Tag Archives: food preservation

The Case for Storage Crops

Jacob’s Cattle (Trout) Bush Dry Bean

You don’t need to be a “prepper” to grow storage crops. In fact, there are many reasons anyone with room should add a few storage crops to their garden. Storage crops can help you cut down on your grocery bill, eat a more local diet (which is better for the environment), and even eat a little healthier too. They’re also a great way to connect with history. Not long ago all of our ancestors relied on storage crops to help them make it through the year. Today we may not depend on them but growing some can be a worthwhile pursuit.

Dry Beans

They’re wonderfully easy to grow and a great source of protein. Beans are also a nitrogen-fixing legume perfect for growing after or in combination with heavy-feeders like corn. Dry bean varieties are either pole or bush type so consider your space before choosing a variety.

Dry beans should be allowed to fully mature and if possible dry before harvest. If frost or wet weather threatens you can pull the entire plant and hang them under cover to dry. An easy way to thresh dry beans is to take the beans still in pods and pour them into an old pillowcase. Then you can beat the pillowcase against a hard surface to break up the pods. You can then winnow the pods out.

Potatoes

While we often associate potatoes with the Irish they’re actually indigenous to the Andes in what’s now southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. They’ve been cultivated for over 10,000 years!

Potatoes need to be cured before storage. Once harvested potatoes should be cured in a single layer somewhere dark and dry. Avoid washing them. You can gently brush off any dirt as they dry. After 7-10 days they can be placed in cardboard boxes and stored somewhere cool and dry. Around 55°F is ideal.

Sweet Potatoes

Don’t think sweet potatoes are only for Thanksgiving! This super versatile vegetable is nutritious and easy to grow at home. Unlike store bought sweet potatoes, varieties available for home cultivation range from starchy to sweet with a variety of colors including purple and white!

If cured and stored properly, sweet potatoes will keep for months with little effort. Check out the link above for everything you need to know about growing, harvesting, and storing sweet potatoes.

Winter Squash & Pumpkins

These awesome plants were developed by Native Americans and were an important dietary staple. Most have a sprawling nature so they require quite a bit of garden space but they can be grown beneath taller crops like in the “three sisters” method. Once established their vines will shade the soil reducing the need for watering and weeding.

Like sweet potatoes, winter squash must be harvested, cured, and stored properly to maximize their storage potential. However, this process is fairly straightforward and simple and squash can keep through the winter.

Floriani Red Flint Corn

Flour Corn

Also called maize, corn is still a staple crop in much of the world. Originally cultivated by Native Americans, flour corn is nothing like the sweet corn most of us are accustomed to eating at summer cookouts today.

Check out the link about to learn how to process your own flour corn for making food like grits, tortillas, and cornbread.

Root Vegetables

There are a variety of root vegetables that make excellent winter storage crops. Depending on your family’s preferences consider growing extra carrots, beets, turnips, or rutabagas.

If you live in a fairly mild climate one of the best ways to store root vegetables is right in the ground. Simply mound some mulch over them like hay or stray and harvest them as needed. Alternatively, you can harvest them, remove the tops and store them in layers in boxes of damp sand or shredded newspaper. Make sure they’re not touching and check them every week or so for spoilage.

Cabbage

When many people picture storing cabbage they often think of sauerkraut. While this is a fine and delicious way to preserve a cabbage harvest, you can also keep cabbage fresh. If you have a root cellar or cool damp space you can hang heads of cabbage upside down by their roots. Cabbage stored this way can keep for 3-4 months.

Garlic

While garlic may not be a staple crop it does provide a lot of flavor for little effort. Many believe that garlic may also have health benefits and historically has been used to treat a variety of ailments.

Garlic is started in the fall from cloves. There are two types hardneck and softneck garlic. Hardneck produces scapes and handles cold temperatures well but softneck typically stores longer, though both will store for several months. Both types should be cured before storage.

Onions

At SESE we carry both bulb and perennial onions which are ideal for winter storage. Like most other storage vegetables, onions must be cured. Then they can be stored at room temperature and bring flavor to meals for months to come. They’re also a great crop for small gardens because they take up little space and are ideal for companion planting with many other vegetables.

Storage Tomatoes

While you can preserve any variety of tomatoes some varieties can be stored fresh! They’re harvested green in the fall and brought inside to ripen. All you need is a place to lay out your tomatoes with air space in between each one at room temperature. They can provide fresh tomatoes up to three months after harvest. Check out the link above to learn about three storage tomato varieties.

All of these wonderful vegetables can be stored for winter use without any electricity or complicated preservation techniques required. Having these on hand can help you make and eat healthier meals from home which is better for your budget and the planet.

The Power of Fermented Foods: Making Sauerkraut

You may have heard  people talk about how good yogurt is for you because it contains probiotics. However there’s actually a variety of foods that are naturally fermented and contain these helpful organisms. When made at home, products like kimchi, certain pickles, kombucha, and even natural sodas are all chock full of probiotics. One of the easiest foods to ferment yourself is Sauerkraut.

Benefits of Sauerkraut

  • It’s great for gut health.
    The probiotics in sauerkraut helps keep your digestive system healthy.
  • Kraut is highly nutritious.
    The fermentation process makes the vitamins and minerals in cabbage more accessible to your body.
  • It’s good for your immune system.
    Many studies show having a healthy digestive system is important to having a healthy immune system.
  • It’s a  great way to preserve and use extra cabbage.
    It can last for months in the fridge or cold storage.
  • It may help improve your mood.
    Some recent studies have led scientists to believe that there’s a connection between gut flora and a person’s mood. Eating fermented foods like sauerkraut may help you feel better physically and emotionally.
  • It’s simple to make.
    Sauerkraut requires just 3 basic ingredients and there’s no fancy equipment needed!

Want to make your sauerkraut? Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • Cabbage
  • Kosher, pickling, or sea salt (non-iodized)
  • Knife and cutting board
  • Mixing bowl
  • Clean jar or jars with lids

To begin rinse your cabbage and then set a few nice, whole cabbage leaves to the side (you’ll need one per jar). Then finely slice your cabbage. If you’re doing a lot of kraut you may want to use a mandolin vegetable slicer however I usually just use a knife.

A lot of recipes call for a specific amount of cabbage but you can use as much as you’d like to make and adjust your salt to the amount of cabbage you’re using. You should use approximately 1 1/2 tsp of salt for every quart of kraut you’re making.

Once you’ve sliced your cabbage, place it in a mixing bowl. Slowly add the salt while squishing the salt and cabbage together with your hands. The cabbage will begin to look slippery and shiny. Eventually there should be a good bit of juice (called brine) in the bowl. You should be able to see it run out of a handful of cabbage when you squeeze it. If you taste your cabbage, it should be pretty salty but not disgustingly so.

Then you can pack your cabbage into a clean jar. Start with a spoonful or handful at a time carefully packing each one into the jar to avoid any air pockets. You can use a clean spoon, your hand, a tamper, or a pestle. Leave at least an  1 1/2 inches of head space in your jar.

Use the cabbage leaf you set aside at the begin to cover the top of your kraut. You want all of your cabbage to be fully submerged. You can way your kraut down with a sterilized stone like I did for these pickles or if you have enough room you can use a little dish of water. You can also use a ziplock bag of water or a crock weight if you have one.

Place your jar or jars of kraut out of direct sunlight but somewhere you will remember to keep an eye on them. You kraut will need to ferment between 4-14 days. It will ferment faster in warmer temperatures. You should open your jar at least once per day to let out any gases that have built up. You don’t want your jar to explode. You may also need to pack the cabbage down if you notice any above the brine or any air pockets. If you notice a film on top of the brine you can just scrape it off. It won’t hurt you.

You’ll know your kraut is finished when it is more yellow than green and translucent. It’s flavor will get more intense the longer it ferments so how long you leave it is up to you. Once it’s finished you can store it in the fridge or a cool root cellar to stop fermentation.

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Harvesting & Curing Winter Squash & Pumpkins

How do you tell they’re ripe?

If you’ve never done it before determining if winter squash is ripe can be a bit more difficult than picking tomatoes or green beans. It’s also very important that it is ripe if you want it to store well through the winter.

The biggest indicator that winter squash and pumpkins are ready to be harvested is their stems. The stems should be hard and dry. Often you can tell that the plant is beginning to die. The fruits should also be their mature color and sound hollow when patted with an open hand.

Harvest

When they’re ready it’s time to harvest! Simply cut the fruit from the plant, leaving about 1 inch of stem with a knife or garden shears. Lightly wipe off large clumps of dirt with your hand.

Never carry your squash or pumpkin by their stem as breaking them off often drastically reduces their storage ability. Also try to avoid handling them roughly to reduce bruising and nicks.

If a hard frost is imminent you should go ahead and harvest any squash left on the vine even if it’s not perfectly ready. Hard frosts can damage squash and make them rot. Just keep in mind that squash harvested early may not keep quite as long so it should be used first. Leaving a longer stem can help them finish maturing properly.

Curing

Before you can store your winter squash it needs to be cured for about 7-10 days depending upon the variety. The best way to cure squash is to lay it out on a dry surface with enough space for air to move around it. Every day or so your squash should be moved or turned over to a new position.

A picnic table in your yard will work if the weather’s still warm enough, a pallet in your hoop house, your kitchen table, or even sunny windowsill.

The curing process allows the skin to toughen up so that your squash will be ready for storage.

Storage

Winter squash is one of the lovely foods that takes little effort to store at home. Ideally you should find a dry place to store your squash where the temperature stays between 50°F and 68°F degrees.

You might find a place in a spare bedroom, office, under a bed, or in a coat closet. You should store your squash in a single layer and not touching. That way if one begins to rot it won’t effect the others.

While your squash is in storage you should be careful to check it at least once a week for soft spots or mold. Use any squash that are starting to go bad immediately.