From onions and strawberries in the spring, to melons and tomatoes in the summer, once you have harvested the fruits--and vegetables--of your labor, the next challenge is storing them properly. The good news is garden produce is fresher than shipped-in grocery produce, so it lasts longer. The best ways to store your garden harvest depend on the crop. You can indiscriminately plunk your cucumbers and tomatoes in the refrigerator crisper drawer after you pick them, but using appropriate storage methods for each crop helps your garden harvest stay fresher longer and maintains homegrown flavor.
Berries are highly perishable. Refrigerate immediately after harvesting and do not wash until you are ready to eat them. Blueberries last up to two weeks, blackberries can last up to one week and strawberries should be eaten within three or four days of harvest. For longer storage, freeze berries in a single layer and keep in the freezer for up to three months.
Cucumbers benefit from an ice bath immediately after harvest for quick cooling. Keep cucumbers in the refrigerator in a sealed plastic bag for up to one week. The sealed plastic bag keeps humidity high and prevents cucumbers from shriveling due to loss of moisture.
The sugar in melons begins to diminish the moment they are picked, thereby reducing sweetness. Store most unwashed melons in the refrigerator to slow flavor degradation. Crenshaw, casaba, honeydew and watermelons keep better in a dark, humid environment at around 50 degrees F. Uncut melons keep for approximately 10 days when properly stored.
Onions and Garlic
Onions and garlic must dry in the sun--known as “curing”--after harvesting. Onions cure in about two weeks, while garlic takes about three weeks to fully dry. After curing, onions and garlic keep best in mesh bags to allow for ventilation. Hang bags in a cool, dark and dry place for up to two months depending on variety, but check continuously for sprouting or rotting bulbs.
Most sweet and hot pepper varieties keep best in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for a week or more. Gardeners typically dry hot peppers for long-term storage by stringing them and hanging in a well-ventilated area. Sweet peppers dry or freeze well for long-term storage.
Storing tomatoes in the refrigerator reduces flavor and can create a mushy texture. Tomatoes keep for about a week at room temperature if they are not overripe when harvested. Storing tomatoes in the refrigerator to slow ripening can extend their lives for two or three days but will compromise some texture and flavor. Green tomatoes ripen slowly if kept in the dark at room temperature.