These can be very hectic weeks in the garden, as we try to stay ahead of the inevitable first frost and keep as much of our hard-earned harvest as possible unscathed. As we race to bring in ripe and yet-to-ripen produce, kitchen counters and windowsills become crowded with bowls and baskets filled with rescued squashes and peppers, cukes and tomatoes. Even if you don’t have a garden, you’ve probably discovered that this is a good time to scout out roadside stands and farmers markets for bargains on larger quantities of last-minute bounty.

But where to put it all so we can enjoy it in the months ahead? Whether you live in a farmhouse or apartment, perfect storage isn’t always available, so you have to figure out the best approximate conditions and improve them. A refrigerator, basement, cellar, garage, attic, shed, or even under-the-house crawl space are all possible storage solutions. You can further modify storage with plastic, paper or mesh bags, sturdy boxes and totes. While it is traditionally recommended that some vegetables be packed in damp or dry sand, soil, or sawdust to improve storage conditions, our own favorite material is dry maple leaves, which we pick up in the fall and store in contractor bags. They’re the perfect medium to keep beets and carrots, which we store in plastic totes, both a bit damp so they don’t dry out, yet not so damp they begin to rot.

There are several general methods of storage. The first is the cold, moist storage found in the crisper part of your refrigerator: 32-40°F, and 90-95% relative humidity. To maintain a high relative humidity, place the storage vegetables in plastic bags or put them unbagged in the crisper, if it will be half or more full. It helps to place some sheets of newspaper in the bottom of the drawer to catch any extra moisture and make cleanup easier. If vegetables need washing, drain them before storing them. Remove excess water or allow it to evaporate. If you have no other storage, beets, carrots and leeks will keep for months under these conditions, as will cabbage.

If you have an extra refrigerator, say in the garage, one used for parties or summer party storage, one you can set at 45-50°F, you can use it for storing large amounts of vegetables, ones sensitive to chilling injury at temperatures below 45° F. Cucumbers and peppers will keep well in here, and despite conventional wisdom, so will ripe tomatoes. While it’s better to store ripe tomatoes at room temperature, a good refrigerated one is better than a rotten one. Again, peppers and cukes should be in plastic bags or in the crisper, while tomatoes should be placed in a brown paper bag in the crisper drawer. Should you have green tomatoes that need ripening, the best way to do this is in a paper bag. Sunlight isn’t needed for ripening tomatoes – humidity and temperature control are the important factors. Set the bag on a sunny windowsill or just pick the warmest spot in the house. The paper bag lets enough air circulate, keeping the right humidity in the bag and trapping heat.

Cool, dry storage, with a temperature of 35-55°F, 50-60% relative humidity, can often be found in cool rooms and buildings, as well as root cellars. Sometimes just walling off a room in an outside corner of the basement can mimic these conditions. To use, pack vegetables in something other than plastic to maintain reduced humidity levels, such as mesh or brown paper bags or in cardboard boxes. If you wash vegetables before storing them, dry them thoroughly before placing them in storage, but since a little dry dirt is not a storage problem, you can choose to clean the produce just before use. This is the perfect place to hang garlic and onions in mesh bags and to store potatoes in cardboard boxes and the aforementioned beets and carrots in plastic totes. If you have any problem with mice, you might want to line your cardboard boxes with hardware cloth. We also use this kind of storage for late cabbages. We pull them from the ground and hang them by their stalks. The outer leaves are left on and will dry out, but peel them away and the inner heads are fine.

Warmer storage, with 55-60°F temperatures and less humidity, can often be found in basement areas, garages, and semi-heated rooms. This is where your pumpkins and winter squash will keep well for a couple of months. While I hesitate to suggest it, when living in tight quarters, we found these conditions existed in a spare bedroom and successfully stored squashes under the guest bed. Of course we checked them frequently and removed any with signs of spoilage – the squashes, that is, not the guests.