Q #141: How do you store your home-grown crops when you don’t have a root cellar?

My Rattlesnake pole bean plant has shot up the past few weeks and I guess now that it figured out it ran out of vertical room, I looked and saw several dangling pods that were at the right size to pick.

That startled me. Those suckers seem to grow pretty fast (I’m guessing water from the rain barrel is extra helpful in this case… and some massive rain a few days ago). So I picked four of them off because I was worried the birds were gonna go pecking at them or the squirrels would pick them off.

So there were four long pods I picked off. And the cowpea bush next to that pole has some straight off-shoots that are developing black-eyed pea bumps in the pod.

So yay–my bean plants especially are starting to sprout.

And now I’m in trouble.

I keep going through gardening books (and the one I have on Texas I have to keep putting down because it’s far too technical for me right now). And there is plenty of great advice for all kinds of gardening.

However, whether I go to the books or the internet, I’m getting some trouble finding what I most want to know: when is it time to pick what types of veggies, and more than that, how the hell do I store them?

I know, I always hear about bags or baskets and root cellars. Every gardening book I’ve found has been written by someone in a gardening community farther north or alone that does their own organic thing… and they all seem to have root cellars (or the books just don’t talk about the harvesting and storage part).

The trouble is, I live in the Houston area. There are no basements, let alone root cellars.

Only parking structures and high-rises with heavy pumps in Downtown Houston have anything resembling a basement. No house around here would because there’s no way to keep the water out. We’re plenty of miles inland, but not many feet above sea level in some areas.

So, what am I supposed to do without a root cellar?

I’m hoping to have a little or lot of beans, corn, squash, melons, peppers, okra, herbs, tomatoes, onions, leafy greens, etc. to put in storage for the winter and grow cooler crops at the same time so I don’t have to use the grocery store anymore. And it will make cooking and eating more fun when it’s home grown stuff (with all kinds of weird colors).

But storage is gonna be the thing. I just don’t know enough about it. I was thinking maybe some kind of large fridge or something to put in the utility room (I’d just have to figure out a great way to organize it, like label it and have things easy to move around). One site I looked at talked about keeping things around 50-60 degrees if possible to stop spoilage. A fridge would definitely help keep critters out, but if it was a giant freezer that I could make a little warmer without screwing it up, that would be great.

I’ve also never “canned” anything in my life, so that’s another steep curve I’ll have to figure out one of these days. Just not sure what I’d want to can off hand, unless I did homemade tomato sauce, because I’m sure just about anybody could do that one (and has at one time or another). And that would be a storage issue all its own.

Crap, my book-buying and supply list is only gonna get longer. And I just re-worked my library today.

And in the meantime, now I’m frantically trying to figure out the best way to store these beans I just picked. Definitely not enough for lunch or a side dish tomorrow, and I’d need to figure out how to dry beans for storage anyway. I got one of my glass jars and just put them in, but wasn’t sure if I should seal it tight or let ’em sit with it open, at least for tonight.

The digital oracle is not being very helpful tonight.

Crap–I thought I had more time to learn, but apparently I’m gonna be on a steep learning curve for a while. At least I took a break from planting anything new, even though I have room to put some plants down in the beds. I figured I’d better assess what I have first.

I’m considered Zone 9 (9b sometimes) where it’s crazy hot much of the time, especially in the summer. We had some short roller-coasters of cold-snaps last winter, and that made things a little crazy with regular plants. I’m gonna be on my tiptoes figuring out what to do for my cold-weather plants when the crazy stuff really comes through.

At least I won’t have to worry about digging it all out of the snow.

But honestly, if you’ve done food gardening with many types of veggies and fruits, how did you store it if you didn’t have a root cellar? And what containers or materials would you recommend to hold the picked and stored produce? Any resources you could recommend we try? I’m trying to think of people who might have a good idea, but with Covid-19 and all, I wouldn’t wanna impose on anyone in person.

Any ideas, I’ll be glad to take a shot at ’em. I’m only going to lose from here on out if I’m not careful, anyway.

Floor’s yours…

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