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Preserving Winter's Bounty

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Preserving Winter's Bounty

Tips for storing your root crops from the area's premiere potato grower

Harvesting of most root vegetables should take place after the second or third frost in early fall, when they are at their peak. Frost changes the starches to a more simple sugar for easy digestion, superior flavor and longer storage through the cold winter months; some exceptions are shallots, multiplier onions and garlic which happen in mid-July to August 10 or so, with globe onions shortly thereafter.

Potatoes are ready when they are the size you prefer or the frost nips them, otherwise one must mow or whack the tops off to stop growth and then let them set in the ground for about three weeks for the skin to set firm to store for the long winter months. Carrots, beets, parsnips, rutabagas and the like, cabbages, kohlrabi and leeks need a little frost, too, and when harvesting a portion of the root is left on—for leeks it’s the whole root. Leeks, we find, store just fine in a bucket or in slightly moist sand.

Apples and pears should be stored in the front of the root cellar as they can tolerate some frost and they both expel a natural ethylene gas that sweetens potatoes and encourages them and some other vegetables out of dormancy… so a separation space is best in the cellar.

Temperatures from 35 to 40 degrees are best and a simple fan can bring down the temperature in the cool nights or you can let it happen naturally in our particular climate. Humidity is important and 80 percent to 90 percent is best.  Flood your cellar with water and an earthen floor is best.

Although potatoes loose moisture through respiration, low humidity is the main cause of shriveling and softening in storage.

Partially heated garages, sheds, closets, porches or back rooms are also excellent sites for short term storage so one does not have to dig open an earth pit-type storage cellar in the cold of winter.  Keep these areas as cool as you can, protect them from freezing, insulate in some way from your heated living space, and you can probably keep your root vegetables a good while.

We store cabbage in open bins ‘til mid April, carrots and beets are harvested and stored in dirt or in feed sacks with a gunny sack on the outside and they hold near perfect ‘til mid March—then you must open them up for air as they know it is spring.  Potatoes store well this way too, or in open boxes, but humidity must be high and all root cellars need to be kept dark.

Jerusalem artichokes can be harvested in the fall yet over-wintering in the garden along with some parsnips can be much tastier, and makes for a great change after eating carrots, beets and cabbage through the winter months. Both of these can tolerate freezing in the ground.

Prevention happens to be one of the best practices of a healthy and happy life… as we all need to eat more locally grown foods as much as possible, sip on herbal teas and seek out a balanced diet filled with nutrients that build a healthy immune system and, of course, drink at least 8 to 10 ounces of water three to four times a day. And by following these tips, you’ll be eating your veggies all winter long.

Keep it simple, and have a great fall and winter

David Ronniger owns Ronniger’s Potato Farm in Moyie springs. He has grown vegetables organically for 31 years.

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