Anyone approaching the world of horticulture for the first time and curious about the best methods of harvesting and preserving vegetable garden produce can use this simple practical guide to get started in the right way.
When it comes to growing your own vegetable garden, the excitement of harvesting is certainly one of the best moments, but knowing how to store harvested vegetables is equally important. In this guide, we will explore together the most effective and accessible vegetable storage methods for novice gardeners.
We will discover step by step the best methods for storing harvested vegetables, providing practical tips and advice to ensure that each vegetable lasts as long as possible. From how to store garden vegetables to the right way to handle herbs; this guide will provide you with all the skills you need to preserve your garden produce in the best possible way.
Harvest times in the vegetable garden
Let’s start with some useful vegetable harvesting tips, looking in detail at when is the right time to harvest garden produce and how to take care of their storage.
These simple tips on when to harvest vegetables will help you to ensure the right level of protection and storage for each vegetable in your garden, without making mistakes dictated by haste or carelessness. Let’s start.
A golden rule for determining the ideal harvest time is definitely the careful observation of vegetables.
Each vegetable carries specific distinctive signs that help to recognise the harvest and storage conditions in the garden. For example, carrots are ready when their diameter reaches about 2.5 centimetres, while courgettes should be harvested when they are still tender and of moderate size.
In most cases, to find out when it is the right time to harvest vegetables, you can gently touch them. If you notice that they yield to pressure without difficulty, then they are ready to be harvested;
- Pay attention to the life cycle of plants:
Knowing the life cycle of each vegetable is very important, precisely because it allows you to have a precise idea of the supposed harvest date. It is clear that vegetables with a life cycle of a few weeks cannot take months to harvest, just as slow-growing vegetables need several days to develop properly.
For example, tomatoes are ready for harvest when they reach peak ripeness and have a well-defined colour. Conversely, potatoes should be harvested when the leaves begin to yellow and wilt (a sign that the tubers have reached their full size);
Very often, delaying the harvest can compromise the quality and flavour of vegetables. For example, overripe courgettes tend to have a fibrous texture and less flavour. Similarly, aubergines that are left too long on the tree can become bitter and lose flavour;
Keeping a log of your harvesting experiences can be very helpful in preparing for the arrival of the new year. Try to make a precise note of the times when you harvested different varieties of vegetables and the results obtained. This will enable you to sharpen your skills and improve your ability to judge the right time for harvesting.
How to store garden vegetables
Now that we have discovered what the main rules of vegetable harvesting are, we can focus on how to store garden vegetables. Once moved from the garden, there are several effective methods that can be used to take care of the natural storage of vegetables.
Here, then, is a practical guide to the different methods of preserving vegetable products so that you can enjoy their unmistakable, fresh flavour even out of season.
Freezing: the perfect method for maintaining freshness
Freezing is one of the simplest and most common methods of preserving garden vegetables.
Once the harvest is complete and the individual vegetables have been cleaned, cut the vegetables into small pieces (or slices). Boil them in water for a couple of minutes and then cool them by plunging them directly into ice water.
Then dry them well and place them inside freezer bags, always making sure to remove the air before sealing them.
This practical method of harvesting and storing allows you to enjoy the freshness of your vegetables even in the coldest months, with the possibility of thawing them out at any time.
Drying: the traditional method par excellence
Along with freezing, one of the most effective methods of preserving chillies and tomatoes is drying them.
All you have to do to dry your vegetables is cut them into slices and lay them on a grill in a dry, well-ventilated place. In such cases, a warm, ventilated environment is ideal for effective drying.
Once the vegetables are completely dry, store them inside practical airtight glass jars.
Compared to freezing, drying not only keeps the flavour intact, but also leaves the nutritional properties of the vegetables intact.
Pickling: how to preserve vegetables for a long time
A third particularly useful method of harvesting and preserving vegetables is the so-called ‘pickling’. Pickled vegetables – in particular cucumbers, carrots and onions – are perfect for seasoning salads and fresh dishes, adding an extra hint of acidity to each dish.
After cutting up all the vegetables, soak them in a solution of water, vinegar and salt. If you wish, you can also add some aromatic herbs for an extra touch of flavour (rosemary, thyme and basil).
Store the vegetables in airtight glass jars and leave them for a couple of weeks in a cool, dark place. In this way, you will get a perfect solution of delicious and always fresh vegetables.
Storing vegetables in the cellar
We conclude our list of practical methods for storing garden vegetables with a tip for those who have free space in the cellar.
If you grow roots such as potatoes, carrots or beets, the cool cellar is their natural habitat. After cleaning them thoroughly, store them inside wooden crates or jute sacks in a cool, moist environment. Stored in this way, vegetables can last up to several weeks.
If you choose to store vegetables in the cellar, remember to take care that the vegetables do not touch each other, so as to prevent the formation of mould. Then check the vegetables periodically to remove any deteriorated vegetables and ensure optimal storage.
We have just discovered how to store garden vegetables successfully. All that remains now is to take a look at effective ways of preserving herbs. After all, after harvesting fresh herbs from the garden – or from the pot on the balcony – storing them in the right way is essential to preserve their flavour and aromatic properties.
In such cases, an effective method to do this is certainly drying, which we have already seen to be very useful for preserving tomatoes and chillies. The advice is to hang small bunches of herbs tied with a string in a cool, dry and well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight. This allows the herbs to lose excess moisture, concentrating their essential oils instead.
Once completely dry, gently crumble them and store them inside airtight glass jars, preventing air or light from entering.
Alternatively, if you prefer to keep the flavour intensity of the herbs intact, freezing is an equally valid option.
All you have to do is chop the leaves finely and mix them with a little water to form ice cubes. Once solidified, store them in freezer bags.
Keeping vegetables for the long term: greenhouse storage
Is it really possible to store garden produce for the winter? How do you manage to have fresh vegetables all year round?
The methods we have seen for harvesting and storing the vegetable garden are extremely functional, suitable for all types of vegetables and herbs. However, there are also other methods that allow vegetables to be stored without problems during the winter.
Storing vegetables in greenhouses during the winter is an effective method to prolong the freshness of the harvest and enjoy vegetable products even in the coldest months. Specifically, unheated greenhouses (also known as cold greenhouses) can become the ideal environment for storing cold-resistant vegetables such as cabbage, carrots and turnips. Before using them, however, make sure that the greenhouses are well constructed and sealed to avoid cold air infiltration.
During the coldest nights, cover the vegetables with blankets, tarpaulins or straw to provide an extra layer of thermal insulation. Then be sure to uncover the plants during milder days to allow proper ventilation. Where possible, store vegetables inside insulated containers or boxes with heat insulation.
Another useful tip is to use special thermometers to monitor the temperature inside the greenhouse. If extremely low temperatures are forecast, you may have to use additional heating systems such as gas or electric heaters.
Likewise, it is important to ensure good air circulation inside the greenhouse. For this, open the windows or doors during milder days to allow fresh air to enter.
Lastly, check the humidity level inside the greenhouse and try to maintain an intermediate state at all times to prevent the vegetables from drying out. When the situation becomes too difficult, try watering the soil or using special humidifiers.
Tips for storing over-harvested vegetables
When the vegetable garden proves to be ‘too’ productive, it is important to adopt effective storage methods to avoid waste and to enjoy the produce of the earth in the long run.
Just as we have seen with aromatic herbs and seasonal vegetables, here are some practical tips that will help you understand what to do with an excess harvest from the garden:
If you find yourself in possession of a large quantity of such vegetables (e.g. courgettes or tomatoes), you can use them to prepare purees, sauces or soups that can be frozen or stored in vacuum-packed jars. These handy ‘ready meals’ can then be used quickly for all eventualities;
Some vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and onions can be stored in a cool, dark environment. You can keep them safely inside a paper bag in the refrigerator, or even better in the cellar.
- However, be sure to keep them separate from each other to prevent them from touching each other and causing mould to form;
As we have seen, one of the most common and practical ways of storing excess vegetables is by freezing them. You can store already blanched vegetables inside freezer bags, then remember to write the harvest date on the surface. This way, you will not run the risk of leaving them in the freezer for too long.
It is also worth mentioning again methods such as pickling and drying, which can prove equally valuable. Both methods work perfectly for vegetables and herbs, allowing them to be stored for long periods of time – without ever affecting their main properties and characteristics.
To take care of the harvesting and storage of vegetables, try to buy some practical airtight jars well in advance, which you will need to find a safe place to store your vegetables until you are ready to consume them.
Now that we have discovered the main tips for storing vegetables after harvesting, you are ready to take care of your vegetable garden and make informed decisions.
Learning how to take care of vegetables out of the ground is certainly very important, especially since it increases your level of security and satisfaction with the hard work done in the garden.
The world of cultivation is incredibly vast and full of surprises. Therefore, it is worth delving into every step and trying to find a solution to every problem. Good luck with the next harvest, which we hope will be plentiful and tasty.