IT’S been a difficult year for fruit and vegetables, with the cold weather in spring, incessant summer rain and subsequent deluge of slugs, snails, blight and other nuisances.
But for those of us who haven’t suffered from poor pollination of fruit crops, tomato and potato blight and slug-infested greens, now’s the time to think about how you are going to store what you have.
Temperatures are dropping and tender vegetables need to be encouraged to ripen before the first frosts.
Anyone with unripe tomatoes shouldn’t delay in removing leaves from the bases of plants to let in more sunlight to the fruits.
They will need harvesting before the first frosts and should continue to ripen indoors if you pick them now. Cut whole trusses of green tomatoes and hang them in an airy place such as a garage or spare bedroom.
Long-keeper varieties such as the Spanish ‘De Colgar’ ripen slowly after harvesting if kept in a cool, frost-free place and can take three months to reach maturity, so they’ll be ready for eating in winter.
Maincrop potatoes should be harvested on warm, sunny days and left to dry out in the sun, after which they can be stored in thick paper sacks (only half-fill them as this makes it easier to check for bad potatoes) and kept in the dark in a frost-free place.
First early and second early varieties generally don’t store well, so use these as quickly as you can. Maincrops, however, should store until after Christmas and possibly into March.
Bend the leaves of onions and shallots over at the neck and once they turn brown, pull the plants up but leave the bulbs on the ground to continue to dry off.
After about a week, lay them in trays or put them into nets to hang up in the shed. Alternatively, you can make French onion strings (and do the same with shallots and garlic) by keeping as much of the straw-like foliage on them as possible and plaiting it together, reinforcing the strands with hessian twine to make it stronger.
Varieties of early apples generally don’t keep so they need to be eaten shortly after picking, but later varieties will keep in the salad compartment in your fridge for between four to six weeks. Alternatively, they can be placed in wooden boxes lined with newspaper, in a cool, airy shed, where the mice won’t get them.
You can wrap stored apples individually in newspaper to ensure they never touch each other and so prevent one bad apple infecting the whole crop. Apples and pears kept in this way should last for six weeks or more and maybe even until Christmas.
Be warned, though, that pears don’t store as well as apples. If they are fully ripe, keep them in the bottom of the fridge in polythene bags for up to six weeks. If storing for longer, pick the pears before they are fully ripe and keep them as cold as possible, laying them out on wooden trays in an airy place.
Root vegetables including beetroot, maincrop carrots and turnips can be stored in boxes, but leave parsnips you don’t want to eat now in the ground as frost improves the taste. You can also leave hardy varieties of leeks where they are and you should still be digging them up until late February.
Winter salads such as radicchio also keep well in the shed in boxes lined with plastic, but should be checked regularly for mouldy leaves, which need removing immediately.
Squashes need to ripen and dry, so when you cut them, leave them outside so the skins dry in the sun. Then bring them into a warm, dry place so the skins harden. They should keep until Christmas in a frost-free shed, although they store better in a covered porch or in a cool room indoors.
There are certain crops which don’t store well, such as sweetcorn and French beans. You’ll need to blanch and freeze the surplus for further use.
And then there’s all those chutneys and jams you could be making for Christmas...