This article was published originally on 8/25/2010
Avid gardeners around Iowa are currently picking tomatoes, squash, and other produce in mass quantities. During this peak in harvest, small blemishes on the fruit and weeds between the rows become less important. Even as gardeners enjoy this bountiful success, they sometimes struggle with what to do after it is picked.
In the horticultural sciences, we call this postharvest handling. Research is plentiful in the science of how and why produce degrades after it is gathered from the field. In general, as crops are removed from the parent plant during harvest, respiration of that produce increases, resulting in degradation of the food quality. For some species ethylene production also increases; this further speeds up degradation
As gardeners we want to slow down this process, in essence prolonging the harvest. Temperature is the most important factor – hence the need to refrigerate most fruits and vegetables. However, that is only a short term solution. Storage for the longer term requires additional steps. Freezing, drying, and canning are all viable options for home gardeners.
Iowa State University Extension has a long history of advising the public about home food preservation. A brochure on Preserving Food Safely N3332 is available, including names and contact information for local resources across Iowa. Many options for information are listed in the brochure including the ISU Extension website for food preservation. Then you can enjoy the harvest for months to come.