Storing Vegetables and Seeds
In addition to canning, freezing, and drying fresh vegetables, you can store many to use later. The length of successful storage depends on the vegetable and the storage conditions.
Loss of moisture is the major factor that reduces quality during storage. Reducing the temperature slows this loss and delays growth of bacteria and fungi that cause vegetables to spoil.
Some vegetables, such as winter squash, onions, Irish potatoes, and pumpkins, lose moisture slowly; while others, such as leafy greens, lose moisture rapidly. Place vegetables in a plastic bag or container before refrigerating to prevent rapid loss of water. This applies to lettuce, mustard greens, spinach, collards, turnip greens, Chinese cabbage, beets, carrots, radishes, snap beans, shelled limas, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, and green onions. Turnip roots not only lose moisture rapidly but have a strong odor, so be sure to bag them.
For short-term refrigerated storage, wash vegetables to remove insects, soil, and spray residue before refrigerating.
Some vegetables can be stored for several weeks or longer without refrigeration under proper conditions.
Beets, carrots, turnips, rutabagas—When you grow these root crops in the fall, you can sometimes leave them in the garden until you need them if the garden site is well drained and the vegetables are protected from freezing. Pull soil up over roots or cover them with straw. Store harvested roots in plastic bags in your refrigerator or in moist sand in a cool location.
Cabbage—Protect fall-grown cabbage from freezing. Pull mature heads and wrap leaves over the head. Set the heads, roots up, in a well-drained, cool place, and cover with soil or straw. You can pull mature heads with roots attached and place them in a cold frame.
Onions—After bulbs are harvested and dried, trim tops, leaving about one-half inch. Most southern onions do not store well, but for best storage, keep dry bulbs in a cool, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is too warm, tops will sprout. If humidity is too high, the roots begin to swell and develop.
Irish potatoes—Spring-grown Irish potatoes are difficult to store. Cure potatoes for several days in a warm place to heal cuts and bruises. Do not wash potatoes unless they are very dirty from harvesting in wet soil. Store dry potatoes in boxes in a closet in an air-conditioned home. If the house is on a conventional foundation, store potatoes under the house. Be sure to shut out all light to prevent greening of the stored potatoes.
There are sprays or treatments that prevent spring-grown Irish potatoes from sprouting. Natural dormancy prevents sprouting for about 100 days, but refrigeration or cold storage is the only way to hold these potatoes for several months.
Irish potatoes grown in the fall are easier to store than spring-grown potatoes. Harvest when the soil is dry, and don’t expose potatoes to the sun. Cure in a warm, moist place for about a week to heal cuts and bruises; then place potatoes in a cool, dark place. Just make sure they don’t freeze. Fall-grown potatoes can be successfully stored for several months.
Sweet potatoes—Sweet potatoes are very sensitive to cold soils and cold storage. Potatoes that are chilled in the soil or in storage will not keep very long. Dig potatoes before soil temperatures drop to 55 ºF. Cure potatoes for 7 to 10 days in a warm, moist place—80 to 85 ºF and 90 percent relative humidity. Curing helps heal all cuts and bruises that occurred during harvest. Store cured potatoes at 55 ºF and high humidity to prevent shrinkage. Storage at warmer temperatures encourages sprouting.
Pumpkins, winter squash—Harvest these vegetables as they mature because they do not store well in the garden. If planted in April or May, they are ready to harvest in July and August. If left exposed to the sun and wet weather, they rot. Store in a cool, fairly dry place. Small quantities can be stored in an air-conditioned home. Do not stack these vegetables in storage, and do not expose them to temperatures below 50 ºF. If the humidity is too high, molds and rots develop.
Tomatoes—Ripe tomatoes store best at a temperature around 60 ºF. At refrigerator temperatures, the quality rapidly deteriorates. Mature green tomatoes (those that have reached full size and are turning white before coloring) will ripen if picked before frost injures them. Wrap tomatoes in paper and store in a cool place. Check them regularly to remove any ripening or spoiled tomatoes. You can have garden tomatoes for Christmas and even later if you strip the vines of fruit before a freeze and handle them as described.
Dried beans and peas—The greatest danger in storing dried beans and peas is infestation by insects. Pick dry pods and thoroughly dry them in a warm, well-ventilated place before shelling. Kill insects by heating dry, shelled beans and peas in a 180 ºF oven for 15 minutes. Store these treated beans and peas in plastic bags in containers with tight-fitting lids. If freezer space is available, you can store dried peas and beans in the freezer without prior heating.
Seed Storage: Cool and Dry
Moisture and high temperatures cause rapid loss in the ability of vegetable seeds to germinate. Therefore, discard vegetable seeds held in storage buildings, vehicles, and other places with widely fluctuating temperatures and humidities.
The longer seeds are stored, the more important it is to control moisture and temperature conditions. Low moisture content in the seeds means longer life, especially if seeds must be kept at warm temperatures.
Seeds can be stored over, but not touching, calcium chloride, dried silica gel, or freshly opened powdered milk by sealing them in air-tight containers.
Bean and okra seeds can be overdried, resulting in hard seed coats and reduced germination. Seeds can be stored successfully at temperatures above 32 ºF. Between 40 and 50 ºF is satisfactory when moisture content of the seed is not too high.
For long-term storage (several months) seeds can be stored in the freezer. Seeds are not harmed if properly dried before storing, but be sure to let them come to room temperature before handling.
Do not store chemically treated seeds with vegetables or other food items that are to be eaten.
|Approximate Years of Storage Life of Seeds Uner Cool, Dry Conditions|
Asparagus – 3
Beans – 3
Beets – 4
Broccoli – 5
Brussels sprouts – 5
Cabbage – 5
Carrots – 3
Chard, Swiss – 4
Collards – 5
Corn – 1-2
Cucumbers – 5
Eggplant – 5
Kale – 5
Kohlrabi – 5
Lettuce – 5
Muskmelons – 5
Mustard – 4
Okra – 2
Peas, English – 3
Peppers – 4
Pumpkins – 4
Radishes – 5
Rutabagas – 5
Southern peas – 3
Spinach – 5
Squash – 5
Tomatoes – 4
Turnips – 5
Watermelons – 5
If you read this Southern Gardening column frequently, you realize that I grow much more than pretty flowers in my home garden. Besides ornamental plants, I love to grow vegetables that my wife and I can enjoy for dinner.
If you’re anything like me, I find any excuse to get outside. The warmer temperatures and colorful blooms are refreshing, especially after the cold winter we had! Working on outdoor chores is a great excuse to get some fresh air. Here are a few tasks you need to cross off your checklist during April:
Don’t believe everything you hear. That piece of advice can be applied to gardening as well. We’ve all done something because a friend said that it works.
Pat yourself on the back. You made it through the historic February ice storm! The weeklong event probably set you back on your garden chores and likely created more work for you to do. Tidy up any damage and get your spring garden in shape with these garden tasks.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Each February marks the occasion for producers to share their research and programming needs with Mississippi State University agricultural specialists in person.
To comply with COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, the opportunity will be extended virtually this year.