As the gardening season is winding down, produce is piling up in the kitchen. Potatoes have been dug, peppers are picked and squash is in a basket. Now is the time to store the rewards of your hard won labors.


Photo from

When I was a child, my grandmother’s home had a root cellar with a dirt floor and field rock walls. It was the ‘room’ between the wooden stairs up to the outside and the cellar, which was filled with scary, old things that made loud noises,  smelled of kerosene and musty clothing, and housed the occasional snake.  I did not like the cellar, but loved going into the root cellar. It smelled of the earth, like soil and the hay bales we placed to hold wooden boxes off of the floor. The boxes were filled with clean sand for the keeping of carrots, beets and turnips buried in the damp sand. None of vegetables where supposed to touch each other to prevent a rotten spot from occurring or spreading to the adjacent root vegetable.  Cabbages were laid on other hay bales, up off the floor, as were wooden boxes of winter squashes and pumpkins. Onions were braided together hand hung from nails on the beams overhead or put into burlap grain bags repurposed. The root cellar was dark and moist, perfect for holding vegetables. Yes, we had a refrigerator but it wasn’t as large as today’s, nor did it provide enough room for all the garden excess intended to get us through the winter. The root cellar was a form of primitive refrigeration using the cool and constant temperature of below ground to store food. Our modern day homes don’t come equipped with root cellars, but we can still store the bounty of our gardens.

Photo from University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Winter squash and pumpkins need curing for long storage of several months. Squash will last longer is the stems are left on. After picking, let them lay in the sun off the ground, on a picnic table perhaps, for about a week. Turn them over every couple of days to make sure all sides are exposed to the sun. Curing hardens the skin of the squashes, making them less likely to rot in storage. Once cured, brush off any remaining dirt, then wash the squash with a 10 percent bleach and water solution, or a 50/50 vinegar and water mix. Either mixture will disinfect any fungi or bacteria which harm the squash once stored. Wrap each squash in newspaper and place in a basket or box with slats or openings on the sides to promote ventilation. The newspaper will create an air space between each squash. Store in a cool, dry area of the home that will not go below freezing. 50 degrees F is optimum. I put mine on the bottom step of my basement hatchway.

winter squash storage

hatchway storage

Potatoes must be cured also. After the foliage has died back, dig up the potatoes. They need to cure and be stored in the dark, out of the sun or they will develop green spots on the skin that can have toxic properties. A dark tool shed or garage without windows will work well. After digging, lay tubers on newspaper in the dark space for about two weeks at 50 to 60 degrees F. Potatoes should not touch during the curing process. After the two weeks, wipe off any dirt without washing at all. Remove any tubers with spots or damage to eat first as they will not store well. Place storage potatoes in a bushel basket or cardboard box. Cover with newspaper or burlap to exclude any light. Place in a space that will not freeze and not get above 50 degrees F for longest keeping quality.


Potatoes, photo by Carol Quish


Onions can be dug and laid right on top of the ground for about a week as long as there is no danger of frost or rain. If rain is threatened, move them to a shed, porch or garage with good ventilation.  Necks will dry and brown. They can then be braided together or kept in mesh bags or bushel baskets as good airflow is needed. Keep them out of the light and a cool, 35 to 35 degree F location.

Photo from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension

The root crops of carrots and beets can be dug, wiped clean and stored in airtight freezer bags in the refrigerator. Leave an inch of the green tops on the vegetables and do not cut off any root material from the base. Cutting into the flesh gives fungi and bacteria a place to enter. An alternative method of storage is in damp sand just like in the root cellar with a temperature of 35 to 40 degrees F. Some people leave them right in the ground, only digging up what they need before the ground freezes. Covering the in-ground crop with a thick layer of hay or straw will delay the ground from freezing until it gets really cold.


Carrots, photo by Carol Quish

Green tomatoes can be gathered before the first frost. Select only fruit with no bad spots. Get out the newspaper once again, to wrap each tomato for protection and airflow. Alternatively, lay tomatoes in single layers separated with layers of newspapers. Keep out the light and keep in a cool spot below 50 degrees F. Check them all once per week to remove any that develop rot. Hopefully they will ripen by the New Year.

tomatoes end of season

Tomatoes not ripe yet, Photo by Carol Quish

One crop I gather to remind me of years gone by and out of style is Quince. My local orchard has a quince tree as most farm houses had outside its kitchen. Quince fruit has a very high pectin content which was commonly boiled along with any fruit to make a jelly or jam before powdered or liquid pectin was commercially available.

Surejell and Certo has made the backyard quince tree fall out of favor. I admit I don’t use the quince fruit to make my jellies and jams anymore, but at least I am still preserving the harvest in an updated manner.


jars of jam.jpg

-Carol Quish,  photos copyright, Carol Quish

In recent years, edible plants have enjoyed a boost in popularity not only as traditional vegetable gardens but also as elements of ornamental plantings. Heirloom varieties continue to find a wider audience among home growers. Quince is a suitable candidate for this rediscovered fame, yet it languishes in near-obscurity here in the U.S.

Beginning in colonial times, quince had been a staple in American gardens, providing a valuable source of pectin for the preservation of foods. When commercial preparations of pectin and gelatin were introduced in the 1890s, the importance of this venerable fruit began to decline. The baby that was thrown out with the bathwater was quince’s ethereal flavor and aroma, now sadly forgotten.

Quince fruit have a delectable aroma when ripe.

Native to Western Asia, Cydonia oblonga was in cultivation even before the apple. In fact, it’s been around for so long that it may very well be the tempting fruit referred to in Genesis. Quince is widely eaten in Europe and South America, prepared in a number of ways, but always cooked. It’s served as a jelly, a paste, poached in water or wine, roasted with lamb and combined with apples to lend fragrant complexity to cider. Turkey is the world’s largest commercial producer; in the U.S. it’s California, with the variety ‘Pineapple’ dominating. Quince is also grown as dwarfing rootstock for pear.

Cydonia has an irksome tendency to sucker in youth, but diligent pruning will be rewarded by a precociously gnarled, picturesque tree about 15’ tall.  Preferring the acid soils that predominate in Connecticut, it will produce well, given good drainage and full sun. Fire blight can be a problem in humid summers. Delicate flowers of white to pale pink put on an understated display in mid-spring. Big (up to 3 lbs.), yellow and lumpy, the fruit earns redemption for its imperfect beauty when it fills a room with intoxicating perfume.

 Although related, Cydonia is distinct from Flowering Quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), a thorny shrub that produces flamboyant coral-pink blooms in early spring, and Chinese Quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis), a small tree with a fluted trunk of peeling bark and deep pink flowers.  Both relatives bear edible fruit.

It’s getting down to the wire for placing orders with mail-order houses for spring planting. There are a staggering number of options for the more popular tree fruits, such as apples, pears, plums, peaches and cherries. But before you lick or click, consider the quince.