Storing Vegetables for Winter ~ Part 1

Now is the time for smallholders to start laying down vegetable supplies for winter. Certain vegetables lend themselves to being kept, sometimes for months. What we need to do is to find 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 and onions, need dry conditions to support prolonged dormancy.
Gauteng houses, sadly, are not often built with a cellar or basement. So we need to look for alternative storage facilities. If your garage is cool, you could install shelves – although exhaust fumes are not idea – or if you have a shed that is built of materials that do not heat up in our glorious winter sunshine, you can lay down your harvest there.
Most storage crops need to be cured to enhance their storage potential. Curing is the process of drying the vegetable to help increase storage life by minimizing microbial and fungal infection and water loss. 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 mielies let go of excess moisture that could otherwise cause them to rot. Harvesting, curing and storage requirements vary with each crop.
Onions should be pulled when at least half of the tops are dead or have fallen over. Avoid harvesting in wet weather. Allow them to dry in the sun for 24 hours, and then tie them in batches of about ten with lengths of string. Store in boxes or mesh bags in a cool place with moderate humidity.
Garlic can be harvested when 30%-50% of the leaves have died back. Drying your garlic before storing allows the flavour to develop and become more concentrated. Brush off the garlic bulbs and allow it to dry in a dark, but moisture-free, place for about a week. Many people make the mistake of storing garlic in the refrigerator, but garlic actually does best at a cool room temperature of around 16 degrees C. Storing your garlic bulbs in a well-ventilated spot allows the garlic to “breathe” and will extend its shelf-life.
Part 2 of this topic will appear next week.