Save heaps on veges: Grow your own, and store them so they last
It's not often that fresh veges hit the headlines not once but twice on the same day. This week we learned that, thanks to cyclone and rain damage, the cost of a fresh 'Iceberg' lettuce rose to $7.99 in some supermarkets (cauliflowers and cabbages are similarly pricey), with bagged salad greens facing a supply shortage as well.
That's depressing news for many, but makes me feel (smugly) like I've won the lottery. As I write this, I have 24 'Great Lakes' crisphead lettuces hearting up in my garden. That's $168 worth of lettuce (and possibly more, as mine are organic). Not a bad return on my investment in a $4 packet of seed.
Obviously, I store my lettuces in the garden until I'm ready to eat them, but new research from the University of Otago has revealed a few tricks to lengthen the shelf life of vegetables once they've been picked.
Bagged salad greens, we're told, last two days longer if taken out of their bags and stored in an airtight container.
Got half an avocado in your fridge? Leave the stone in and wrap it in plastic cling film and it will last four times longer than an uncovered cut avocado. Don't brush the exposed flesh with lemon juice or olive oil; this does more harm than good.
Store carrots in airtight containers lined with a paper towel and they'll last 10 times longer than the wrinkly, soft ones left loose in your vege bins.
The most successful method of preserving a head of broccoli is to sprinkle it in water (run it under the tap then shake the water off), wrap it in paper towels and then store in the fridge in a resealable bag.
Six methods were trialled for storing whole heads of celery including straight in the fridge unwrapped, wrapped in tinfoil, standing in a container with 2-3cm of water, and placing cut celery in an airtight container lined with a paper towel. The best result came from wrapping the base of the celery head in a paper towel and popping it in a resealable bag in the fridge. Treat cut celery like carrots.
It makes no difference to pumpkin if you keep the seeds in or take them out once cut. Wrap it in cling film and it lasts twice as long in the fridge.
'Iceberg lettuce' lasted the longest when placed inside a lettuce crisper (an airtight plastic container which has a tray in the bottom to elevate the lettuce). Instead of keeping well for a week, it kept well for 28 days! (Who keeps a lettuce in the fridge for four weeks, though, seriously?)
And if you're fretting about a salad shortage, sow mesclun in seed trays now. Keep the trays indoors until the seeds germinate, then pop them on a sunny deck or under a verandah or tunnelhouse so they can soak up as much warmth as possible for faster growth. You can start harvesting it as microgreens in two weeks, or wait for six weeks or so for bigger leaves. And you'll feel every bit as smug as I do right now.
- NZ Gardener