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How to properly store and preserve your harvest vegetables in cold storage

If you’ve had a bountiful harvest this year, then congratulations! However, getting all your produce indoors is only the first step. Once they’ve been harvested, you’ll need to store them to keep them fresh for months to come. Not every vegetable is stored in exactly the same way, though. There are leafy vegetables, root vegetables, fruit, and stem vegetables. To find out how to best preserve your vegetables, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about storing them based on the type of vegetable they are.

Leafy vegetables

Leafy vegetables, like kale, lettuce, and spinach, tend to have high water content and not as much stability. This means that they tend to become soft and wilted after they’ve been frozen. So while you can store your leafy vegetables in the freezer, it isn’t ideal. However, they aren’t a good fit for cellars or cabinets, either. Instead, store them in the refrigerator.

First, wash them gently with cold water and dry them thoroughly. Place the leaves in sandwich bags. You can lay a dry paper towel in the bag with them to absorb any condensation that builds up. Store the bag or bags of leaves in the refrigerator for a few weeks. Leafy greens don’t last as long as other vegetables, so it’s a good idea to eat them first. Smaller, younger leaves may last only a week, since they’re even more delicate than mature leaves.

A basket of freshly harvest kale leaves, with the kale plants behind it

Root vegetables

Root vegetables tend to be hardier than other vegetables, which makes them easier to store since they don’t need refrigeration or freezing. Remove any leafy tops, since these leaves are prone to rotting before the rest of the vegetable. You can set them aside for composting, carrot-top tea, or any other way you would typically use them. Your root vegetables shouldn’t be washed before storing them, as this can strip away some of their natural protection.

Potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic should be sun cured before storing to get rid of any moisture that could cause mildew or rot. Onions and garlic should be stored in boxes or bags in a cool, dry place. Try to avoid piling them up on top of each other too much, though, so they can still receive proper air flow. Boxes should be shallow, and the fabric of the bags should be breathable.

Pack your other vegetables into a box or crate in layers of sand. The sand keeps the vegetables cool and dry. Place the box in a cool, dry place such as a root cellar, closet, or basement. Vegetables kept this way can last several months. If you don’t have a completely dry area, check your vegetables every couple of weeks for signs of mold or mildew.

Beets laying on a table

Fruit

Fruit, similarly to leafy greens, tends to have a lot of water and less structural integrity. Tomatoes, eggplants, avocados, cucumbers, and squash are all common fruits that are also vegetables, and none of them freeze particularly well. While frozen, they stay hard and fresh, but become mushy and watery quickly when thawed. This doesn’t make them inedible, though, and freezing your tomatoes can still be a viable option if you plan on making tomato sauce with them. However, if you’d like your fruit to remain firm, then you’ll have better luck storing them in the refrigerator.

You can wash your fruit gently beforehand, or wait to wash them until you’re ready to eat them. If you do wash them, be sure to dry them thoroughly afterwards. Unlike leafy greens, fruit typically doesn’t need to be stored in a bag or container when in the refrigerator unless it’s already sliced. Fruit can last slightly longer if it’s stored in a container like a glass jar, but this isn’t always an option for larger vegetables like eggplants or squash.

Cupped hands holding ripe and unripe cherry tomatoes

Stem vegetables

Stem vegetables, such as celery, asparagus, and rhubarb, are also known for high water content. They can be stored in the refrigerator for a few weeks, but they can also be frozen if they’re blanched first. To blanch your vegetables, first you should cut them into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces will blanch faster than larger ones, and it’s easier to use them after freezing if they’re precut.

Next, bring a large pot of water to a vigorous boil. Aim for a gallon of water per pound of vegetables, but it doesn’t need to be exact. Once the water is boiling, add the vegetable pieces and let them boil for three to five minutes. Remove the vegetables from the boiling water and put them immediately into an ice bath. Then dry them off, spread them onto a baking tray or sheet lined with baking paper, and freeze them for an hour or two. After they’ve been frozen, place them into bags or containers and store them in the freezer.

Storing your vegetables properly can extend their shelf life for weeks or longer. Just follow the simple tips outlined in this guide and you’ll be well on your way to tasty, fresh vegetables any time of the year. As long as you know what kinds of vegetables you have, and how they’re stored, you can keep your harvest fresh. If you ever aren’t sure about a particular vegetable, remember that just about anything can be kept in the refrigerator.

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