The advantage of learning how to store and harvest vegetables at home is that you can pick and savor them when they’re at their optimal flavor. But how can you tell when to harvest? And what are the best conditions to store your homegrown vegetables?
For fullest flavor and nutritional value, it is important to harvest your vegetables at the right time. Be careful not to break or bruise when picking and handle as little as possible. Harvest only high quality vegetables. The following fact sheet provides some basic information on storing and harvesting commonly grown vegetables.
Practically every home has at least one spot where vegetables can be safely stored like an unheated basement, a garage, or the refrigerator. The area should be well ventilated, cool and dark. Ideal storage conditions for each specific vegetable are included in the chart below.
Vegetables that show any sign of decay or bruising should be used immediately and not placed in storage. Decay can very rapidly spread to your healthy vegetables, spoiling them also.
It should be pointed out that this is only one way to keep vegetables for an extended time, and not all vegetables should be kept in this way. Many vegetables can be specially treated to help retain a higher percentage of their natural flavor and food value. Blanching, freezing, canning, and drying are some of the techniques you can use to accomplish this. Refer to a reliable cookbook or the homemaking section of your newspaper, or obtain information from the Cooperative Extension Service for exact processing procedures.
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Specific harvest and storage information for some commonly-grown vegetables. Expected shelf-life times are only estimates. Chart courtesy of: Cindy Tong, Extension post-harvest horticulturist
|Vegetable||When to Harvest||How to Store||Expected Shelf-life||Comments|
|asparagus||third year after planting when spears are 6-9 inches long||cold and moist||2 weeks||keep upright|
|basil||when leaves are still tender||at room temperature||5 days||keep stems in water; will discolor if kept in refrigerator for 10 days|
|beans, snap||about 2-3 weeks after bloom when seeds still immature||cold and moist||1 week||develop pitting if stored below 40°|
|beets||when 1.25-3 inches in diameter||cold and moist||5 months||store without tops|
|broccoli||while flower buds still tight and green||cold and moist||2 weeks||–|
|brussels sprouts||when heads 1 inch in diameter||cold and moist||1 month||–|
|cabbage||when heads compact and firm||cold and moist||5 months||–|
|carrots||when tops 1 inch in diameter||cold and moist||8 months||store without tops|
|cauliflower||while heads still white, before curds “ricey”||cold and moist||3 weeks||–|
|corn, sweet||when silks dry and brown, kernels should be milky when cut with a thumbnail||cold and moist||5 days||–|
|cucumbers||for slicing, when 6 inches long||cool spot in kitchen 55°F in perforated plastic bags; storage in refrigerator for a few days okay||1 week||develops pitting and water-soaked areas if chilled below 40°F; do not store with apples or tomatoes|
|eggplant||before color dulls||like cucumbers||1 week||develops pitting, bronzing, pulp browning if stored for long period below 50°F|
|kohlrabi||when 2-3 inches in diameter||cold and moist||2 months||store without tops|
|lettuce||while leaves are tender||cold and moist||1 week||–|
|muskmelons (cantaloupe)||when fruits slip off vine easily, while netting even, fruit firm||cold and moist||1 week||develops pitting surface decay with slight freezing|
|onions||when necks are tight, scales dry||cold and dry||4 months||cure at room temperature 2-4 weeks before storage, do not freeze|
|parsnips||when roots reach desired size, possibly after light frost||cold and moist||4 months||do not wax or allow roots to freeze; sweetens after 2 weeks storage at 32°F|
|peas||when pods still tender||cold and moist||1 week||–|
|peppers||when fruits reach desired size or color||like cucumbers||2 weeks||develops pitting below 45°F|
|potatoes||when vine dies back||cold and moist; keep away from light||6 months||cure at 50-60°F or 14 days before storage, will sweeten below 38°F|
|pumpkins||when shells harden, before frost||cool and dry||2 months||very sensitive to temperatures below 45°F|
|radishes||when roots up to 1.25 inches in diameter||cold and moist||1 month||store without tops|
|rutabagas||when roots reach desired size||cold and moist||4 months||do not wax|
|spinach||while leaves still tender||cold and moist||10 days||–|
|squash, summer||when fruit 4-6 inches long||like cucumbers||1 week||do not store in refrigerator for more than 4 days|
|squash, winter||when shells hard, before frost||cool and dry||2-6 months, depending on variety||curing unnecessary; do not cure Table Queen|
|tomatoes, red||when color uniformly pink or red||like cucumbers||5 days||loses color, firmness and flavor if stored below 40°F; do not refrigerate!|
|turnips||when roots reach desired size, possibly after light frost||cold and moist||4 months||can be waxed|
|watermelons||when underside turns yellow or produces dull sound when slapped||like cucumbers||2 weeks||will decay if stored below 50°F for more than a few days|
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