In summer we can enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables in abundance and keep them fresh for a couple of days thanks to the invention of the fridge but it has its limitations. We cannot cram an indefinite amount of products in it and expect it to last for weeks and months.
Actually, food that has been kept in the freezer and the refrigerator longer than three months does not preserve its flavor and it nutritional quality significantly decreases.
And what do we do when there is a power failure that lasts longer than a day or two? We have to dispose of all the food that we have stored in the refrigerator.
The whole issue becomes even more painful if we have invested funds, effort and love to grow and harvest our own crops.
In winter, one method of preserving crops is by drying, canning and pickling. The question is how we can keep our supply of fresh crops for a longer period of time.
Even though our ancestors did not have the advantage of using modern technology, they had the solution to this problem.
Vegetables can be stored in the garden
Some crops do not need to be stored at all. You only need to keep them in the ground and dig them during winter time and use them to your convenience!
This method has been used for 40 000 years, according to some records!
Jerusalem artichokes, collards, kale, Brussels sprouts, salsify and parsnips endure cold weather and can be preserved in the ground throughout the winter, except in regions where the climate is most severe.
You can even leave salsify, kale and parsnips to freeze in the ground, in which case it is necessary to protect them by covering them with 2 – 6 inches of straw. To protect the crops from rains in late fall and winter, use plastic to cover the beds.
You can store crops in a basement or in a root cellar
A root cellar is any room built underground used for storage. It can be a part of the basement or it can be independently built outside of the house. The common feature of these storage places is that they provide cool temperature, a high level of humidity and proper ventilation.
Most houses have a basement. If it is not provided with a heating system, the basement is likely to stay cool during the winter months.
How to arrange a basement or a root cellar
To improve its conditions for storing crops, you can make an insulated closet in the window area and keep the products on wooden shelves. A lot of air circulation has to be provided in this space. It needs to circulate underneath the products as well, so it is not advisable to put them away on the floor.
Fruits and vegetables create ethylene gases which cause them to rot quickly if sufficient ventilation is not provided in the storage space.
If the storage area is low in humidity, it will cause the crops to dry out. To insure that humidity level stays high, you can fill up a container of water let it gradually evaporate on the floor. The recommended temperature ranges from 32-50 degrees F and the humidity needs to be high, ranging from 85 – 95 %.
If you cannot or do not wish to build an insulated closet, it can be substituted with cardboard boxes, wooden crates, plastic totes or other containers. They just need to be properly lined with a thick insulated material from all sides. Sawdust and peat moss make good insulators.
The products should be placed in the center of the container. Peat moss makes an ideal material for insulation since it superbly regulates the humidity. If will take in excess moisture from the products and return it if they become too dry.
The best way to use peat moss as an insulation material is to cover each layer of crops with a layer of slightly moistened moss.
In case you use tight containers, you need to open the lid and cover the top layer of crops with moss. This will enable the roots to breathe and prevent them from rotting.
Root vegetables can even be placed on flat boards. The only rule is to keep them cool and dry.
Vegetables with a bulb, such as onions, can be tied into a bunch and hung up.
Products with a stronger smell, such as cabbages, can be wrapped in paper.
Which products can be stored?
A majority of root crops will remain fresh and crisp if they are kept in a deep cellar. These include: beets, carrots, leeks, onions, kohlrabi, radishes, and all kinds of potatoes.
More delicate types of crops and some fruits will also stay fresh in a cellar but they need to be handled with more care. These are: celery, Brussels sprouts, cabbages, broccoli, winter squash, cauliflower, quince, apples and melons.
Summer squash, peppers, cucumbers, green beans, peas, okra, eggplant, green tomatoes should be spread on shelves. They will gradually ripen in the cellar but need to be consumed relatively quickly, within a month.
How to prepare products for storing:
- Make sure that you only pick firm and healthy vegetables.
- Clean excess dirt from them, but do not wash them by any means.
- Handle them with care: this means no tossing as it can bruise them and lead to their quick deterioration.
- Do not pack the products tightly like sardines. Allow enough air to ventilate all around them.