Mary's Veggie Garden

February 24, 2014

Extreme Squash Storage

Filed under: Squash,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 9:32 am

How long can a squash be stored? And will it still be edible after all that time?

I store my squashes on shelves in the basement for later eating. Thus, when harvest started last autumn, I had to clean up the shelves and deal with the stuff that collects in all flat spots. This stuff included two squashes from previous harvests.

A two year old butternnut and a one year old Tetsukabuto squash.

A two year old butternut and a one year old Tetsukabuto squash. Photographed 9/2013.

The butternut squash was grown and harvested in 2011. That year I grew two butternut varieties, Early and Waltham. This one was probably an Early Butternut. After storing it weighed 1 pound 6.8 ounces and felt very light weight for its size.

The Tetsukabuto squash was grown and harvested in 2012. It weighed 3 pounds 5.1 oz. At harvest time the squash is solid green except for an orange patch where it rests on the ground. While in storage Tetsukabutos gradually turn orange. Most of the color change happens in the first six months.

Two Tetsukabuto squashes, left 1 year old, right freshly harvested.

Two Tetsukabuto squashes, left 1-year-old, right freshly harvested.

From the outside these two squashes look pretty good. The butternut feels light but the weight of the Tetsukabuto feels normal for its size. What do they look like inside?

A two year old butternut and 1 year old Tetsukabuto.

A 1-year-old Tetsukabuto and a two-year old butternut.

The butternut is dried up. Not edible, except maybe the seeds which I put outside for the wildlife. The expected storage life for a butternut is 4-6 months. I stored this one 24 months, so the results are not surprising.

The Tetsukabuto looks more promising. The seed cavity is dried up but the flesh is still moist. So I cooked it. The taste was flat, with none of the normal sweetness. I don’t know if there was still any nutritional value, but I used it in a squash bread.

February 17, 2014

Onions in Storage: Copra vs Cabernet

Filed under: Onions,Vegetables — marysveggiegarden @ 3:41 pm

I garden with the goal of supplying most of our vegetables year round. For many vegetables, year round eating means storing the harvest for extended periods, half a year or more. Like gardening, storage is both a science and an art.  A little research will reveal the ideal conditions for growing or storage. The art comes from achieving something approximating those conditions at home.

2/17/14 top Prisma shallots, left Cabernet, right Copra

2/17/14 top Prisma shallots, left Cabernet onions, right Copra onions from my 2013 harvest

Last summer I grew two onion varieties. Cabernet matures in 100 days and produces “medium-large, globe shaped onions with deep red color….4-6 months storage.” (Johnnys). Copra is a medium-sized, yellow storage onion maturing in 107 days (Pinetree). I also grew a few red shallots called Prisma.

On July 29 I harvested 28 pounds of Cabernet onions, 107 onions weighing a bit more than a quarter pound each. On August 8 I harvested 23 pounds of Copra onions, 130 onions weighing .18 pounds each. All onions were grown from seed planted indoors 3/4/13 and transplanted into my garden 4/22. The days to maturity and the size of the onions were both as I expected based on the catalog descriptions.

After harvest but before storing onions must be dried. I laid mine on wire shelves placed in protected areas of the patio. After the tops were thoroughly dry, I snipped off the dried foliage and brushed off dirt and loose skin.

The next step is probably the most important. I sniffed each onion before bagging them in large mesh bags. I set aside any onion with even a hint of an onion-y smell. This pile went into a bag labeled ‘Use First’. It contained a handful of Cabernets and maybe 20-25% of the Copras. I did this to avoid last year’s disaster, when about a quarter of my Copra onions rotted in storage. (I’ve grown Copra for several years and usually they store extremely well.)

Ideal onion storage conditions are 32 °F and 65-70% humidity.

I hung the bagged onions from the basement floor joists where conditions were far from ideal – about 75°F and 50% humidity (controlled by a dehumidifier.) This is OK for a while as onions have a natural period of dormancy. The dormancy period is unique for each variety.

After 5.5 months of storage Cabernet onions show signs of sprouting.

After 5.5 months of storage Cabernet onions show signs of sprouting.

My basement is not heated so the temperature drops gradually with the outside temperature. By early December the basement temperature was in the low 60s when I noticed some of the Cabernet onions were starting to look green in the center, like they would be growing shoots soon. To lower their storage temperature, I put the bags into covered 5-gallon plastic buckets in my root cellar. With the increased humidity the Cabernets, but not the Copras or Prisma shallots, immediately put out roots. I guess the humidity was too high for Cabernet.

In the high humidity of a bucket, Cabernet onions grew roots.

In the high humidity of a lidded bucket, Cabernet onions grew roots.

Currently all the ‘root cellar’ crops are in the coldest part of the basement, where the temperature is  around 42°F. I brought them inside from the root cellar in early January when the temperatures started staying below freezing 24 hours a day. (I do not have a true root cellar.)

I just examined all the stored onions. Most of the Cabernets have roots but so far only 4 have grown a shoot. The Copras look good, no roots, no shoots, and only two looked soft. I discarded 2 of the shallots and the rest are fine.

The Copras and Cabernets are storing as well as described by the catalogs.  Even in poor storage conditions Cabernet did not break dormancy for 4 months and I think that time could be extended to 6 months by moving them to a colder area by mid-November.  Copra will start sprouting in mid-February if left hanging from the basement ceiling, but in a colder area their storage life is longer. I didn’t know what to expect from the shallots, but they have surprised me by keeping so well.

There are 60 Copra, 25 Cabernet, and 27 shallots remaining. We’ve used 2/3 the crop in 5.5 months so it will take about 3 months to use the remainder. I cannot store ‘fresh’, raw onions beyond March, as they will start to grow when the temperature gets warmer.  So it looks like I should chop and freeze the Copra’s before it gets warm. That should take us to ‘green onion’ time in the garden.

And this year I should transplant 10 fewer plants of each variety. I don’t enjoy cutting onions for the freezer and they really stink up the freezer.

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