COLUMN — Curing and storage guidelines for long-lasting crops
It takes a lot of time and effort to grow potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic and onions in your garden, and to make the most of your harvest it’s important to store these crops properly. Onions, garlic and sweet potatoes require curing (partial drying) before storage, but these crops and potatoes can last into winter under the right storage conditions.
The extra effort to grow and cure these vegetables is well worth it once you experience the superior flavor home-grown varieties have compared to those sold at supermarkets. I highly recommend Louisa County-based Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for sourcing the seeds and slips for these crops. The varieties they sell are well-adapted to our Virginia climate, unique and delicious.
Potatoes don’t require a curing period, and only need to be dug up and the loose dirt brushed off of them before storage. They shouldn’t be washed until you’re ready to cook with them. Potatoes can stay in open containers or mesh bags for improved ventilation, though layers of them should be kept to less than 4 inches deep if in baskets or spread out on shelves.
Curing minimizes the moisture content in garlic, onions and sweet potatoes, improving their flavor and hardiness for longer storage. All three crops should be cured in a warm, shady place with good air circulation. This could be in a shed, on a covered porch, or a warmer corner of your home out of direct sunlight. I secured wire screening to the bottom of rectangular wooden frames to use as curing racks, but laying the vegetables on any screening or shelving works. You can hang onions and garlic by braiding or tying their tops together. While air should move around the crops as they dry, you don’t want a fan to blow directly on them as they cure.
Onions and garlic are cured when their necks are dry and their outer skin is papery. This will likely take at least a couple of weeks. Sweet potatoes need less time to cure, about 10 days, and just like potatoes, it’s important not to wash them until you’re ready to eat them. Sweet potatoes sweeten over time, so even if you move the sweet potatoes from curing conditions into storage, waiting to eat them for four to six weeks after harvesting will reward you with greatly improved flavor.
To make them last as long as possible into winter, store potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions and garlic in a cool, dark place with good air circulation. Perhaps you’re lucky enough to have a root cellar where they could live, but a garage or unheated room or large closet work well, too. Properly storing crops you grew yourself not only provides ingredients for hearty winter meals without a trip to the store, but also preserves the food’s quality and nutrients so you’re truly getting the most from what you harvest.
You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on Virginia Food Works’ website: www.virginiafoodworks.org/Home-Canning-Resources.
Katharine Wilson is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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