Storing your harvest is a great way to deal with gluts (a surplus of one vegetable) and months when little is growing. There are many ways to store your vegetables; these include drying, freezing and preserving.
Storing your crop
Some fruits and vegetables store well for months if they are kept in the right conditions. The key to success is choosing unblemished specimens and checking them regularly, removing any diseased items. For example one rotten apple can ruin the whole batch. Storing the crop in a dry, well-ventilated place will prevent it from rotting. You can buy storage boxes but a wooden crate or shallow cardboard box will work just as well. Some boxes and crates will be designed so you can stack them but if you do this make sure that air can circulate between the levels.
Apples and pears are well suited to storing. Wrap each fruit in newspaper and place in a single layer in the bottom of your container.
Root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and beetroot also store well. Cut the leafy tops off beetroot and carrots and place them in a single layer without wrapping them. Both benefit from being covered by a layer of sand to prevent them becoming rubbery. Potatoes can be stored in hessian or paper sacks. Harvest them on a dry day and leave out in the sun to dry. Remove any mud from the potatoes to prevent mould forming. Store them in a dark place to avoid poisonous green patches forming on the skins. Parsnips are best left in the ground over winter and harvested when needed.
Onions, garlic and shallots are best dried thouroughly then plaited before storing in a dry place. You can also cut the tops off and hang the bulbs in an old pair of tights or netting.
Plants in the squash family such as pumpkins and zucchini can last for up to three months, depending on the variety. Pumpkins and marrows don’t keep after midwinter, but other squashes (such as butternut and spaghetti) may keep until early spring. Ensure they are in good condition and store them in a cool, dry place such as a cupboard. Zucchini don’t store well, and should be kept in the fridge for a maximum of three weeks.
Leafy crops such as lettuce and spinach do not store well and should be eaten within a few days of harvesting. Sow regularly right into early autumn so that you still have leaves to harvest in the colder months.
Legumes such as peas and beans can be dried for use in stews or blanched and frozen.
Freezing your harvest
Freezing is a quick and easy way to preserve your harvest. Freeze in usable quantities so that the produce can be easily defrosted. Choose only firm, just-ripe fruit and vegetables and freeze them as soon as you can after harvesting. Pack them into an airtight freezer bag or plastic container to ensure they keep well and don’t suffer from ‘freezer burn’ (inedible dry, brown patches caused by lack of moisture). Some fruit and vegetables will need blanching before freezing. This prevents the water in the fruit and vegetables crystallising and rupturing their cell walls, resulting in a soggy, soft consistency when defrosted. Simply plunge the fruit or vegetable into a large pan of boiling water for about one third to one half of the normal cooking time, and then transfer to ice cold water, before patting dry and freezing.
The following freeze particularly well:
- Blanched apples
- Blanched beans (including runner and French)
Drying, pickling and bottling your harvest
Crops that dry well include tomatoes, capsicum and apples. Drying can dramatically alter the flavour and texture of your crop and can make interesting additions to dishes. Simply wash and thinly slice your fruit or vegetable and arrange the pieces in a single layer on a baking tray. Traditionally this would be left outside over long sunny days to dry out. An easier method is to set your oven to its lowest temperature setting (130C/250F) and leave the trays in for several hours until the pieces have shrunk in size and are almost crispy. Once dry, store the pieces in a sterile, airtight container and consume within a few weeks.
Beetroot and shallots are delicious when pickled and will keep for several months. Wash and prepare beetroot (don’t remove the tops too close to the root, this can cause the colour to leach out). Boil in water for 30 minutes or until the skins and tops rub off easily. Slice them and place in a sterile jar and cover in pickling vinegar. (Jars can be sterilised by washing them well and then placing them in a cool oven at 150C/250F/Gas mark 1-2 for 20 minutes) For shallots, peel and trim the tops and bottoms. Place them in a shallow dish and cover with salt to draw out excess moisture. Leave them overnight then rinse thoroughly and place in a sterile jar and cover with pickling vinegar.
You could also make chutney using any excess from your garden or allotment, including courgettes, plums and tomatoes. Jams are delicious spread on toast and will keep for up to one year.