Many vegetables you harvest are eaten right out of the garden. Two exceptions are winter squash and sweet potatoes. These crops need to “cure” to give time for sugars and flavor compounds to develop. When prepared straight from the garden, they will be watery and have a “green” flavor.
A properly cured vegetable will not only taste better but can be kept for many months. I recently discarded a sweet potato that I had grown last year. It had spent its time in the basement. If it hadn’t been used in the past 10 months, I figured it wasn’t going to get eaten.
The basics of curing are similar for sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins. Warm temperatures and high humidity are required for curing these crops. Hopefully, nature will help us out this time. The high humidity in late July caused my onions to take more than a month to “cure” or dry.
Curing takes about two weeks under conditions of around 80 percent humidity. Damp towels can be placed over containers containing the crops to increase humidity if necessary.
A shady place with the temperature around 80 degrees is beneficial.
These conditions will harden the skins of these crops. This is important for long-term storage. Any skin bruises and cuts should be scabbed over before removing from the “curing” process.
Once the process is finished, the crops should be moved to a cool storage area.
A fairly dry root cellar or basement is commonly used. The temperature in storage should not get below 55. Temperatures above 60 will shorten their storage life.
There is an exception for a winter squash. Acorn type can forgo the curing. Eat it right away or store it at 50 degrees for a few weeks for best quality. The flesh will become stringy at temperatures above 55.
Vegetables are still very much alive even though they are mature and harvested. The objective of curing and storing is to prolong the storage life by slowing the rate of respiration and protecting against storage rots. Farmers’ Markets are able to offer these locally grown crops well into the winter when properly cured and stored.
You can find out more information on this and other horticulture topics by going to the Riley County, K-State Research and Extension website at http://www.riley.ksu.edu.