Growing your own food can be really exciting. It can be fantastic fun to create meals using the fresh food you have grown in your polytunnel garden. But there will often come a time when you cannot cook up all the food your have grown right away. While the fridge and freezer have their place, polytunnel staging could also help you store your vegetables and fruit without power over the winter months.
All polytunnel gardeners will need to understand how to store vegetables and fruit to keep them fresh for as long as possible. In this article, we will explore the various methods in which fresh produce can be stored.
How To Store Vegetables and Fruit in the Fridge or Freezer
One of the simplest ways to store vegetables and fruit in such a way that they will be good for a longer period of time is simply to place them in your fridge or freezer.
Storing Home-Grown Food Without Plastic
Often, preparing, preserving and storing all of the food that we grow can be a major challenge. This challenge can seem even greater when, as many people are, we try to reduce the amount of plastic that we use in our homes.
Why Reduce Plastic Use in the Home and Garden?
First of all, let’s take a brief look at why we want to reduce plastic use in the first place. Most people are now aware of the horrendous impact that waste plastics are having on our environments. Plastics are clogging our oceans, entering the food chains, and disrupting natural systems in a whole host of different ways. There is also some evidence to suggest that storing food in some sorts of plastic may not be a good idea for human health – as some plastics will leach dangerous material into your food.
Even without this concern, however, the environmental concerns are surely enough to lead us to limit our use of the material as much as possible.`
Growing your own food is one great way to reduce the amount of plastic (especially single-use plastic) that you bring into your home. When you use your garden to grow your own food, you will have to buy less food in plastic. But this is only the first stage. You should also think about how you store this food without plastic.
Storing Home-Grown Food Without Plastic
First of all, think about how you store food short-term, in your fridge. If you use cling-film or plastic containers to store your food, you should consider:
- Wrapping items with beeswax wraps (organic cotton coated with beewax and a natural oil such as jojoba oil work best). These are great for containing sandwiches to take to work/school, and also for wrapping up leftovers for later. You can buy these or even make your own.
- Using glass jars to keep single portion leftovers rather than plastic containers.
- Using ceramic/glass bowls covered with saucers or plates to store leftovers for a few days.
It is likely that you will also want to store food for a lot longer by freezing it. Many people rely on plastic freezer bags or plastic containers to store food in the freezer. But there are alternatives to plastic for your freezer too. These include:
- Silicon bags/ containers. (Investing in a few silicon containers could be a good idea, especially if you are used to preserving gluts of fruit/vegetables from your garden in your freezer.
- Metal freezer containers (These are another good solution for freezing food – another alternative to plastic for your home freezer.)
It is easier than you might imagine to find alternatives to plastic when it comes to storing and preserving home-grown food.
However, even once you have excellent methods to store vegetables and fruit in your fridge and freezer, not all of your fresh produce is best stored in one of these appliances, and space in even the largest of appliances can quickly begin to run out. It is important to understand not only how to store vegetables and fruits in your fridge and freezer, but also other methods for storing different vegetables and fruits.
Many apple varieties can be stored for several months and eaten over the winter months. Choose fruits which are unblemished and whole, which show no signs of bruising, rot or disease. Apples stored simply should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place. They should not be touching each other, as if they are, one rotten apple can spoil the whole lot. You can place apples on trays or racks, and wrapping each fruit in newspaper or other scrap paper can also help. Check over stored fruit regularly and get rid of any that have begun to rot right away.
You should expect to wait a couple of weeks before your garlic has dried enough, though it could take longer if the weather is very wet and the conditions less than ideal. When the foliage of your garlic is totally dry and crisp, you can cut off the lengths leaving just a small ‘tail’ on each bulb. Check the garlic bulbs thoroughly at this stage and be sure to put any damaged bulbs to one side so you can use these before you use the rest.
When the garlic is fully dried, you can then braid it into string that can be hung somewhere cool and from which you can take garlic when it is needed in the kitchen. You can also simply place garlic in containers, but the containers must have sufficient air flow to keep garlic in good condition.
One of the easiest and most straightforward ways to store onions is to dry and hang them in traditional braids or in netting (or old tights). The first step in this process is to dry the onions. Your polytunnel is an ideal place to do this, especially if you have erected some staging or a hanging shelf on which you can place your onions in a single layer to dry. Onions for storage should be left to dry for at least 2-3 weeks. (If you want to braid your onions, leave some stem on the bulbs.)
It is important to check over the onions that you have harvested carefully for any damage, or signs of pest of disease. Any blemished onions should be eaten or preserved right away, as these will not last as long in storage. Sort your harvested onions according to when you will eat them, keeping the best specimens to be stored for the longest period of time.
Potatoes should be kept in a cardboard box, sack or similar somewhere they will not get hot and more importantly, somewhere they will not be exposed to sunlight. Sunlight will turn potatoes green and green potatoes are poisonous and should never be eaten. Potatoes can also be stored in the ground in a ‘potato grave’ – though you should watch out for rodents which can attack your supplies during the winter months.
Storing Root Vegetables
Root vegetables are best stored somewhere cold and hard, though they like a higher humidity than potatoes. Store root vegetables like carrots in boxes filled with sawdust or sand. Root vegetables should only be stored when in good condition so use up any damaged ones first. Mature roots with thicker skins that have been given a chance to dry out in the sun will store best. Do not wash them before storage. (Onions should not be stored with root vegetables as they can make each other spoil faster. )
Storing Squash and Pumpkins
When choosing which pumpkins and squash to keep and which to eat right away, check them over carefully and be sure to use any which have signs of damage first as these will tend not to keep as well as fruits which are in perfect condition. A simple process of curing is usually enough to allow you to keep your produce over the winter. Not all squash need to be cured in this way, but many will store better if you undertake this process.
Curing is simply a matter of keeping the fruits at a warm temperature with good ventilation and air flow for ten days to two weeks. This process allows excess water to leave the fruit, concentrating the natural sugars and making them taste sweeter. Getting rid of this excess water also slows the fruit’s rate of respiration, reducing chances of rot and helping them last longer in store. The skin on your winter squash or pumpkins will become harder, which means they will resist rot and stay fresher for longer.
How long your winter squash or pumpkins will store will depend on which varieties you have grown. In some cases, such as butternut squash, you can keep them in store for up to six months. Pumpkins can generally be stored for around three months and may also keep for up to six. After curing, winter squash and pumpkins should be stored in a cool, dry location. Temperatures should ideally be around 10-12 Celsius and no higher than 15 degrees. Humidity should be kept as low as possible, since a high humidity environment can promote rot.
Storing Vegetables and Fruit Through Preservation
These are just some of the fresh vegetables and fruit that you can store outside a fridge or freezer over the winter months. A cold pantry or root cellar can make it easier to store your produce. Of course, preserving your food by drying it, making jams or chutneys, pickling or canning can also help you store vegetables and fruit safely for later use. Check out our other articles to learn more about preserving the food from your polytunnel.
Share your thoughts on how to store vegetables and fruit in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.