One of the most frequently asked questions we get at the farm is, “how do I store or preserve the fresh vegetables I buy from the farm?” If you are taking the time and spending the money to buy fresh, local, organically grown vegetables, we want to ensure you enjoy them to their fullest. It is sad when we hear that the vegetables went bad in a few days due to not knowing how to store, preserve or prepare your vegetables when you bring them home.
For many vegetables, especially leafy greens such as lettuce, kale, Swiss chard, and Asian greens, you need to create some humidity, but not wetness. Many people stick their vegetables in the refrigerator. In many cases, this is what will destroy fresh vegetables very quickly. I know that in my refrigerator certain areas get very cold and freeze the vegetables which destroys them right away. So, I often avoid the refrigerator as much as possible.
The Science Behind Ripening Vegetables
Before we get started with some ideas, let’s explain some of the science behind what is happening with your fruits and veggies when you bring them home. Fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas which is a naturally occurring plant hormone that encourages ripening. Ripening brings on sweetness and softening which is a great thing. However, it also encourages green leaves to turn yellow as the ethylene gas breaks down the chlorophyll in the leaves. It also causes yellowing in cucumbers and broccoli and eggplants to develop brown spots. We don’t want our fruits and veggies to ripen too quickly after we take them home and before we get to consume them. So the question becomes what can we do to slow the ripening process so we don’t create yellow, smelly, mushy veggies and, instead, store and preserve fresh vegetables?
How to Best Store and Preserve Your Produce
Below are some techniques that we use as well as some research we did to provide you with some ideas on how to best preserve your produce before using it. However, the best technique is to use the veggies as soon as possible!!
Always keep certain fruits and vegetables separate. Certain fruits and veggies give off more ethylene gas than others. When they are stored together, this will speed up the ripening process. Consult this produce chart to learn more about the higher ethylene producing fruits and veggies.
Lettuce, Swiss Chard, Kale, Collard Greens, Asian Greens (and any other fresh greens)
When you bring these greens home they are sometimes wet. Remove any rubber bands. Wash them thoroughly when you get home. Any farm fresh veggies may be joined by some soil and some additional protein at times. Once washed, ensure you dry the greens. The goal is to keep the veggies dry, but retain some humidity. Place the greens in a glass or plastic container with a paper towel or cloth on the bottom. The paper towel or cloth will collect any water, but help retain humidity. You can place the container in the refrigerator. However, place them in a section of your refrigerator that is not the coldest section.
Personally, I sometimes leave my lettuce and other greens on the counter. My house is air-conditioned most of the summer and it seems to last a few days which is the timeframe that we normally use our greens. My refrigerator tends to get too cold and freezes my lettuce or greens. Use your judgment based on your home and refrigerator situation.
How to Preserve Fresh Cut Herbs
Fresh cut herbs, for the most part, can be treated like cut flowers. Place them in a jar or glass with some water. However, unlike flowers, cover the herb with a plastic bag to keep the humidity present on the leafy, green part of the herb. Some people leave the herbs on their counter while others put them in the refrigerator. Again, use your discretion based on your home situation.
With herbs, there are a few exceptions to this rule. It is recommended that basil be stored in an airtight container/jar loosely packed with a small damp piece of paper or cloth inside and left out on a cool counter. Basil should definitely not be placed in the refrigerator, as the leaves will quickly go bad.
Preserving Zucchini, Yellow Squash & Cucumbers
Zucchini, yellow squash, patty pan squash, French zucchini, etc. can be placed in a brown paper bag and left on the kitchen counter until used. For longer storage, wrap in a moist towel or cloth in the refrigerator.
Preventing Potatoes from Ripening
Potatoes (including sweet potatoes) should not be placed in the refrigerator. They should be kept in a cool, dark place. Ensure onions are not placed next to potatoes.
Tomatoes from the Farm
Tomatoes must not be placed in the refrigerator. Place them on your counter. However, once cut with the inside of the tomato exposed, place them cut side down on a plate or container and place in refrigerator or on the counter. I tend to place the tomato half in the refrigerator for sanitary purposes.
Carrots & Radishes
Cut off the green tops of carrots or radishes to keep fresh longer and place in a closed container with plenty of moisture. Some people store carrots and radishes in water in the refrigerator as long as the water is changed frequently. I have not personally tried this technique.
Leave corn unhusked in an open container. However, corn should be consumed the same day it is purchased. That is when it will taste the best!
Freshly Harvested Peppers
Wash peppers right before eating. Wetness will decrease the storage time. Store peppers in a cool room for use in a couple of days.
Farm Fresh Garlic
The garlic you purchase in a grocery store has spent a long time curing from the time it was harvested to the time you are actually purchasing it. Recently harvested garlic from a local farm is very different and needs time to cure. Never place fresh garlic or garlic scapes from a local farm into your refrigerator. They will become moldy and very soft. Place it on your kitchen counter and allow it to cure. It can be used right away, but not stored in a refrigerator.
If you cannot store and preserve your fresh vegetables in the methods presented above, freezing vegetables is another alternative. Freezing is not my preferred method, but depending on how you are using them, freezing may be a great option and the only option you have. However, before you freeze your vegetables, you should blanch (cook briefly in boiling water) them. This works well for beans, peas, corn, and tomatoes. Also, the sooner you freeze vegetables after you harvest them, the better. Blanching before freezing preserves the color of the produce, reduces vitamin loss, and cleans the surface of the vegetables.
Some customers freeze their kale as well. They clean and cut it up, place the pieces in a bag and freeze them. One other idea is to place the kale into ice cube trays with water. These frozen kale options are a great ingredient for smoothies.
We can arm you with different ideas to preserve and store fresh vegetables. However, find what works best for your home situation! Fluctuations in refrigerator temperatures can impact your vegetables. The inside temperature of your kitchen can impact veggies left out on your counters. So use these techniques as a guide to help you figure out the best methods for the veggies that you are bringing home from your local farm.