Friday, June 18, 2010

Washing and Storing Garden Produce

In this my second year of "serious" gardening, one of the challenges that I continually face is picking and using all the produce in a timely manner.  Besides taking the time to go out and pick it, the harvest needs to be washed, prepared, and properly stored, if it is not used right away.  I would say that once all the initial planting is finished, actually using the fruits of the garden is the most time-consuming part of maintaining it. 

A lot of the plants that I'm harvesting now, especially leafy ones, such as herbs and lettuce, needed to be picked very often, or else they will flower and start to deteriorate.  This produce is also harder to give away than tomatoes or zucchini, since they have a much shorter shelf life.

As my garden starts to move into high season, I plan to share the recipes and preservation methods that I have found so far to make the most of all our wonderful garden bounty.  For now, I thought I'd share how I'm currently washing and storing what I've already harvested.

Picking: Once they reach a certain size, my mesclun greens, spinach, and herbs all really need harvesting every couple of days.  Initially, I try to pick the larger outer leaves and leave the smaller ones to get bigger.  However, if the plant has already flowered or is about to, I cut the flowering stem as far down as I can to try to promote more leaf growth.

Washing:  For the leafy produce, I fill big bowls or pots with cold water and a little vinegar and/or salt.  The vinegar and salt are supposed to bring out and kill any little bugs.  I let the greens soak; then I change the water several times until it looks pretty clear.  Then I spread the greens out on one of my lint-free dishcloths, turn on the ceiling fan, and allow them to dry for quite a while.  (I've found this is more frugal and much less time-consuming than trying to use paper towels or my cheap salad spinner for drying.)  For other vegetables, I recently purchased a vegetable brush to scrub them.  Home-grown radishes and carrots are obviously  lot dirtier than store-bought, so it can take a little elbow grease to get them clean!

Storing: My greens are stored in plastic zip-top storage lined with a paper towel in the vegetable drawer of my fridge.  The paper towel is to absorb moisture that could lead to spoilage; I change it when it seems soggy.  Stored this way I've found that herbs greens can last at least a week, if not more.  Unwashed produce tends to keep the longest, so if I don't think I will use it soon, I don't even wash it first.

That's my typical routine for the fresh produce that we've been eating these past few weeks.  As the season continues, I'll share the long-term storage solutions that I use for produce that we can't quite eat while it is still fresh.

Check out Frugal Fridays at Life as Mom and Mrs. Moneysaver for more frugal ideas.

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