SEVERAL KINDS of vegetables from the garden can come inside when frost puts an end to the season outdoors.
When frost is predicted, pick tomatoes that have started to change from dark green to pale-whitish green (called mature green), and those turning pink.
Wash and let them dry off before you store them. Wiping the soil off may cause sand scarring, which might lead to decay.
Store those showing red in separate containers from green ones. Pack green ones in shallow boxes or trays for ripening. Keep them out of sunlight.
Mature green tomatoes reach an eating-ripe stage in about 14 days when stored at 65 to 70 degrees Farenheit. Ripening can be slowed down by holding them at 55 degrees. At 55 degrees, mature green ones need 25 to 28 days to ripen. Less mature ones need more time to ripen. A room with moderately moist air is best; too much dampness encourages decay. If too dry, they shrivel.
A well-ventilated basement under a house with central heating may be used for short-term storage of potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions. But to store vegetables and fruits over the winter in a basement that has a furnace, you will need to partition off a room and insulate it.
Unheated cellars have long been used successfully for winter storage of fruits and vegetables. These cellars usually have an outside entrance and a dirt floor. The door is a means of ventilating the cellar and regulating the temperature.
Cauliflower, cucumbers, eggplant and peppers, under proper moisture and temperature conditions, may be stored for several days to a month or more. Chives and parsley may be transplanted to pots and grown indoors for winter use.
The correct temperature is a must for successful storage of most vegetables. Late cabbage should be stored as near 32 degrees as possible -- also late celery, endive, onions, parsnips and cauliflower. Cucumbers, eggplant and pepper can be stored for several weeks in a cool, moderately moist place at 55 degrees; sweet potatoes at 55 to 60 degrees, white potatoes at 35 to 40 degrees, pumpkins and squashes at 55 degrees; and, other root crops as near 32 degrees as possible.
Apples can be kept through fall and winter in a moderately moist environment kept near 32 degrees -- also grapes for one to two months; grapefruit for four to six weeks; and oranges for four to six weeks.
For long-term storage of apples, the temperature should be as close to 32 as possible. In general, apples ripen about four times as fast at 50 as at 32. They become overripe fast. Pick them when they are fully mature but still hard and green. They are ready for picking when they change from deep green to pale green. If stored too long or at too high a temperature (75 degrees or above), they break down without ripening.
Turnips and rutabagas give off odors and should not be stored in your basement or home cellar. They can be stored with other root crops and vegetables in an outdoor cellar or pit. Turnips may be left in the garden longer than most other crops. They withstand hard frosts but are damaged by alternate freezing and thawing.
Q. I bring in lettuce from my garden and it stays fresh for only three or four days. Is there some way to do better?
A. Researchers have found that high temperatures have the most adverse effect on the storage life of lettuce. Shredded lettuce stored at approximately 34 degrees remained fresh for about 26 days compared to 10 days for the same kind at approximately 50 degrees. Also important is an air-tight container that allows 50 percent longer storage life than common polyethylene bags. Keeping lettuce dry during storage prevents bacterial growth and thus extends shelf life. Physical damage shortens shelf life, so handle with care.
Q. I have trouble growing spinach. Can you give me some tips on it?
A. Spinach grows best in soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 (mildly acid). Abnormal growth may result if the pH is below 5.5 or above 7.0. Have your soil tested before planting it. Do not apply poisonous chemicals to spinach within two weeks of harvesting, and when using chemicals be sure to follow directions on the label. The warning and caution statements for use of the product should be read and followed closely.
Q. Is it okay to use bath water and dish water to water my vegetable garden?
A. You can use relatively clean, clear water from the bath, dish pan or from the final rinse cycle of the washing machine on garden vegetables. Dirty water, which may contain bleach, fabric softeners or detergents or be high in sodium, can best be used around trees and shrubs but not in the vegetable garden.