Many Master Gardener Help Desk calls at the end of this growing season have been about garden cleanup, as would be expected. Yet other calls have been about handling expected or bonus yields of late-season produce, especially root crops and the hard rind squashes.
Q: We still have carrots in the garden, and do not want them to go to waste. How can we store them for a while longer?
A: There are a couple of choices for in-ground storage right in the garden. The easiest is to mulch the row with clean straw or loose leaves for the next few weeks. Go out and dig what you need and leave the rest. Put a deep layer down – 6 to 8 inches – and you can harvest well into December, January and maybe February, as you have prevented the soil from freezing solid.
The second method takes more time now, but may be more convenient later. Go ahead, harvest the carrot row, and immediately heal them in at the end of the row all together. Cover well and retrieve them as needed, replacing the mulch each time. This puts them at the edge of the garden all in one place. Carrots fall into the cold moist group for storage. They do not have a thick skin, so high moisture is needed. Ideally, around 95 percent, which is why you have a crisper drawer in the refrigerator and why leaving them in the ground works well. They can take temperatures down to freezing outside and the other benefit is they get sweeter-tasting, too.
Other root crops like parsnips, turnips and radish fall into this group as well. A tip is to place groups of carrots, parsnips, turnips together to use as fresh ingredients in a variety of meals. Storage times range from two to three weeks to four to six months depending on what you are storing.
Q: I have lots of butternut and acorn squash I need to put somewhere. What are the storage conditions to keep them for a long time?
A: Hard rind, or winter, squash are not very fussy about storage. They fall into the cool and dry group. Ideal storage temperatures are between 50 and 55 degrees, so not in our range of comfort. Stored warmer and we just need to use them sooner. If you use a humidistat, look for 60 to 70 percent. In the unheated basement, away from heat sources, against an outside wall works. You may have that back bedroom that is kept a lot cooler than the rest of the home, or a semi-heated breezeway between the home and garage could be another option. Winter squashes, including pie pumpkins, can last two to four months.
Remember, whenever and wherever you store vegetables, the motto should be “store the best and eat the rest.”
• Richard Hentschel is a horticulture educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving DuPage, Kane and Kendall counties. Get more garden and yard updates with the Green Side Up podcast at go.illinois.edu/greensideup.