Ripe vegetables and fruit wait for no one. Always harvest your crops when they are ready and if they cannot be eaten straight away, dry them or freeze them for use later.
It is unlikely that the harvest from your container kitchen garden will be large enough to cause any major storage problems. However, that said, there is every reason to do what you can to ensure that nothing is wasted and that you are able to make the most of your harvest and enjoy all the fruit, vegetables and herbs that you have grown when you want to eat them.
Planning to avoid a glut
Take care when planning your vegetables garden not to grow too many of one type of vegetable that will ripen all at the same time. Do not overestimate your requirements.
Try to time your planting to produce a staggered harvest. For example, in the summer you may only wish to eat a lettuce every other day, seven in a fortnight, don’t therefore plant a dozen F1 hybrids that will mature at the same time, instead plant six and another six a fortnight later.
Drying and storing vegetables
If you have sufficient space then a number of vegetables, such as onions and potatoes, can be dried and stored in a cool dry, dark place for several weeks. Carrots and beetroot can also be stored in boxes of sand.
Most other vegetables can be frozen. They usually need blanching first, so plunge them into boiling water for a few minutes, drain and then freeze them. Follow a specialist cookery book for precise instructions on how to freeze each vegetable.
As much fruit as possible should be eaten when it is ripe even if you have to have a large dinner party in order to do so. This particularly applies to strawberries that are very unsatisfactory when frozen, although they can be pulped, frozen and then used as a purée at a pinch.
Apples can be stored in a cool dry place provided they are absolutely free from all blemishes, some varieties keep better than others, generally the later varieties will keep, the early ones, such as ‘Discovery’, won’t. Pears too can be kept for a time wrapped in paper in a cool dark place.
Most other fruit, all the currants, berries, even plums, freeze perfectly well and the kitchen container gardener should take the trouble to do this. Frozen fruits can bring a welcome taste of late summer into a winter’s day. It is very satisfying to eat your own poached plums, or gooseberry crumble, on a dark day in midwinter when all thoughts of summer are passed.
The easiest method of freezing most fruit is to freeze them individually on trays and then put the frozen fruit in bags. Larger fruit, such as plums, should be rinsed in clean water first, smaller berries and currants should be frozen dry as they are picked. Remember to top and tail currants and gooseberries before freezing.
Many herbs can be dried, and this was the traditional way of preserving them. The most practical way to dry herbs is to pick them and lay them on paper on a table in an airy room, turning them over once a day; the roots of a number of herbs, particularly medicinal ones, can be dug up and dried.
A number of herbs that do not dry well can be frozen. These include basil, tarragon, fennel, chervil, parsley and chives. Store them in plastic bags.