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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Extend garden vegetable shelf-life with proper harvest and storage 

green, red, and white tomatoes in harvest bins

When the garden harvest has matured, the work has not stopped. In North Normal, a harvest of potatoes and onions is ending but the storage preparation has just begun. If your home harvest is happening now, don’t let poor handling rot the product of your hard-earned gardening season. Follow these simple steps to prepare your vegetables for short and long-term storage.  


The first step to storing produce is harvesting healthy produce with clean tools. This helps vegetables store without spoiling, regardless of the storage method. When harvesting do not include rotting produce in the harvest bin. As the saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch — if in doubt, throw it out.  

Before and after harvest, disinfect harvest tools (knives, snips, buckets etc.). The easiest way to do this is to spray and wipe off tools with isopropyl alcohol in a sprayer bottle. For containers, crates, and boxes, a bleach solution can be made up and receptacles can be wiped out, rinsed, and left to dry. 

Vegetable Storage 

Vegetable storage will vary depending on the crop. Short-term storage means storing several days to a couple weeks, at most. Long-term storage vegetables store for many months when properly dried, or cured.  Two examples of long-term storage crops are onions and potatoes; short-term storage crops are bell peppers and tomatoes. Preparation for storage differs between long and short-term storage vegetables. 

Short-term storage vegetables 

After harvesting short-term storage vegetables, some require immediate rinsing, and some should be rinsed immediately before consumption. 

All greens (kale, spinach, chard, arugula, etc.) cabbages, and root vegetables (carrots, beets, turnips, etc.) should be rinsed immediately with cool water. Remove yellow or rotten leaves of cabbage before rinsing. Green and bulb onions can also be rinsed right away. Store these rinsed vegetables in the refrigerator. 

Peppers, eggplant and tomatoes should not be rinsed after harvest. If washed, they will rot sooner. Instead, harvest into dry, clean (washed and sterilized) produce bins. Store out of the sun and at room temperature (eggplant and tomatoes) or in the refrigerator (peppers). Wash these delicious summer treats immediately before consumption. 

Long-term storage vegetables 

Do not wash storage onions, potatoes, garlic, and shallots. Cure these crops to prepare for storage. Curing, preparation of crops for long-term storage, is necessary for many winter storage crops but the technique varies by crop.  

Potatoes, and garlic, should be air-dried in a shaded location with well-circulated air to cure. Onions, shallots and winter squash also require good air circulation for curing but they do not cure in shade.  Cure in direct sunlight for several days on a greenhouse shelf or outdoors on a tarp. When drying outside, be mindful of weather to avoid them getting wet.  

Long-term storage crops can be packed in slotted wooden or plastic crates and stored in a cool, dark location with good air circulation. A basement is an ideal location for storage.  

With proper planning and some consideration for storage, the sweat and toil of a summer garden will deliver nutritious, heartwarming meals all winter long. 

PHOTO CREDIT: Nick Frillman, University of Illinois Extension

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Nick Frillman is a Local Foods and Small Farms Educator serving Livingston, McLean & Woodford counties. A fourth-generation graduate from University of Illinois, Frillman has a B.A. with a double major of Political Science and Spanish and a M.S. in Crop Science with a focus on crop production. Before joining Illinois Extension, Frillman completed a field season of CSA and farmers’ market style production at a small “beyond-organic” vegetable farm in Sandy, Oregon.

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Liz Repplinger is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Program Coordinator serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. A Bloomington-Normal native, Liz earned a B. A. in Animal Science and an M.S. in Animal Science from Illinois State University. She has enjoyed contributing to the multiple facets of Extension including previous support of the 4-H Youth Development Program as a program coordinator and current support of Unit and Statewide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiatives.