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Harvesting & Storing Garden Produce

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Are you a gardener with excess produce and would like to keep some for this winter. So, what can be done to preserve these vegetables and fruits for a longer period of time?

It really begins at the harvesting of the fruits and vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are easily bruised if not handled carefully. When harvesting, treat produce as if it were fine china. Tossing fruits and vegetables into baskets or boxes may not leave visible bruises and damage, but decay will begin under the skin. Seemingly sturdy vegetables such as sweet potatoes are actually quite delicate and will not store well if bruised.

Not all produce should be washed upon harvest. Berries, for example, are very delicate and fragile. Rinse them in cold water just before consuming, as prior washing will cause them to break down and turn mushy. Potatoes store better if they have a fine layer of soil left on the skin to reduce moisture loss and prevent the infestation of water-borne bacteria or fungi.

Some produce, however, is washed and dried before storing. Vegetables that will benefit from rinsing with water include winter squash, pumpkins, along with green and red tomatoes.

Several vegetables benefit from post-harvest curing. Curing heals injuries from harvesting operations. It thickens the skin, reducing moisture loss and afford better protection against insect and microbial invasion. Curing is usually accomplished at an elevated storage temperature and high humidity.

Root crops such as beets, carrots, rutabagas, parsnips and turnips can be left in the garden into late fall and early winter. A heavy mulch of straw will help prevent the ground from freezing deep so the roots can be dug when needed. Many people prefer the taste of these root crops after they have been frosted because their flavors become sweeter and milder. When temperatures drop low enough to freeze the ground under the mulch, finish harvesting the roots.

Store onions in shallow boxes, mesh bags or hang them in old nylons in a cold, dry well-ventilated room. The tops may be left untrimmed and braided together. Temperatures close to 32 degrees F. will give the longest storage. Products prone to absorb odors or flavors should not be stored close to onions.

(This resource was added September 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
in Lancaster County
Web site:
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A,
Lincoln, NE 68528
| 402-441-7180