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Store garden’s bounty for taste of summer

Sun., Oct. 31, 2010, midnight

Vegetable gardeners got lucky this fall. In spite of downright cold weather through most of the summer, we got just enough Indian summer to ripen up most of the garden stuff. When it did freeze, the frosts came with enough warning to get most of the produce out of the cold.

Now what do you do with it?

Green tomatoes can be ripened indoors. Select firm, undamaged green to yellow green fruit. Resist the temptation to use those with even tiny bruises, frost damage or breaks in the skin. Rot has already set in so they won’t keep and the rot will spread to other nearby fruit.

Set the tomatoes in a single layer not touching each other in a flat cardboard box. Cover this layer with several sheets of newspaper and add one more layer of fruit. Place the box in a 50- to 60-degree spot and check them every few days for ripening fruit. Finish ripening them on the kitchen counter. Good spaces to store the boxes are cool corners of the basement or a cool unused room elsewhere. With proper temperatures and handling it may be possible to serve ripe tomatoes for Thanksgiving.

People grew a lot of winter squash, potatoes and root crops this year. Ideally, winter squash should be harvested when their skins are so hard they can’t be dented with a fingernail. Our weather has made getting them to that point a little iffy this year. Regardless, squash need to be out of the garden before really hard frosts hit. Leave a two-to three-inch stem on the squash when you harvest them. To cure all squash except acorns for storage set them in a warm 70- to 80-degree space for 10 to 14 days to dry and form a good rind. Once cured, store them at 55 to 60 degrees and 60 to 70 percent humidity. Acorns can be stored at 40 to 55 degrees without curing.

In our climate where freezing and thawing of the soil is common through the winter, it is better to store carrots and beets in a cold indoor place. Dig the roots carefully to avoid bruises and cuts. Wash off the worst of the dirt and let them dry for a day or so. Leave an inch of tops and the tail at the bottom of carrots and beets. Pack them in single layers in a box with damp sawdust, sand or peat moss between the layers. Cover them loosely with plastic to control moisture loss.

For potatoes, brush off the heaviest dirt and let them cure for a week or so in a dry place to heal skin breaks. Store them loosely in a box with plenty of circulation around them.

All root crops need to be stored at 36 to 40 degrees and 90 percent humidity. With proper storage they will keep until early spring. These cold temperatures can be found in insulated basement corners or if you remember to bring them in when a deep cold is forecast, along the house wall of a garage.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same acre in Spokane Valley for 30 years. She can be reached by e-mail at

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