Proper care at harvest and correct storage make it possible to enjoy your garden’s bounty for weeks or even months into the winter. No single storage method is correct for all fruits and vegetables. Here are some tips for specific produce, given by Bill Varga,
Tomatoes should be picked just before the first killing frost. Pick those that are just turning slightly pink or those turning light green or slightly white. They need not be individually wrapped, but keep them in a single layer as it's easier to check for spoilage. Keep them at about 50 to 55 degrees. They will ripen at 70 degrees. They don't need to be put in sunlight to ripen and may sunburn in a window.
Green peppers that are firm, mature and the correct color can be kept for two to three weeks in perforated bags in a cool location.
Onions should be left in the ground until there is a hard frost if the tops are still intact. If the tops fall over on their own or dry up, the onion bulb should be harvested. They can be dug and left on top of the ground to cure for a few days and then put in a shaded area until the tops and scales on the outside of the bulbs are dry. The most important thing is good air circulation. Store them in a cool, dry location.
Potatoes are best left on the vine in the soil. As long as the vines are green and growing, keep potatoes watered to increase your yield. Once the vines have died down, leave the potatoes in the ground for 10 to 14 days to allow the skins to cure so they will scuff less when they are dug. Remove loose soil and wash the potatoes if you wish. Make sure the potatoes are thoroughly dry before storing at 35 to 40 degrees. When using potatoes from storage, bring them to room temperature for a week or so before using them. This will reverse the process of starches turning to sugar at the cooler temperatures.
Pumpkins And winter squash should be left on the vine until the rind is hard and cannot be easily scratched. Leave an inch of stem to prevent rotting at the crown.
Parsnips, carrots and beets can be stored right in the ground. Once the tops have frozen, mulch over the row to keep the ground from freezing so hard that you can't dig the vegetables. Label your rows so you can find what you want when snow covers the ground. If you don't store these root vegetables in the garden, dig them before the ground freezes. Remove excess soil, cut off stems and store in a pit or storage cellar. Beets will not keep as long as carrots. Parsnips develop better flavor after several weeks in cold, moist conditions.
Winding Down for Winter
By the time the frost starts covering the lawn at the end of the season, many gardeners, like their plants, are spent. It is all too easy to ignore outdoor chores, but by accomplishing a few simple chores before those first flakes fly, you can ensure an easier start to next spring. Here are some suggestions by JayDee Gunnell, Horticulture Agent, USU Extension.
Perennials-Let the foliage die down on perennials before cutting them back to the ground. This allows more energy to be stored in the roots for next year's growth. If they are crowded, divide every 4 - 5 years. As a general rule, perennials that bloom in the spring should be dug and divided in the fall. Perennials that bloom in the fall should be dug and divided in the spring.
Gardens-Remove all leaves and other litter from the vegetable garden. This eliminates convenient hiding places for insect pests. Rototill the garden and incorporate composted plant material into the soil.
Compost-The best compost is free (such as leaves). Incorporating organic matter is the best thing you can do for your soil. Hint: Running the lawn mower over the leaves helps speed up the composting process. When adding brown material to the soil (such as ground up leaves), add nitrogen to aid the soil microbes in breaking it down. A general rule of thumb is for every 1" of brown material in a 100 square foot area, add one pound (2cups) of ammonium sulfate (21-0-0).
Trees/Shrubs-Young trees with thin bark are susceptible to winter sun injury. Protect young tree trunks by wrapping them with white tree wrap. The white wrap helps reflect the sun from the tender trunks. Remove the wrap in the spring to allow circulation.
Planting-Fall is one of the best times to plant nursery stock. Cooler weather makes the transition easier for the plants. It also gives the plants a head start for next spring by producing root growth this season. Spring flowering bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocus should be planted in the fall after the soils have cooled down from the summer heat but before the ground freezes.
Lawns-Late fall (late October - early November) is the best time of year to fertilize your lawn. Apply a quick-release nitrogen fertilizer after the last mowing. Even though the grass doesn't appear to be growing, energy is being shipped down to the root system for storage. This stored energy produces early greening next spring.
Weed Control-Weeds are classified many different ways, but one of the more important classifications is according to their lifecycle. Annual weeds start from seed, grow and produce all in one year's time. These weeds, such as crabgrass and spurge, are best controlled in the early spring (before April 15) with pre-emergent herbicides. Perennial weeds come back every year from the same root system. Perennial weeds, such as dandelion and field bind?weed, (aka morning glory), are best controlled in the fall. After the first light frost, energy within the weed moves downward to the root system. Spraying perennial weeds at this time is effective because those chemicals have a better chance of destroying the roots.
Irrigation/Sprinklers-Many homeowners utilize secondary water in irrigating their landscape. Now isthe time to clean out filters and blow out the sprinkler lines to prevent the valves from freezing. Even though the secondary water is turned off, it is still important to deep-water landscape plants, (such as evergreens), especially if warm weather persists.