Charlotte Kidd, M. Ed. is a writer, professional gardener, garden designer and garden coach. Contact her at

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Harvesting and Storing Veggies and Fruits
by Charlotte Kidd    

It’s helpful to label the jars with the date and ingredients.

My neighbor, we call him “Farmer Mel,” does something I find baffling. He practices serious delayed gratification. Throughout summer and into fall, he freezes about 50 quarts of homegrown, luscious, sweet, red, ripe raspberries. He, his wife, grown kids and grandkids enjoy them all winter.

Fascinating! When I start plucking my ever-bearing raspberries, one nibble leads to another … and another. I’m red-tongued and empty-handed long before reaching the kitchen! Scrumptious berries are immediately irresistible. I’m fine freezing chunks of butternut squash for winter cooking though.

Yes, I admire Mel and his like. Here’s to those with the patience, fortitude and foresight to preserve their yummy, excess garden bounty for leaner days.

Farmer Mel freezes his raspberries, peaches and sweet potato fries.

Let’s count the ways we store vegetables and fruits. Doris Stahl, retired Pennsylvania State University Extension educator, goes down the list: canning, dehydrating, fermenting, freezing, freeze-drying, pickling, preserving as jams, jellies or fruit strips. Gardeners can also store produce in a root cellar, in the ground or in a cold frame.

Canning: Hot Water or Pressure
Canning is a way of preserving vegetables and fruits by cooking and vacuum-sealing them in glass bottles to kill bacteria. Hot-water canning involves processing the fruit or vegetable in hot water and vacuum-sealing the jar airtight. Pressure-canning is processing and vacuum-sealing in a specialized pressure cooker.

Hot-water canning is making a creative comeback. Pressure-canning is more complicated so it’s less popular.

Canning and processing food safely is fun and serious business. Botulism or food poisoning can occur when bacteria survive despite the cooking. See the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library information at National Center for Home Food Preservation offers a free, self-paced, online course about home canning and preservation. This course, “History, Science and Current Practice in Home Food Preservation” webinar is offered at

Also visit the Purdue University website

Dehydrating and Air-Drying
Dehydrating and air-drying removes water from fruits, herbs and vegetables.

Beans (Limas, soybeans, favas, peas, cow peas) – Let bean pods dry on the plant. Pop open the pods. Take out the seeds. Dry totally. Store in a glass jar with an airtight screw-top lid.

Hot Peppers – Hot peppers dry better than sweet peppers, says Stahl. Cut the peppers in half. Put well-dried halves in a single layer on a rimmed cookie-baking sheet. Slide the baking sheet into a gas oven with a pilot light. No need to turn on the heat. Let them dry for several weeks. Check every few days. When the peppers are dry, grind them up to store in an airtight container out of the light. Reconstitute in water.

Sally McCabe demonstrates how to lift a jar from the hot-water canning pot.

Herbs – Dehydrate woody-stemmed herbs such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, sage and savory in the oven or microwave. Or air-dry by tying stems and hanging bunches upside down in low light or spreading stems on trays to dry. Freeze herbs with tender leaves such as basil, dill and chives in olive oil for sautés and sauces.

Pickling is preserving vegetables in vinegar, spices and hot or cold water in air-tight jars. We pickle vegetables such as beets, radishes and members of the cucurbit and cruciferous families to eat right away or to hot-water can. One pickling technique involves refrigerating the pickled vegetables for a short time, a week or two. Hot-water pickling (canning) preserves vegetables for months.

Ethnic favorites include the Pennsylvania Dutch Chow Chow mix of solid vegetables – carrots, cauliflower, peppers, celery, corn – in a sweet-sour brine. Pickled summer squash is a contemporary dish. Pickled watermelon rind is a long-standing tradition. For pickling details, visit

“Fermentation is a big thing in epicurean cooking,” Stahl notes. Fermenting involves adding salt or sugar to activate the good bacteria and lactic acid. Yogurt, cheese and olives are fermented. Fermenting cabbage makes German sauerkraut or the hot, spicy Korean staple kim chi. It is science – so do your research, starting with this website,


Sasha Gettle holds the ‘Purple Top White Globe’ turnip, an excellent winter keeper.

Freezing is easy and convenient, says Stahl. Peppers, celery, beans, corn, berries, peaches, apricots, tomatoes are freezable. Techniques vary according to the type of produce. To parboil or not? Check a reputable source such as this USDA link for important specifics:

Though frozen fruits stay flavorful, many lose their texture. Stahl likes frozen raspberries and apricots for sauces, purees and baking. Farmer Mel spoons his raspberries on breakfast yogurt and ice cream. He turns frozen whole peaches into peach cobbler and peach-berry buckle. His favorite partially baked-and-frozen sweet potato fries crisp up in the toaster oven before becoming dinner.

Preservation by Alcohol
Do this preferably with vodka or gin, though rum, tequila or brandy will do, too. “The best thing is German Rumtopf,” Stahl explains. As each fruit comes into season, pick the ripest. Layer each type in a large clay pot or glass jar with a lid or cover. Pour vodka or another liquor on the fruits. Keep adding fruit and liquor until the winter holidays. Then spoon the Rumtopf over holiday cake or ice cream. The alcohol preserves the fruit and keeps it solid, says Stahl.

‘Squash Honey Boat Delicata’ is a winter squash that stores well.

Storing Vegetables for the Winter
Randel A. Agrella takes a pragmatic approach to storing winter vegetables – easy, efficient and effective. He is a manager and horticulturist for Comstock, Ferre and Company in Wetherfeld, Conn., but Agrella brings gardening experience from his Missouri home. “I like to encourage people to eat more seasonally,” Agrella says. He extends his carrot crop into winter by mulching with a few inches of hay (without seeds), straw and sawdust. Missouri winters are mild so the soil doesn’t freeze deeply, he explains. He and his family dig up carrots through spring.

In colder states, mulching with 5-7 inches of salt hay can keep carrots and Daikon radishes dormant and edible until early spring, adds Stahl. “If not frozen, they’ll last into February or March. It’s the freezing-and-thawing cycle kills them.” She also suggests placing a cold frame over in-ground root crops. Putting hay bales or sandbags on the cold frame’s plate-glass top can stop the soil below from freezing and thawing.

Winter squash, onions and sweet potatoes are best kept in what Agrella calls “pantry conditions” – a fairly dry, low-humidity environment at about 60 F. A cold bedroom will do, he says. “Most winter squash store well for two to three months.” Ensure good air circulation, he adds.

“A lot of root crops – rutabagas, turnips, carrots, fall radishes – and head cabbage can be stored cold at 34 to 38 F in high humidity,” Agrella explains. Those are typical root cellar conditions that can be adapted to many basements. Gardeners can simulate a root cellar, he continues. “Informally close off a corner of the basement. That will automatically maintain a cool temperature.” How? Hang a plastic drop to isolate a small, cold storage “room.” Leave the vegetables open to the air. Look through the produce twice a month for spoilage, sprouting and dehydration. The “one rotten apple spoils the barrel” theory is true, Agrella says.



A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Charlotte Kidd and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.



Posted: 09/17/18   RSS | Print


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