Food preservation season

Got food preservation questions? Give us a call at 503-397-3462. You can also get your pressure gauge tested for free at the Extension office. Food Preservation recipes and fact sheets can be accessed online at:

Storing garden produce

The wonderful sunny days in September gave a great boost to our gardens. As October starts and the weather pattern turns wetter and cooler, gardeners spend time getting produce stored for the winter.

Many vegetables will last for some months if stored properly. Advice common to all fruits and vegetables is to only try to store produce that is in good condition (“one rotten apple can spoil the box”). In addition, check periodically to see if sprouting or rot has developed after initial storage. Finally, freeze or can produce where that makes sense.

Onions and garlic: The hard, pungent onions store the best. If they are still in the ground, dig them now and bring them under cover to cure. Remove the roots. Some gardeners keep the tops on for awhile as the onions dry. The onion tops should be removed when the bulbs are bagged for final storage unless you are braiding them.

Onions and garlic both need to be stored in dry conditions. Most outbuildings have too much moisture in the fall/winter and in those conditions, onions and garlic will start to sprout. You will have better luck inside storing them in a warm, dry room than a cool but moist location. If you can get onion mesh bags for storage, so much the better but they will store well in paper bags. Some air circulation is important. Sweet onions should be eaten right away as they have very poor storage ability. Sort onions and garlic often to remove those that sprout or decay. A well-cured pungent onion should last at least four months in a proper storage. Garlic can last until late spring. Don’t store with fruit as that encourages sprouting.

Winter squash: Those wonderful winter squash are also easy to store. Harvest them before a frost. When rainy weather sets in, squash are done growing and will only rot if left outside. Butternut and Hubbard squash store for six months or more if well cured. Acorn squash are best used within four months of harvest.

Clip the squash from the vine leaving a stem end. Wash the dirt from the squash and let them cure in a warm room on a counter or table for a week. Check for any signs of rot. Then put them into a dry room on a shelf or a shallow box. Best storage temperature is about sixty degrees. Check periodically for decay.

Potatoes: Potatoes are hard to store. They need cold and moist storage. We have the moist but don’t get enough cold weather for long-term storage. The best storage system I have seen is placing the potatoes in five-gallon buckets or small garbage cans with sawdust surrounding the spuds. They could be kept in an unheated outbuilding. Don’t store diseased potatoes, check often for sprouts and eat your spuds quickly. Some varieties store better than others but few people have much luck holding potatoes past late January. If you do, please call me and tell me your secret.

Other root crops: Carrots and parsnips develop better flavor if left in the ground until a frost. However, if the meadow mice find them, all you will have are carrot stubs with cute little teeth marks. In addition, if you had problems with the carrot rust fly, their tunnels will decay faster if the roots are left in the ground. They are best stored like potatoes in buckets with sawdust. Don’t store with fruit. The ethylene they give off can cause sprouting and bitter flavors.

When will the frost arrive?

The average date for the first fall 32º frost is Halloween (October 31) in the Scappoose/St. Helens area. Higher elevations usually get earlier frosts. For example, the date for Vernonia is September 28th. As you go down river to Clatskanie, the date is actually a couple of weeks later than St. Helens, though the hills around Clatskanie can frost much earlier.

How predictable are these dates? There certainly aren’t any guarantees. These averages reflect the actual dates accumulated over 40 years. Plotted on a graph, they would be somewhat of a bell-shaped curve with the most dates lying near the average date. But no one can tell with precision when the first frost will show up.

Some other frost facts:

• When skies are clear, heat from the soil rises, which allows cooler air to settle near plants. Cool air is heavier than warm air.

• When it is windy, warm and cool night air mix, generally keeping temperatures above freezing if it has been a reasonably warm day.

• Plants are less tender in the autumn than in the spring, so light frosts do less damage. Woody plants are less affected than herbaceous plants. Plants already exposed to cool temperatures may be somewhat acclimated and more resistant to cold temperatures. Plants can be covered with an old sheet or row covers to give protection in light frosts.

Free newsletter

The Oregon State University Extension office in Columbia County publishes a monthly newsletter on gardening and farming topics (called County Living) written/edited by yours truly. All you need to do is ask for it and it will be mailed or emailed to you. Call 503 397-3462 to be put on the list. Alternatively, you can find it on the web at

Many Extension publications available online

Are you putting up salsa, saving seeds, or thinking about planting grapes? OSU has a large number of its publications available for free download. Just go to . Click on publications and start exploring.

The Extension Service offers its programs and materials equally to all people.

Contact information for the Extension office

Oregon State University Extension Service – Columbia County. 505 N. Columbia River Highway St. Helens, OR 97051. 503 397-3462 Email:


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