WINCHESTER—If you’re planning to buy potatoes or winter squash in advance of the holidays, proper storage will ensure your produce stays fresh until you’re ready to start cooking with it.
Some produce, like leafy greens, has a short shelf life of just a few days. Other vegetables, like onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash, are convenient to purchase now for use later. A good rule of thumb is to store them in a cool, well-ventilated, dark place like a pantry or closet.
“No sunlight or anything like that on them,” advised John Marker, owner of Marker-Miller Orchards in Winchester and a member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Specialty Crops Advisory Committee.
Marker grows and sells several types of winter squash, including acorn, buttercup, butternut, delicata and kabocha. He said while most of his customers use the squash within a couple of weeks, “they can keep longer than that. They’ll keep a good part of the winter if they’re in the right conditions.”
He said winter squashes prefer cooler temperatures, and noted that it’s easy to tell when they take a turn for the worse—they’ll develop spots and start to get soft.
“Go through them, and anything that’s showing a sign that it’s starting to deteriorate, go ahead and use it,” he advised.
While most vegetables prefer drier environments, sweet potatoes should be kept slightly more humid to prevent them from drying out, said Mike Cullipher, who grows them and other produce at Cullipher Farms in Virginia Beach.
“If stored properly, they can last six or eight months,” said Cullipher, who also is a member of the VFBF specialty crops committee.
As with winter squash, sweet potatoes develop soft spots when they start to go bad. A sweet potato that’s too dry also will have wrinkly skin, Cullipher explained.
With all potatoes, avoiding light is paramount, or they’ll start to sprout. In addition, white potatoes will produce chlorophyll, which results in green patches on the potato—called greening—when exposed to light.
It’s also important to keep your produce separate, particularly onions and potatoes. When stored together, they will ripen faster, causing sprouting and spoilage.
Another good reason to keep potatoes separate is “they’ll absorb the smell of the onions,” Cullipher said.