Having gone to so much trouble to grow your crops well, you should also be at pains to ensure that they are stored properly. This way you can extend the season of your vegetables and fruit to its utmost limit.
Apples and pears are the principal garden fruits grown for storing and for use during the winter and early spring. A dry, sunny day should be chosen for harvesting and great care taken when doing so to prevent any bruising. Un-blemished fruits only should be stored. The ideal fruit store should be a place where the temperature remains fairly constant at around 37-40°F (3-4°C). Apples store best in a moist atmosphere, pears in a dry one. The fruit store should be proof against rats and mice. Cool cellars are not a feature of present-day homes. A spare bedroom may be used as a fruit store but not if the house is centrally-heated. An attic is suitable, provided the temperature seldom falls to freezing point. The garden shed and the garage are alternative places for the fruit store which should be for the fruit store which should be insulated against very low temperatures. Straw is a useful insulator but bear in mind that it is also a fire hazard. Dutch trays, obtainable from most fruiterers and greengrocers, are ideal storage containers. The fruits should be placed in a single layer only in each tray and crimped newspaper packed between each fruit to keep them apart and prevent any infection from spreading from fruit to fruit. The wrapping of apples in oiled paper prolongs their storage life. To exclude light from the stored fruit, cover the stack of trays with a sheet of black polythene or with clean sacking. Inspect regularly and discard fruits showing rot.
- Apples and pears must be handled carefully if bruising is to be avoided. Pick apples when the fruit parts readily from the spur when raised to a horizontal position and twisted slightly. An increasing amount of windfalls is a reminder that the crop is due for picking. Cooking apples can be picked over when large enough to handle, leaving the remaining fruits to grow on.
- Most pears should be gathered in a semi-ripe condition. Pears allowed to ripen on the tree go ‘sleepy’ in store; pears picked too early shrivel. Pick early and mid-season pears when the green colour is just changing to yellow. Use the lifting test for late pears. All fruits should be dry at picking time.
- Special canvas picking buckets fitted with shoulder straps and having a quick release base are useful where a large quantity of fruit is to be picked. On a domestic scale, polythene buckets are preferable to galvanised pails. Never use wicker baskets as these are liable to scar the fruit.
- The question of fruit storage is important and often deserves more attention than it receives from amateur gardeners. It is necessary to prepare a proper place with suitable conditions in which to store fruit at harvest time. There is no point in growing good fruit if it is allowed to rot away before being eaten. In this country of course we are mainly concerned with apples and pears because we have little else which will keep for long which is grown in great quantity.
- Allow harvested apples to sweat for a couple of days before putting them on the storage racks.
- Wrapping apples in oiled paper prolongs their storage life, maintains quality and prevents rotting fruit infecting adjacent apples. Newspaper wraps are better than nothing.
- Storing apples in polythene sleeves, with a rubber band between each fruit, is a simple method of gas storage — exhaled carbon dioxide retards the ripening process.
The largest crop for storing is likely to be maincrop potatoes. The farmer stores potatoes successfully in clamps containing many tons. The few hundredweights lifted from the garden do not normally store well in small clamps. Potatoes are also required daily which means that the small clamp has to be opened regularly throughout the winter —this is not an easy job to do in very wet or freezing weather. The requirements for the good storage of potatoes are a cool, frostproof, dry, dark place. Failing a convenient cellar, the garden shed is often used as a potato store. Dry straw or bracken should be spread thickly on the floor or on shelves and the sound, dry potatoes placed carefully in layers on the straw or bracken pad. Cover with more straw or bracken to exclude light and, in very cold weather, add sacking or old blankets or use a small heater in the shed. Alternatively, store the potato crop in Dutch trays. Each holds around 12 lb and the trays stack easily and may be housed in a spare, cool bedroom. Cover with a blanket or a sheet of black plastic to prevent light from greening the tubers. Always inspect potatoes in store once each month. Remove any showing rot and rub off all young shoots.
Onions are not lifted until most of the plants have dry, brown foliage. After harvesting, spread the bulbs in full sun or hang them in bunches outdoors or in the greenhouse. When the foliage and roots are quite dry and brittle, any adhering soil may be rubbed off as may loose portions of dry skin. Only sound onions and those with thin necks should be stored. The storage place must be dry and well-ventilated and free from severe frost. A spare bedroom, the attic, the garden shed, the garage and the green-house are suggested storage places. Onions may be roped or placed in single layers in Dutch trays. When inspecting stored onions, remove for immediate use bulbs which have any fresh foliage.
Maincrop beets are dug and stored in the autumn. The foliage is twisted from the beets—not cut—and these roots store well in a box of fairly dry sand or peat in the garden shed or the garage. Where winters are very severe the box is best housed indoors because beetroots do not stand up to frost.
Maincrop carrots are lifted in October. Do not store any which show fork or insect damage. Cut off the foliage close to the crown and store the roots in moist sand or leafmould in a box or bin in the garden shed. A large crop of carrots may be stored in a pit in the ground. Layers of carrots are covered with sand. The top layer of carrots is an inch or so below the surface of the surrounding ground and this last layer is covered with a thick layer of sand over which some straw may be spread. Beets and carrots may also be stored in clamps but these, unless very large, often lead to the freezing of the vegetables within them.
Swedes are usually left in the garden. Any remaining there are lifted at Christmas, the top growth is shortened and the swedes are stored in the manner suggested for carrots. Winter turnips may be left in the ground or dug in early winter and stored like carrots. Parsnips are seldom harvested as they withstand hard frost well. Winter storing cabbages are dug in November and hung upside down in a cool, airy place. Pumpkins, winter squash and vegetable marrows are best stored in nets hung from the ceiling of a cool, frost-proof, airy room.
Some vegetables can be kept quite fresh for several days in a refrigerator. I find this a convenient way of clearing a crop. Peas in late summer, for instance, can be put in small quantities enough for a meal, in plastic bags, and kept at the bottom of the refrigerator for at least a fortnight, often much longer. Let them remain in their pods until required. Inspect them regularly, if the bags become damp inside, change them. The same applies to broad beans, spinach, swiss chard. Runner beans do not keep this way longer than for a few days.
A good way to keep roots, celery and winter lettuce, fresh yet near at hand during severe weather, is to wrap them well in newspaper and to keep them in a very cold place, an outer porch for example, until they are required. Before wrapping, remove excess soil but do not wash them.