HARVESTING AND STORING 101
The effort spent growing vegetables is wasted if the crop is not harvested at the right maturity. Commercial vegetables have a good appearance, texture and flavor.
Home-grown vegetables should be better since they are harvested at optimum maturity. Flavor is sacrificed if picked too early; textures change if stored too long. Appearance suffers with poor handling or storage. Nothing is as sweet as vine-ripened melons, as flavorful as home grown tomatoes, as crisp as fresh lettuce and carrots or as tender as garden asparagus.
Vegetables vary in the length of their harvest time. Carrots, beets and other root crops can be harvested over several weeks and still maintain quality. Tomatoes and peppers have shorter harvest periods but do not suffer if left on the vine for a time. Highly perishable crops like beans, sweet corn, asparagus and peas have narrow windows of ideal texture, quality and flavor.
Do not wait until the whole crop is mature before starting to harvest. Harvest carrots, lettuce, beets, onions, spinach and celery when they reach edible size. This increases the harvest season and minimizes waste from crops that cannot be canned or frozen. Use slightly more mature vegetables for preserving.
Vegetable storage varies greatly from asparagus that lasts for a few days to dry beans that keep for years. Storage quality is influenced by cultivar, climate, soils, cultural practices, maturity and storage conditions. Select disease-free vegetables without bruises and blemishes for long-term storage.
Vegetables continue to respire or age after harvest. Respiration releases heat and moisture so controlling these is important for quality control.
Lower temperatures lower respiratory metabolism and improve storage time. Cool season vegetables store best near 32°F while warm season vegetables are injured if temperatures drop below 45 to 50°F.
Tender vegetables are adversely affected by cold temperatures, and temperatures that fall below 40°F cause chilling injury as tissue breaks down. Chilling injury causes skin blemishes, pitting, discoloration, poor ripening and off flavors as decay occurs. Chilling injury also happens in the garden before harvest and prevents good long-term storage.
Specific storage requirements for vegetables include temperature, moisture and aeration. Warm temperatures increase respiration and ripening and cause moisture loss and wilting. They increase disease growth and cause potatoes and onions to sprout.
Avoid storage areas where water condenses as it encourages rot and fungal growth. When moisture conditions are too low, vegetables wilt.