I gave a talk recently called “You Grew it. Now What?” that seemed to bring out the frustrations in gardeners.
And mind you, I didn’t title it “I Grew It” because my tomatoes, my divas of the garden, my little princesses, have struggled. The months of May and June were cooler than normal as were the soil temperatures. Many of us in La Plata County had a frost June 23, and to top it all off, August feels hotter than what I remember and we’ve received little rainfall. So, it’s no surprise that the tomatoes are just now coming on.
Such is the life of a high-elevation, low-precipitation growing environment. So much so in fact that local garden guru and writer Rachel Turiel asked me, “What if my garden has sucked so bad this summer that I bought a zucchini last week?” Who knew it would get to the point where, instead of sticking zucchini in open car windows, you had to purchase one?
But if you count yourself among the lucky and have enough vegetables (and fruit) to fill a refrigerator, freezer or root cellar (yes, they still exist), you may be wondering the best way to store – and preserve – your successes for weeks or months to come.
But storing can be a problem. When I have to decide if I should refrigerate the kale, Swiss chard and lettuce or the six-pack of Mexican Logger ... well, you see the dilemma. If I could ever build my dream house, it would include a walk-in cooler. Perfect for storing some crops, a bunch of peaches and apples, and enough space to hold a folding chair for me to sit in on hot afternoons (with above-mentioned Mexican Logger) like we are having this month. That’s nirvana.
I don’t have a walk-in cooler. Nor do I have the second ideal location: a root cellar. Not very many of us do anymore, as they have been converted to dens, man caves, extra bedrooms or garages. But their environment – cool and moist (around 45 degrees and above 90% relative humidity) – works great for many “storage” crops, such as carrots, beets, potatoes, cabbage, apples and pears.
No walk-in, no root cellar and my refrigerator is packed with beer and kids’ lunch boxes. Now what? I have an unheated garage that stays cool and many of you may have a downstairs room, perhaps on the north side of the house, that doesn’t retain heat very well. In these locations, we recommend keeping food in bins or on shelves, and hopefully, there is adequate ventilation. And only store undamaged fruits and vegetables. Once produce starts to rot, the decay can spread very quickly, and there is nothing quite like opening a box or bin of rotten veggies.
Lastly, think about food preservation. Nicole Clark, our family and consumer science agent, frequently teaches hands-on classes about different techniques to keep your crops shelf-stable for a long time (drying, freezing, canning, etc.).
She will be teaching a green chile canning class Sept. 20 here at the La Plata County Fairgrounds, 2500 Main Ave. Green chiles in a jar: That’s what I’m asking for from Santa.
Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at email@example.com or 382-6464.Darrin Parmenter