We are in the midst of bulk harvesting crops for fall and winter distributions and many people don’t realize that some of these must be cured before long term storage. This isn’t true for all crops, but garlic, onions, potatoes, and winter squash are all vegetables that must go through this process. The curing process happens immediately after harvest and basically acts to dry and toughen the skin to minimize the occurrence of various rots during storage.
For onions and garlic, the harvest and curing process is similar. We take great care not to puncture or bruise the bulbs when they are ready to pull. Curing happens immediately after harvest and is essential in drying down the neck and skin to protect against bulb rot. Field curing runs the risk of sunscald for garlic but can work nicely for onions when there is a stretch of dry, sunny weather. We simply pull the plants and lay them out to dry for three to five days, after which the tops can be trimmed off. If the weather isn’t cooperating, we cure them inside our greenhouse under warm (80 F), dry conditions. Long term storage of onions and garlic is best in cold (32 F), dry conditions.
It is important that potatoes are handled properly for optimal storage. After the foliage has died back, we leave the tubers in the ground for a minimum of two weeks before harvesting to allow the skins to set. During this time, the skin toughens and forms a barrier against disease. Once the tubers are dug, we cure them for one to two weeks in a warm (65 F), moist, and dark location. For us, that means bringing them inside our barn and covering them with a tarp. Healing of minor cuts and thickening of the skin occurs during this time. After curing, storage is optimal under cool (45 F), moist, dark conditions.
Winter squash and pumpkins are cured under warm, dry (80 F) conditions for one to two weeks. These crops are unique in that curing not only dries and hardens the skin, but eating quality improves for some varieties during this time by the conversion of the starch to sugar. Winter squash fruit can appear to be ready for harvest before they are actually mature, which can diminish eating quality. When the fruit is ripe, we carefully cut them off the vines, leaving a nice stem, and cure them inside our greenhouse in bins. Winter squash does not store well under 50 F. We aim for warm, (60 F) dry conditions.