatoes, potatoes and onions stored in the fridge can have their flavours altered and they can go a bit soft. So, they are better kept at room temperature – although spuds can go green and toxic in the light so keep these in the dark. In the warmth of summer, the tomatoes can spoil quickly so other storage methods need to be used to keep these goodies for long term use.

Some fruit – like apples, give off ethylene gas that can aid ripening and in some circumstances, is desirable, but you really don’t want to store them side by side in a storage situation when you are trying to store things for the long term. So, try to avoid placing them beside other more vulnerable crops in and out of the fridge.

The other thing to consider in the fridge is humidity. Some veggies like salad crops, broccoli and the thinner veggies love humid conditions and will last longer. The chunkier vegetables like zucchini and carrots prefer it on the dry side. So, it matters where in the fridge they are stored. Many modern fridges have compartments where you can control the humidity so there is less waste and less mess!

The Freezer

While the fridge is great for short term storage, the freezer is a good friend for keeping the harvest long term. If properly prepared vegetables can last up to 12 months. For the best quality, harvest the crops in peak perfection and get them into the freezer as quickly as you can.

There is some debate as to the benefits of blanching or not. This is where the prepared vegetables are plunged momentarily into boiling water, then into ice water and then dried before being frozen. This slows the ripening enzymes and preserves the colour and texture. However, it is perfect for some vegetables but can make others soggy. Cooking from frozen is the best practice for use of frozen vegetables as they will be mushy when defrosted and won’t resemble their fresh versions of themselves. At the end of the day, the choice to blanch or not is what works best for you and is a personal choice.

A key point with freezing is to remove as much air from freezer safe bags and containers as possible before freezing to reduce the risk of freezer burn and maintain the quality of the produce.

Dehydration

This is one of the oldest preserving methods that works by reducing the moisture content of the vegetable to the point that the food-spoiling organisms can’t survive. However, unless you are in the desert, it is probably better to rely on a low oven or a dehydrator. It doesn’t suit all vegetables, but can do a great job of making shelf-stable products when stored in airtight containers, that take up less space and don’t require future energy to store them.

In the Shed

Some crops have the benefit of being robust enough to withstand being stored without special treatment in a garden shed. The key points for this is to make sure the crops are harvested at the right time, so they are in peak condition, and the shed is cool, dry, with great airflow and is safe from rodents. Pumpkins, potatoes and onions are perfect for this form of storage. However, the pumpkin does benefit from a bit of a wash first. For onions, potatoes and garlic it is better to just brush off the dirt.

Don’t store these crops in plastic as they are liable to sweat and rot. Store potatoes in the dark, make sure pumpkins aren’t touching and check them all often. If one rots it could ruin the whole lot.

Into Jars

There are so many wonderful ways to preserve the harvest in jars with many exciting recipes for canning, bottling, jams, pickles and chutneys. However, there is also a greater risk of food poisoning from this process. It requires a strong attention to detail when following the recipes or instructions and it needs to be done in a scrupulously clean environment. It is worth making the effort though as the outcome is delicious produce in a shelf-stable easy-to-store form.

So, when faced with an abundant harvest, you can have your fill of amazingly fresh moments and gift some excess to friends and neighbours. But what is left needn’t be wasted, but savoured and preserved to make the joy of a summer harvest last well into the winter months.