Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Cold Storage...in your garden
There’s nothing like eating stuff from your own garden. This pleasure is usually confined to the growing season. Juicy tomatoes, salad ingredients that were alive minutes before you ate them, ripe melons…
But some crops maintain good quality after harvest... if given proper storage conditions. Cold and moist is usually what is required . Root crops may be the best example of garden produce with excellent storage life …if they are kept cold and moist. Beets, carrots and parsnips, are good candidates. The cabbage family works well this way, too. The text book says 32 degrees F and 95-100 percent humidity is ideal. Cold but not frozen. Very high humidity.
This can be tricky to achieve in most homes, cellars and garages. The simplest way to hold these crops is to plant them so they mature at the end of the growing season and then just mulch them heavily, in place, with something like straw. In our mild winters the soil does not freeze too deeply, and if given some protection, you can continue the harvest thru winter. But you’ve got to literally dig them up.
While visiting my pal Graham in Rhode Island this December, I see that he has taken the next step in “in-ground’ storage. He simply dug holes to accommodate two five-gallon pails. The pail tops are about level with the surrounding ground. Drilled some holes in the bottom of the buckets to allow any surface water to exit. He filled the pails with carrots and beets after the fall harvest in late October, lidded the pails and covered them with a bale of straw. You can see the results.
You’ll have to trust me that the carrots were very tasty. Roasted. With some nice salmon. And a crisp white wine. Didn’t get around to the beets but they were solid as a rock. Sure, some sprouting had occurred but it did not seem to have influenced quality.
Something to think about as you plan for next year’s garden. The virtues of planning for a fall harvest can be extended into the shortest days of winter.
The picture at the top shows rutabaga or swedes, as my friend Graham calls them. Very tasty.
For a list of storage conditions and some more ideas about vegetable storage, see this from Cornell University.