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Guide to Growing and Storing Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

Learn to extend the fresh fruit and vegetable growing season, including a planting to harvest chart.

| August/September 1993

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    You can extend the fresh fruit and vegetable season by choosing to plant varieties with an extended harvest, then storing the produce properly.
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    A guide to planting, growing and storing fruits and vegetables.

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Those of us who enjoy eating fruit and vegetables straight from our orchards and gardens dread winter when there's no fresh produce to pick. Sure, we can dry, pickle, can, and freeze summer's bounty, but it's nice to have something fresh once in a while. And sure, we can buy "fresh" produce at the grocery store, but it just doesn't taste the same. Happily, there's another alternative. By judiciously selecting the varieties we grow, and by learning to handle and store them to maximize their shelf life, we can enjoy fresh produce from our gardens well into winter and maybe into spring.

Selecting and Growing Fruits and Vegetables

Selecting the right fruits and vegetables doesn't just involve growing foods that traditionally store well (such as apples and potatoes), but growing cultivars that ripen late and have especially long shelf lives (such as Winesap apples and Kennebec potatoes). Some nursery catalogs offer storage information in their seed and plant descriptions. The accompanying chart lists varieties that are well known for their good storing qualities.

Due to variations in climate and soil, cultivars perform differently in different areas. McIntosh apples, for example, generally don't store as well as the varieties listed in the chart, but those grown in New England store better than McIntosh grown elsewhere. If you're fond of a particular variety, try storing a sample to see how it holds up. Planting times and growing conditions will also affect storage quality. Most vegetables that store well grow best in cool weather. Unless you're growing something that needs a long season (like melon squash), start seeds as late as possible. Plants that mature during cool autumn weather produce fruit with tougher skins and better keeping qualities. Go easy on the fertilizer—for winter storage you want fruit that's firm and solid, not mushy.

Picking and Curing  

With the exception of tomatoes and pears, storage produce should be fully mature and prime for serving. No fruits or vegetables should have insect damage or cuts and bruises caused by rough handling during harvest. Some things (including pears and squash), are easily damaged by frost and should be harvested at the slightest hint of freezing weather. Others (like Brussels sprouts and parsnips), improve after exposure to a light frost, because freezing converts their starches into sugars. Potatoes and squash keep longer if they're cured to toughen their skins. No produce should be washed—this encourages decay. Instead, harvest root crops when the soil is dry and gently brush off excessive dirt, taking great care not to break through skins.

Storing  Vegetables and Fruits

Some vegetables can be left in the ground until the soil freezes hard. Some can be left in the ground all winter and harvested after the spring thaw. Some must be brought in and stored in a cool, dry place, others must be stored in a cool, humid place. Your produce will last longer if you combine foods with similar preferences in temperature and humidity, as indicated in the chart. An inexpensive thermometer/hygrometer will help you find or create the ideal storage spot.

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