Storing Vegetables

Sweet Potatoes

I want to do what I can to help us all get through this. Since we all may have limited access to fresh fruits and veggies it is more important than ever to not waste what we have. Storing veggies properly can help to have them around longer.

Some veggies last longer than others in storage. Five of the best for long term storage are potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, winter squash and cabbage. When kept properly, you can hold them for weeks, and in some cases months. The thing is, they have different needs.

There was a reason that people had root cellars. They helped people living in cold climates get through winter. Since most of us don’t have root cellars anymore, we have to do the best with what storage we have in our homes.

Potatoes

Potatoes need a combination of a cool and moist environment. They keep best around 40-50 degrees which can best be achieved in a cellar. I know plenty of people who keep them in the fridge. Refrigerators are a little too cool for potatoes. They’ll look fine, but tend to get dark when you cook them. Edible, but not pretty. It’s because when potatoes are stored too cool they get sweeter- the increased sugar causes darkening- sugar burns. If you have your spuds in the fridge all hope is not lost. Take them out and keep them at  normal room temps for a week and they should be fine.

Because potatoes give off ethylene gas they will cause other fruits and veggies to ripen too quickly so store them by themselves.  You can keep them in a bin, but make sure there is some ventilation. Excess moisture will also cause them to rot or sprout. A box with a few vent holes on the top is perfect. You can also keep them in paper bags. Avoid keeping them in plastic bags with no ventilation- that will also cause them to rot.  For short-term storage it does not matter that much- but for longer- term follow the guidelines discussed here. An outside basement wall will be cooler than the rest of the basement. It could be an option.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes actually do well and room temperatures. Don’t store them in the fridge. If you store a box of them together try to put some newspapers or straw between layers, to provide air circulation. One year, when I grew a lot of sweet potatoes, I stored them in crates by my furnace. This gave them the warmest spot in the basement. Had sweet potatoes until Spring that year.

Onions

Onions like cool and dry surroundings to hold up best. Unlike potatoes which like cool, moist conditions, onions will start to get moldy or sprout if the air in too wet. Ideal temperatures are around 40-50 degrees. Most basements have areas that are close to cool enough during cold weather. You can just hang the onions in the mesh bags they often come in however, if there is one bad onion in the bag the whole bunch may follow.  You can use old pantyhose to keep them apart and last even longer. Just take the leg of old pantyhose and drop in an onion. Tie a knot in the hose and add another onion. Continue until you run out of onions- or hose. Hang up somewhere cool and dry. When you need an onion just snip the pantyhose and remove. Onions stored this way can easily be stored for several months.

Winter Squash

Winter squash do well in cool, but not cold conditions. Store in the basement, or an unheated room. Check at least once a week for signs of spoilage. They should keep for months. I still have butternut squash in an unheated bedroom. Will be using them soon, but they have held up well since last fall.

Cabbage

Cabbage will do fine in cool- 40-50 degrees- for a pretty long time. You can also store them in the fridge. At room temps, they will still keep for a while, but will not last as long as if they are kept cooler. Cabbages stored cool can be kept for months with little change.

Storing Other Veggies

So how do we keep other veggies longer? It can be tricky. Some veggies, like tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers keep best in cool temps, about 50 degrees. That is tricky to do in most homes. I store my tomatoes at room temperature usually, except in hot summer weather, when my kitchen is too warm. I store peppers and cukes in my fridge. Not, ideal, but better than room temp. Broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, eggplant all go in the fridge for long term storage at home.

Lettuce and Leafy Greens

Leafy greens all go in the fridge. The cool temps are ideal for them. The villain in the fridge is high humidity. Lettuce and other greens have often been sprayed with water in the produce department. You come home from the store and toss the plastic produce bag of lettuce in the fridge. The excess water in the bag is going to cause those greens to get moldy pretty quickly. Get the lettuce or other greens out of the plastic bag and shake off excess water. You can place a paper towel in a fresh bag and return them to the fridge. Ideally, store lettuce and other leafy greens in fabric bags! Think of a kitchen towel- a non-terry towel. Linen towels work great. Two of those towels, sewn together on three sides- open at one short side, make a great bag for storing greens. You can just use some twine to tie it shut. You will be surprised at how much longer they keep fresh that way.

Root Vegetables

Other root veggies, like beets, turnips and rutabagas can be stored in a cool room ( 40-50 degrees), but if you have to choose between 60 degrees and the fridge- store in the fridge.

Final Thoughts

Most other veggies are best stored in the fridge for long term. We just don’t have root cellars around anymore. If you have to choose between too warm or too cold- choose too cold. Also, once you have cut or sliced a veggie, the leftovers go in the fridge. Same for cooked veggies. Once they have been cooked, then they need to be kept in the fridge- or frozen.