Food Storage: 20 Crops That Keep and How to Store Them

Garden writer Barbara Pleasant provides detailed instructions for food storage, including curing and storing onions, potatoes, leeks, cabbage, apples, squash and other produce that will last all winter.


| August/September 2012



Storage Crops In Bedroom

Winter squash keep well in a cool bedroom.


PHOTO: KEITH WARD

Here in southwest Virginia, my partner and I take pride in growing and storing most of our fruits and vegetables. Knowing where our food comes from gives us confidence in its goodness, plus we save about $5,000 a year through our gardening and food storage efforts. There is another benefit, which is the utter convenience of having a self-provisioned home. In early winter when our stores are full, I feel like I’m living in a well-stocked organic grocery store.

We bring many years of experience to this quest, and we’re still learning. Measured by weight, stored garden crops make up more than half of our overall harvest, with every onion and potato just about as fresh as it was the day it came from the garden. Our mix of storage vegetables and fruits varies from year to year and we’ve learned that putting by storage crops is something anyone can do — even if your produce comes from the farmers market. By making use of cold storage spots in your basement or garage, and perhaps adding a seasonal second refrigerator, you can use our charts to easily store 20 storage crops for winter eating using simple, time-tested methods.

Sleeping Quarters for Storage Crops

Success with storage crops hinges on finding methods that convince the crops that they are enjoying a natural period of dormancy in unusually comfortable conditions. This typically involves slowing physiology by controlling respiration (usually by lowering temperature) and/or providing moisture so crisp root vegetables sense they are still in the ground. Some staple storage crops, such as garlic, onions and shallots, need dry conditions to support prolonged dormancy.

Most storage crops need to be cured to enhance their storage potential. During the curing process, potatoes and sweet potatoes heal over small wounds to the skin, garlic and onions form a dry seal over the openings at their necks, and dry beans and grain corn let go of excess moisture that could otherwise cause them to rot. Harvesting, curing and storage requirements vary with each crop — see the charts in How to Harvest, Cure and Store 20 Storage Crops for full details. In my experience, harvesting and curing vegetables properly leads to much more flexibility when it comes to long-term storage conditions.

Storing Potatoes

Seeking out good food storage spots in your home or on your property can lead to interesting discoveries. Take storing potatoes, for example. When we asked the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Facebook community to share favorite ways for storing potatoes in winter, we received dozens of great ideas, including these:

Place cured potatoes in a burlap bag, tuck the bag into a plastic storage bin left open a wee bit, and keep in an unheated basement.

okpkpkp
9/29/2017 6:36:47 PM

Too hot in Sacramento for winter storage, other than mechanical means, though I haven't tried. The last frost is usually February and first frost date in mid-December, if it 'frosts' at all, lol.


mbluvjc_mom3
12/12/2016 11:54:24 PM

How does one who lives in Central Texas in a mobile home, store winter vegetables?


belinda
10/17/2014 7:56:50 AM

Last season I dug sand, dried it in the oven, removed all the debris and put potatoes in the sand to store in my crawl space to preserve potatoes over the winter. A couple of weeks later, I went down to get some potatoes...only to be met by an "alien landscape!" The potatoes had sprouted and it looked like a jungle in my crawlspace! I had put the potatoes in the sun to "harden them" before storing. Not sure if it was too warm in the crawlspace, or if I didn't dry the sand enough.


susanl
3/1/2014 7:28:02 AM

I had a fantastic crop of Butternut squash last year, and, as shown in the pictures, stored them in plastic bins under the bed in the spare room. However, I made one big mistake, and thought I would share it with others. I laid the squash in the bins, put the lid on, and stored them in fall. Apparently, it was humid that day, and when the house cooled and the air dried in the winter, the water vapor condensed inside the bins and the squash were soaking wet, and sitting in a half inch of water! Luckily, I only lost a few. Lesson learned: Cover the bins with a loose piece of paper or cardboard, and NOT a tight-fitting plastic lid.


4yahshua.
7/31/2012 5:23:56 AM

Thank you for this great advice! Living here in Southern CA we grow lemons, limes, and oranges that really don't keep. However, we DO believe in having a great supply of canned salmon (always wild) and canned beans (low sodium). In an emergency, hubby and I will be able to open one can of each fora quick meal without heating! YUM!!






mother earth news fair

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

Feb. 17-18, 2018
Belton, Texas

More than 150 workshops, great deals from more than 200 exhibitors, off-stage demos, hands-on workshops, and great food!

LEARN MORE