No matter how carefully you plan your harvests, in summer when the garden is producing at its peak almost all gardeners have to deal with gluts from plants that have yielded an abundant harvest of vegetables or fruit, or from crops which have all matured at once.
Fortunately, some fruits and vegetables store well for months if they are kept in the right conditions. The key to success is to know which crops store well, to only store unblemished produce, and to check them regularly, immediately removing any which show signs of disease or rotting.
Here are some suggestions for storing gluts of various types of produce:
Apples and Pears
Apples and pears are best stored in trays with slats to allow good air movement. They should be placed on the trays gently to prevent bruising, not touching to promote good air circulation, and stored in a cool place such as a garage or cellar that is free from rodents. Keep them away from strong smells such as onions. How long they will keep for will depend on the conditions and the variety, so choose cultivars which are suitable for storing, such as many late varieties. Wrapping each fruit in newspaper can help to lengthen the time they can be stored, but it does make checking the fruits more difficult.
Root vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and beets also store well. Carrots can be left in the ground until you need them, lifting them as required until the first frost, or longer if covered by a thick mulch of leaves. If you pull them up for storage, cut the leafy tops off roots such as beets and carrots, remove soil and place them in a single layer in a tray or box. Then, cover them with a layer of slightly damp sand to prevent them from losing moisture and becoming rubbery.
Potatoes can be stored in hessian or paper sacks. Harvest them on a dry day and leave them out in the sun to dry. Remove any soil from the tubers to prevent mold from forming.
Onions, Garlic and Shallots
Onions, garlic and shallots are best dried thoroughly in a warm place, a process called curing. Avoid direct sunlight – a shed or shaded shelf is a good place – for about 4 weeks. They should then be stored in a cooler dry place until required. Try tying the necks into plaits which can be hung up, or cut the tops off and hang them in mesh bags or baskets.
Winter squash and pumpkins can also be cured, but summer squash can’t be stored so they’ll need to be chopped and cooked, then frozen.
Batch Cooking and Other Ideas
Harvesting lots of ripe produce is a great excuse to dust off your apron and turn your gluts into tasty meals that you can eat yourself immediately, share with friends, or freeze now and use later. There are an almost endless number of recipes and meals you can make this way.
Many fruits can be cooked and made into pies, crumbles and other desserts which, when frozen, will last for months. All sorts of vegetables can be turned into delicious quiches, pies, crumbles or curries, all of which can be easily frozen once cooked, taken to dinner parties or offered to neighbors. It’s often quicker to just make and freeze the filling for pies and other dishes, and make the crust fresh when you need it – this also takes up less space in the freezer. Labelling each batch, including the date when they were frozen, is essential to avoid confusion, as they can all look very similar in a few months’ time.
A glut is a great opportunity to let your creative juices to flow, and the Internet is an excellent resource of ideas. Many websites and apps allow you to type in the ingredients you have an excess of, and see a list of suggested recipes. A glut of soft fruit can be added to your family’s breakfast cereal, blended with cold milk for a delicious milkshake, or frozen to make unusual ice cubes to cool drinks on a hot day. Many vegetables make great skewers on the barbecue or grill, or try adding them to pizzas, frittatas, burritos or pasta in place of your usual ingredients.
You can even try juicing combinations of fruits, herbs and vegetables to see which taste the best. Why not throw a party and have people experiment, with a prize for the winner – a big bag of whatever fruit or vegetable you have the most of!
If you’re growing on a community garden or allotment, or know other local growers, sharing your gluts is a great way of swapping produce and ensuring it doesn’t go to waste. Swap them for things you don’t grow, or where your own harvest hasn’t done quite so well. You can even leave produce or plants out for neighbors so they can help themselves – who knows what they might offer in return?
It’s also worth checking to see if your area has a food bank or charity cooking initiative which will accept fresh produce and turn it into tasty meals for people in need.