Wally Peck/Master Gardener: Harvest and storing time arrives
BEMIDJI -- It's time to think about gathering your garden's bounty and keeping it as long as possible to enjoy when the garden is covered with snow.
Different vegetables require different harvest times; storage methods also differ for the best results. Summer squash, peppers and cucumbers do not store well, you can only expect a week or more if stored in a perforated bag, not in the refrigerator.
Allow onions to stay in the garden until the necks are tight and the scales (paper covering) are dry. Usually they are fine left in the garden into the fall but not if a frost is threatened. Avoid bruising them when picking. Lay them in the sun to dry down; then cure in a warm, dry place for two weeks before storing. Onions need to be stored cold and dry, 32-40 degrees with low humidity. Some varieties do not store well and need to be turned into onion soup!
Squash and pumpkins need to have a hard shell before harvesting but will not tolerate a hard frost. They should be cured in a warm, dry place for about 10 days before storing. Washing them with a weak bleach solution or an alcohol solution helps prevent molds and rot. They need to be stored in a cool, dry location, 50-60 degrees. Many basements fit this description. A variety we grow lasts until April this way.
Tomatoes are late this year but will continue to ripen after picking. If you have a place to lay them out on newspapers, they will ripen at room temperature. Do not store them in the refrigerator; they lose color and firmness below 40 degrees. Washing with a weak bleach or alcohol solution and rinsing after picking will reduce the number that rot.
Some vegetables require cold and moist conditions for storage, 32-40 degrees with 95 percent humidity. Root cellars or a specially designed storage room are the only ways to achieve this with modern building methods. Beets, cabbage, kohlrabi, carrots, cauliflower, muskmelon, parsnips, rutabagas, turnips, and especially potatoes require this means of storage if not processed. Light should be excluded from potatoes. A feature you may want to consider is an underground root cellar. Houses built in the 1950s with a fallout shelter are a real find.
If you grow your own sweet potatoes, harvest them before the soil temperature drops below 55 degrees. Dig them very carefully and treat them as tenderly as eggs. Be very careful to avoid bruising the flesh. Tubers need to be cured at 85-90 degrees for five days after harvesting. We do it in the shaded greenhouse. Store your sweet potatoes at 60 degrees or warmer; they are very susceptible to chilling injury below 50 degrees. Never store in plastic; the tubers need to breathe. The best flavor develops after curing and at least two months of storage.
Vegetables are not inert and continue to breathe after harvesting, Placing them in a closed container is not desirable, they need ventilation to prevent rot. Some vegetables allow other alternatives for storage such as carrots and parsnips. Generally we do not harvest all of our carrots until very late. With parsnips, simply leave the ones you do not eat in the ground until the next spring. They actually improve in flavor this way. Rutabagas, turnips and parsnips can be waxed with paraffin to extend storage time as well.
To find reliable information about gardening and other horticultural topics, go to the University of Minnesota Extension website at www.extension.umn.edu/gardeninfo/> Local master gardeners will also answer your gardening questions via a voice-mail service. Call 444-7916, leaving your phone number, name and the nature of your question. A volunteer master gardener will give you a call.