Cold Season Harvest and Storage Tips – Winnipeg Free Press

Food crops that have been sown for fall harvest have good storage potential. With overnight temperatures dropping into the single digits, pay attention to the weather forecast. Some garden crops can withstand a light frost better than others, but once your seasonal foods are ready for harvest, it’s important to decide how you’ll enjoy and store your harvest for use during the summer months. ‘winter. Planning ahead helps ensure that the fruits of your labor in the garden won’t go to waste.

Getty Stewart is a professional home economist who lives and gardens in Winnipeg. Stewart grows most of her own food and has long been a champion of reducing food waste. In 2010, she created Fruit Share, a group of volunteers who collected and shared fruit. This year, Stewart was named Food Champion for the Love Food Hate Waste Canada campaign, an initiative of the National Zero Waste Council. Recently, I spoke with Stewart about his tips and ideas for harvesting, enjoying, and preserving five of his favorite fall crops: apples, beets, carrots, leeks, and squash.

Apples picked early in the season (August to early September) are commonly referred to as summer apples. “In general, early season apples are softer and don’t keep as long as apples picked from mid-September through October,” says Stewart. Some apple varieties are great for eating fresh and making pies, while others are great for storing. Goodland and Honeycrisp apples, for example, have been bred to keep well for several months.

Photos by Getty Stewart

Many varieties of apples that ripen from mid-September to October have been bred to keep well.

Not all apples ripen at the same time. Apples inside a tree ripen more slowly than apples on the outside branches. The difference can be up to two weeks. Ripening color is a way to tell if apples are ripe. “One of the best ways to tell if an apple is ripe is to cut it open and look at the core or the pips,” says Stewart. “The seeds should be dark brown. If they are still white, the apple is not ripe.

Ease of separation is important, says Stewart who recommends the eyes-up technique. “Place your hand on the end of the apple opposite the stem and turn it up so that the bottom of the apple is facing the sky. If the stem separates easily from the tree, it is ripe and ready to be picked. There should be no tugging involved.

Whether you’re harvesting apples from a tree or buying fresh apples at a farmer’s market, Stewart doesn’t recommend keeping apples on your kitchen counter for longer than a week. “Storing apples in a perforated bag in the crisper drawer of your fridge will keep them fresher and crispier for longer.”

Cool-season root crops such as beets and carrots keep well for three to four weeks in the refrigerator. “After digging them up with your garden fork, brush off most of the dirt, but don’t add water. Store them in an unsealed perforated bag and control humidity, making sure there is no condensation buildup. One way to control moisture buildup, Stewart says, is to add a cloth or paper towel to the stuff sack to absorb the moisture. “If you find the reverse is happening and your root crops are drying out, you can always add a little moisture by dampening the cloth.”

If you harvest an abundance of carrots and want to store them until January or February, a cold storage space such as a root cellar would be ideal. Root cellars are no longer the norm, but carrots keep well in a cold basement room. “It can be a bit difficult to store harvested carrots for several months, but if you have a cool space, remove the greens, don’t wash the carrots, and bury them in a barrel or cardboard box of sand or clean, damp sawdust,” says Stewart. The layer of sand or sawdust helps prevent moisture loss and regulates temperature. There should be no trace of soil in the sand.

Remove the leaves from harvested carrots to prevent them from becoming limp or drying out.

Unless you’re cooking or roasting carrots right after they’re harvested, it’s important to remove the vegetables because they will suck the moisture out of the carrots, causing them to dry out faster. “You may need to cut off the top of the carrot itself to make sure the vegetables don’t grow back.” This is true for other root vegetables like parsnips, beets, rutabagas and radishes. “Greens over root vegetables will always try to keep growing and drawing moisture from the root,” she says.

Beets can also be stored in a cool basement, but Stewart’s preference is to boil and freeze or pickle the beets if she has an abundance. “I keep a tail of the root and leave about half an inch of stem on the beets so they don’t ‘bleed’ as much when boiled,” she says. “Ideally the beets are small enough that I don’t have to cut the beets so the beets will retain their color inside when boiling.”

Leek is a cool season crop that is unaffected by light frost. “After harvest, brush the soil and cut off the long root tips, but don’t cut off the white stem itself,” says Stewart. The dark green leaves of this large vegetable can be quite long. Stewart leaves two to three inches of greenery above the white stem and cuts the rest. She doesn’t wash the leeks until she’s ready to use them. “Leeks keep well in the fridge, but it’s important to control the humidity. Too much moisture and the leeks can rot. Stewart’s favorite method for storing leeks long-term is to cut the stems into quarter-inch pieces and dehydrate them on trays for about six hours at 135 degrees. “Leeks rehydrate well when you add them to soups and stews and are quite flavorful.” If you have a cold room, leeks can also be kept in moist sand in a container for several weeks.

Timing is everything when harvesting winter squash such as butternut, acorn and delicata squash, or even pumpkins. “Unripe squashes are less flavorful and don’t store well,” says Stewart. Let it mature as much as possible but harvest before a hard frost as exposure to hard frost will also shorten its storage time. “Wait to harvest until the vines are wilted and dry and the rind is hard enough not to pierce easily with your fingernail. Once the squash is separated from the vine, scrub off the soil but don’t wash your squash. Cure the squash by letting it sit on the vine in the garden for a few days to dry out in the sun. This will help harden the crust so it will keep longer. You can also put your squash in a warm, well-ventilated place for about seven to ten days.

Winter squash keeps well in a cool place if dried well.

Getty Stewart, Home Economist, prepares the beets for boiling, leaving a small amount of the stalk on them to prevent the color from bleeding into the water.

You can find recipes and other tips for reducing food waste and preserving seasonal foods at

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Store harvested leeks in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator or dehydrate them to use in recipes.

Dry winter squash for longer storage by letting it sit on the vine to dry in the sun.

Christy J. Olson