Maintaining Your Storage

Keep the Storage Space Clean: Keep storage facilities for vegetables and fruits clean. Get rid of vegetables and fruits that show signs of decay. At least once a year, remove all containers from your storeroom. Then clean them and air them in the sun. Wash the walls and ceiling before you put back the containers. Harvest for Live Storage: Harvest during dry weather, not too soon after a rain, and let the surface of the product dry, since wet produce is much more susceptible to disease in storage. Handle food carefully to prevent skin cuts and bruises, which also invite decay. Containers should have smooth inner surfaces. Protruding wire staples in baskets and hampers, for example, damage food. Vegetables or fruits with skin breaks should go directly to the kitchen or another preservation system. Make sure there are no crushed, cut, or decaying foods mixed in with those to be stored. They'll cause their neighbors to soon decay also. Harvest in early morning, or let crops picked in daytime heat cool outdoors overnight before you store them. Don't wash produce before storing. Just leave the garden dirt on; it helps them keep. Some commercial foods are waxed to reduce moisture loss and appeal to potential buyers. Home folks don't do that and have better food because of it. Containers. Sturdy food-quality plastic cans with or without handles and with airtight lids are useful for holding grains, beans, flour, honey; making sausage; hauling produce and milk; and curing pickles and sauerkraut. You can reuse any plastic container from store-bought food. But don't make the mistake of putting food in regular plastic garbage cans or bags, because they may be made out of a kind of plastic that is very carcinogenic! It's safe to use a big enamel or stainless-steel kettle (enamel is cheaper, but it doesn't last as long because the enamel will chip). Crocks are romantic and healthy and unlikely to tip over, but a 20-gallon crock can be expensive.

Cans made for food storage are fine. Wooden bins are fine as long as the wood hasn't been "treated" in any way. Dried beans, peas, soybeans, and the like can be stored in airtight cans in your cellar. Squash, pumpkins, and onions need dry storage. Potatoes, late cabbage, cauliflower, and Chinese cabbage like cool and moderately moist conditions, so a wooden box or bin in the root cellar is okay for them. Carrots, endive, beets, parsnips, salsify, rutabagas, turnips, late celery, kohlrabi, and winter radishes need to be quite cool, 32-40°F Storage in a wooden box under moist sand, or in wooden boxes containing sawdust, is best for them. Potatoes can go straight into the bins. That may be okay with carrots, etc., also. Try and see. NOTE: Apples give off a gas that stimulates potatoes to sprout and shortens the keeping of other root veggies, so don't store fruits with veggies.

Regulate the Temperature: You will need at least 2 reliable thermometers to be able to carefully regulate storage temperature. Place one thermometer in the coldest part of your food storage place. Put the other one outdoors. Watch indoor and outdoor temperatures closely. You regulate the storage temperature by opening and closing doors, windows, or openings used as ventilators. In most regions, daily adjustment of ventilators is usually necessary to maintain desired storage temperatures. See the "Live Storage Guidelines" table for the freezing points and the best temperatures for long-term storage of your foods.

Outdoor temperatures well below 32°F are necessary to cool storage air to 32° and to maintain that temperature. Once cooled to 32°, the temperature will rise again from earth warmth if ventilators are closed, even though outdoor temperature is about 25°. Close ventilators tightly whenever the outdoor temperature is higher than the storage temperature. Be careful during subfreezing weather so that the stored food doesn't freeze. For example, in an insulated storage cellar partly above ground at Beltsville, MD, full ventilation both day and night was necessary to maintain a temperature of 32°F if outdoor temperatures ranged between 18° and 30° during the day and dipped to 10° at night. But if the minimum temperature at night was 8° for 5-6 hours and ventilators were still fully open, the storage temperature dropped to 30°—below freezing. During a night of high wind, even a minimum of 12° cooled the cellar to 30°.

For a more sophisticated postharvest storage system, consider buying a used, reconditioned cooler, freezer, or refrigeration system from Barr, Inc., "world's largest inventory": 920-231-1711; fax 920-231-1701; 1423 Planeview Dr., Oshkosh, WI 54904; [email protected]; www.barr inc.com.

Maintain Needed Humidity/Dryness: Without enough moisture in the air, stored vegetables and fruits may shrivel, lose quality, and eventually become unfit to eat. (See the "Live Storage Guidelines" table for specific humidity needs.) You can add moisture to storage air by sprinkling the floor, by placing large pans of water under fresh-air intake vents, by covering the floor with wet materials such as damp straw or sawdust or by any combination of those. Humidity of 95 percent is almost rainfall and is difficult to achieve indoors. Humidity of 90-95 percent is very moist and good for storage of potatoes and other root crops. Too much humidity encourages mold and other decay critters. (Excessive humidity is present when water droplets form on the surface of the food.) A humidity of 60-75 percent is dry and good for storage of pumpkins and winter squash. Testing for Dampness. But pumpkins, squash, and onions need a very dry but not cold place for their best storage. So they don't belong in your basement or root cellar at all if it's damp. To find out if your basement is damp, test for condensation by placing a small mirror against the wall. Should droplets or fog appear on the mirror after a few hours, it means that condensation is the cause of dampness. Ventilation fans might help but aren't worth it. Store those particular foods upstairs.

You can install a humidity gauge in your cellar. Delta Track sells a "Hygro Thermometer," which is about the size of a deck of cards, battery operated, with a digital display of temp and humidity and recording of daily min./max. of each: 800-962-6776; PO Box 398, Pleasanton, CA 94566. Or do this simple test for condensation in your basement. Spectrum Technologies sells humidity monitors: 800-2488873; 23839 W Andrews Rd., Plainfield, IL 60544.

Continue reading here: Regularly Check the Stored Food

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