Your Food Storage

Growing Manchester:  Food

Storing Food


Find a large wooden box with a lid (an old deep freeze would also work).  Put in a layer of clean dry straw in the bottom of the box. Then add your potatoes – ensure none of your potatoes are damaged or diseased or this will spread into the good potatoes.  Add a layer of about 30cm (1 foot) of potatoes and another layer of clean and dry straw.   You can add a further layer of potatoes with another layer of straw on top of that, depending on the depth of your container.

Put the lid onto the box but ensure it is wedged open with something that keeps the air circulating  (but not enough to let in any vermin).


To build a clamp level out an area of the ground you have just dug your potatoes from. Firm the earth down with your feet and start building a layer of Straw 20cm deep, and circular in shape. The area of the circle will depend on the amount of potatoes you have to store. Now carefully place your dry potatoes into the centre of the circle and pile them up into a cone. There should be a margin of around 20cm around the edge of the potatoes. Now carefully cover the cone with straw until you have a cone of straw 20 cm in depth over the potatoes. Around the outside of the cone start digging 10cm away from the edge of the straw and place the earth onto the straw, from the base upwards, so the straw is completely covered. Before you cover the very top place a section of drain pipe in the on the straw to leave a breathing hole, and surround it with earth. Pack down the earth with the back of a spade until it is firm.

You should now have a conical pile of earth with a ‘chimney’ at the top and a drainage trench around the base. Potatoes should keep in there for several months. You may find around Christmas time some will have started to sprout. Simply rub the shoots off and then you can use them as you would normally.


Early season apples do not store well. Mid-season apples can last well for 4-5 weeks in the right conditions. Late season fruit does not develop its full flavour until it has been stored for some time, and can keep for several months. Keep apples that ripen at different times separate.

They should be picked with the palm of the hand, avoiding finger pressure if possible. Leave stalks intact. Medium sized fruit store better than very small or very large ones. Store on slatted shelves, on fruit trays or in boxes. Apples benefit from being individually wrapped in paper. Alternatively, store small quantities in plastic bags, not more than 2/3 kilos together. Fold the top of the bag loosely and make two pencil-sized holes for each kilo of fruit.


One of the best ways to store onions is to hang them.  Firstly ensure that the onions have dried out.  This can be done by leaving them on the ground  after picking them to do this. It it best to do this when good weather is forecast but if it does rain then ensure they are covered to shield them from the rain but allow the wind to reach them.   They should take about a fortnight to dry out properly (similar process for garlic).

Take four dry onions and knot them together.  Twist them around a piece of string. Now add one onion at a time to the string by twisting it’s stalk around the string, ensure each one is securely fastened to the string and that the whole bunch does not get too heavy. You now need to plait the knotted stalks around another bit of string, make sure the onions hang evenly when held up. Now tie the top of the string up in your shed or any cool place where there is plenty of air.

Storing Marrows, Squashes and Pumpkins

Best way apparently is to hang them in nets. However if you lack room they can also be stored on shelves if you turn them occasionally.

Beetroot, Carrots, Parsnips, Swedes and Turnips

Beetroot can be stored in bucket of sand as well as in a clamp (see potates). Ensure that the roots do not touch. Try to brush off as much of the earth as possible.   As with potatoes, discard any that look damaged or diseased.  If possible, remove the tops (twist them off) but do not damage the beetroot in the process. The sand helps insulate each vegetable from the others incase of rot and also lets air circulate.


If the ground is likely to be frozen for a long period of time, it is a good idea to lift any leeks which are ready and store them in some sand in a cool place, where they will keep for about a month.  You can also dig up the leeks and heel them in a shady place until they are needed. Lay them on their side in a shallow trench with the top part of the leaf stalk sticking out above the ground, covering the rest of the stalk with soil.  This also helps to stop them bolting.

Growing tips – Ripening Green Tomatoes

Organic grower’s blog extract 18 September 2009 (Jeremy Dore)

The very best tasting tomatoes are those that are ‘vine ripened’ – left to reach a deep vibrant colour on the plant. Nothing beats the taste of freshly picked ripe tomatoes which are, without question, infinitely superior to shop-bought produce. However, as the season draws on and temperatures start to drop there are invariably lots of green tomatoes left on the plants that don’t quite ripen in time. Rather than wasting them, why not try some easy techniques to ripen them indoors?

What Makes Tomatoes Ripen?

Contrary to popular belief, windowsills are not the best place for ripening up tomatoes. Take a close look at your tomato plants and you will learn why: surprisingly, tomatoes often start to ripen on the opposite side of the fruit to the sunny side although not all varieties show this. So, plenty of light is not required for ripening and, in fact, it tends to make the skins of the fruits harder.

Temperature, on the other hand, is a very important factor. The warmer a tomato fruit is the quicker it will ripen. So you can slow down ripening by placing tomatoes in a cool area or speed them up with moderate warmth.

The third factor that speeds up ripening is a gas called ethylene. This is the gas that is used commercially with tomatoes and other fruits that are picked green before shipping and then ripened for sale. Although this all sounds very artificial and leads to rather bland-tasting produce, ethylene is actually naturally released by ripening fruits such as bananas, apples and tomatoes. So, placing a ripe banana or apple in with some green tomatoes in an enclosed space helps to speed up the ripening process.

Different Methods

There are several ways to ripen tomatoes indoors:

1. In a cardboard box: Line the box with newspaper (or use fruit cardboard if it came from a grocery store) and place the green tomatoes on top in a single layer with a little space between each. Cover with another single layer of newspaper and leave somewhere warm. Check regularly. Another variation of this method is to place the tomatoes in a wooden drawer.

2. In a paper bag: Put 5 -10 tomatoes in a paper bag with a ripening banana, apple or tomato and leave in a warm place. Periodically open it up to check for any that show signs of mould or rotting.

3. Large glass jars or plastic bags: Another way to concentrate the effect of ethylene involves placing 2-4 large tomatoes in a jar or bag along with a ripening fruit and then sealing it. However, the combination of moisture and warmth can encourage mould so it is usually best to put holes in the bag or regularly open and check the jar.

4. Hang up the whole plant: Useful at the end of the season when a frost is forecast, the whole tomato plant can be gently pulled up and then hung upside down in a garage or cellar where temperatures will remain above freezing. This is said to produce better flavoured tomatoes than the other methods.

For each of these methods the best results come from tomatoes that are already starting to show a yellowy-orange tinge indicating that they are ready to ripen. You can have success with fully green tomatoes but they will take longer and may not be so flavoursome.

At lower temperatures 10-15°C (50-60°F) ripening typically takes 3-4 weeks whereas at 18-21°C (65-70°F) they can take just 2 weeks. By storing batches at different temperatures you can stagger the ripening to make the most of your harvest although anything much lower than 10°C (50°F) will yield poorer quality results.

What to Watch Out for

The biggest problem when ripening tomatoes indoors is diseased or damaged fruit. Tomatoes must be protected from being bruised or squashed so they should not be piled up. Good air circulation will help prevent mould forming. It is sensible to do a check every day or two, removing anything suspect.

Regular checking is particularly important if you are ripening tomatoes indoors because your plants suffered from a disease such as blight before the crop was ready. In such cases a useful technique is to ‘grade’ the tomatoes before storing them, separating out unblemished ones from lower quality fruit. Select only the very best ones for ripening and dispose of any diseased fruit in a safe way. I have used this technique with some success this year for my own tomatoes that succumbed to blight and found the key was getting them off the plant at the very first sign of the disease.


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