My neighbors, Dale and Bev Lippincott, recently asked me if there are any general guidelines about storing vegetables. They have been busy filling up their freezer with many vegetables and various fruits to enjoy later in the winter.
I thought that some reflections on this subject would be good, as many others are storing vegetables for use later in the year.
Successful storage of vegetables depends not only on the storage conditions, especially those of the proper temperature and relative humidity, but also on the conditions under which the vegetables were grown and handled prior to storage.
In addition, many different products give off gaseous substances while they are in storage, and some of these gases can cause changes in color, texture and flavor of other vegetables. It is important to know which vegetables to store together to avoid problems in your storage or root cellar.
Ethylene is one of the main gaseous substances given off. Apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, muskmelon and tomatoes produce significant quantities of ethylene.
This gas can cause premature ripening of the fruit. Ethylene gas is used to ripen green tomatoes in commercial storages. It also can cause a loss of green color in leafy vegetables, peppers, cucumbers and squash. Ethylene can cause the formation of a bitter compound in carrots.
Do not store apples with potatoes, as the ethylene given off by the apples will cause the potatoes to sprout. Also, potatoes may cause apples to take on a musty flavor.
The cole crops (cabbage, rutabaga, turnips) may give strong odors to other crops. Celery has also been known to impart off-flavors. Onions are seldom stored with other crops because of odor transfer. Think of the time you put the half of an onion that you didn’t use in your refrigerator without putting it in a tightly sealed container.
Root crops may cause off-flavors in fruits and leafy vegetables if they are held in the same room. The off-flavor is usually called “earthy.” This is an inaccurate term, as the off-flavor seems to come from the root crop itself and not the soil.
For example, apples, which take up odors very rapidly, may be kept in areas with earth floors without picking up undesirable odors.
In summary, avoid the following storage combinations whenever possible: celery with onion or carrots; root crops with fruit or leafy vegetables; apples and pears with cabbage, celery, lettuce or other green vegetables, carrots, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes or onions.
Also, to give you a rough idea of the storage time for vegetables, it can range from two months for tomatoes to seven months for onions, with beets coming in around the middle at four months.
It is important to think about what crop to store with another so that your vegetables and fruits will be of high quality when you go to consume them during the winter months.
Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the Department of Plant Science, Penn State University, and can be reached by email: email@example.com.