Previously, I wrote an article on storing your vegetable harvest so that it would last throughout the winter. The basic idea is that you store it in soil, the same way the vegetables are used to being stored while they’re growing.
It was five months ago that I filled plastic bins with alternating layers of damp peat moss and carrots. So, I thought now would be a good time to update you on how everything has fared after almost half a year in long-term storage. Keep in mind, of course, that these methods don’t apply only to the vegetable gardener; they can also apply to the big-box-store shopper.
Knowing how well the damp-soil method worked for storing carrots and beets, I also used it for storing rutabagas. Rutabagas are normally covered in wax when you buy them in the grocery store. This thin layer of wax keeps the moisture in the vegetable, stopping it from going soft and becoming shriveled. And after unsuccessfully trying three different storage methods for leeks, I figured I’d try the damp-soil method for them as well.
The room they’re stored in is pretty much like a garage. It isn’t insulated and it isn’t heated. It’s a mudroom. It gets to be around 0°C (32°F) throughout the winter, with the temperature rising when it’s warmer outside and lowering when it’s frigid. Since the vegetables are tucked into soil, it insulates them a bit.
Technically all of the vegetables I store in the mudroom are supposed to be kept at different temperatures for optimal storage life, but I don’t have it in me to keep various vegetables around various parts of the house.
Carrots and Beets
After more than five months in damp peat moss in the mudroom, the carrots and beets are perfect – just like the day they were pulled out of the ground. They’re hard, not at all withered and taste great because they are, in fact, still alive and growing. Plus, because the beets keep putting out greens, I have a fresh supply to sauté or add to salads all the time.
Potatoes (Regular and Sweet)
The potatoes are stored in wicker baskets or crates that allow some air to flow through. All of them are in perfect condition, with no sign of sprouts or rotting.
As I said, after other failed attempts, I decided to try storing my leeks by covering them completely in damp peat moss. I left the roots intact and cut enough of the tops off so that they’d fit in the container. The leeks are in surprisingly great condition. Like the beets, they’re still alive and growing. In fact, they’re growing so much they pushed the lid off their container. I have to strip the first couple of leaf layers because they’re kind of sad and wrinkly looking, but underneath they’re firm, good lookin’ leeks. So this was a storage success. As you may have guessed, there’s a lot of potato-leek soup in my future.
My dear, beloved squash. I use it for so many things – soup, ravioli, side dishes… It’s one of my favorites, and to the right are two of my favorite varieties: Kabocha squash on the left and Delicata on the right. You can see that the Delicata squash is just starting to show signs of deterioration. It’s still useable, but I’d better use it soon. The Kabocha squash will be good until next fall – seriously. This thick-skinned squash is a very dry, sweet variety that stores forever.
The onions just got thrown in a wicker basket and placed in the mudroom, where half of them rotted. But I kind of expected that because by the end of fall, most of the onions still hadn’t dried in the garden, even after pushing their tops over. If you pull onions before their tops have fallen over and they’ve started to dry on their own, they’re sure to rot.
Otherwise known as Swedish turnip, otherwise known as turnip, even though it isn’t a turnip. I didn’t grow a ton of these, and the ones I did grow didn’t get huge because I planted them a little bit too late. But they’ve stored great using my good-old damp peat moss method.
The moral of this story is for a lot of winter crops, storing them in damp peat moss is the way to go. And don’t worry about having ideal temperatures or conditions for everything. Just get it as close as possible and hope for the best. Generally between 2°C (35°F) and 10°C (50°F) is what you’re aiming for. Accomplish that and you’ll be home, sweet home.
Text and photos by Karen Bertelsen
Karen Bertelsen is a Gemini Award nominated television host who has appeared on some of Canada's major networks including HGTV, W Network, Slice and MuchMoreMusic. She started the blog The Art of Doing Stuff (www.theartofdoingstuff.com) as a creative outlet for her writing and endless home projects. The Art of Doing Stuff now receives over half a million views per month and has been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, Style at Home and Canadian Gardening magazines.