"The tragic reality is that very few sustainable systems are designed or applied by those who hold power, and the reason for this is obvious and simple: to let people arrange their own food, energy and shelter is to lose economic and political control over them. We should cease to look to power structures, hierarchical systems, or governments to help us, and devise ways to help ourselves." - Bill Mollison

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Cooler Full Of Carrots

We store a wide array of vegetables, herbs, fruits, berries, grains, and nuts every year to help nourish us during the tedious winter season. When you get right down to it, however, there are only a few crops that we can count on to see us through the year with a high degree of certainty. They are, in order of importance to us, carrots, beets, potatoes, squash, turnips, parsnips, dried beans and peas. We are able to readily grow all of these in dependable quantities year after year no matter the weather, insects, or any unforeseen conditions that may arise.

For over 15 years, the first 10 being rather intermittent and my horticultural endeavors being somewhat questionable, I have never been let down in any significant manner by these particular crops. No doubt others have a different variation of dependable crops, but these are ours. A veritable who's who of carbohydrates. Each of these food items is put into storage sometime between September and October and will last us at least until early spring and usually well into June if they are properly stored.

Carrots, turnips, and parsnips are all stored using the same approach. We harvest after the first light frost, or just before if suspecting a hard freeze. After digging, the tops are cut off about an inch from the root and they are then packed in layers. A cooler, tote, crate, bag (plastic wood pellet, or feed sacks work great) or anything that will hold up to the weight as they are then layered on top of each other with sandy soil in between. I find that coolers really work well as they are sturdy, insulated, and come with a good set of handles...an old cooler can be picked up at a garage sale for next to nothing. We simply dig down a couple feet until sandy soil is contacted and use that to separate the produce. I am careful not to use any top soil as it may contain insects or other malicious organisms.

We find this storage method to be quite effective as long as the temperature is kept right around 35-40°, humidity at 80-90% and the soil is not allowed to dry out or get too damp. Using soil not only allows the vegetables to remain alive, but also seems to help maintain the flavor as well. Sandy soil works best for us, many people use sawdust, or even dry leaves.

The best of these three biennials can then be planted back into the garden in the early spring at which point they will generally go to seed and thus their life cycle is continued.

Beets are stored in a similar manner, the only difference being that they are packed in single layers so that we can not only use them for the root but top growth as well. I like to store beets in deep wooden boxes that I constructed and have also found wheel barrows to work quite well. Many of our beets are cylindrical in shape and can easily be over a foot long so it is necessary to provide deeper accommodations for them.

Potatoes are dug in late September before any frost and always before the rains of November. We are careful to remove any that have been exposed to the sun and have turned green due to solanine, a potentially poisonous alkaloid that is increased with exposure to sunlight. They are usually just tossed into the forest to decay as I have learned the hard way never to put them into the mulch pile unless one wants little potato plants sprouting all over the garden. We lay them in a dark area of our porch and cover with seed sacks to help keep them devoid of light. The tubers are then left to cure for a couple weeks while their skin hardens and they are ready for storage. The larger potatoes are stored in single layers on shelves and the small (baby potatoes) are put into baskets and used first as they normally do not last as long in storage. Four or five of the best of each variety are kept separate to be used as the next years seed potatoes.

Squash (including sugar pie pumpkins) are harvested in late September before any frost and allowed to cure in a warm dry area for two weeks or so. When picking, it is advisable to leave at least 3" of stem on, this will significantly improve their storage life. The best place for them unfortunately seems to be in a corner of our living room as they need to be kept warm and dry. We never let them touch and always watch to see if any soft spots develop and immediately use any that exhibit an issue. For us, the most difficult part about keeping winter squash is keeping small (grandson) children from standing on them or attempting to use them as bowling balls.

Peas and beans are not too burdensome, we let them dry on the vine or take any late ones and let them finish in our greenhouse or another warm dry area...we often use our porch for this. If it is really cold and damp they can always be brought inside and put in baskets near the firplace. Once dried they are put into well sealed jars, and the best ones are set aside for next years seed. They will keep that way for several years to be rehydrated for soup or even replanted in a pinch. The pole pea seeds in the above photo have been saved by us for over 8 years now, and seem to perform better every year.

Right around April the weather starts to warm a bit and I can no longer keep my basement root cellar at the appropriate temperature. At this time all remaining root vegetables, including potatoes are removed and buried in a cache of sorts about 2 1/2' deep with plywood boards over the top to keep the rains from saturating. This easily keeps them cool well into June. If you have an issue with the "Yellow Toothed Subterranean Vole" as we do, it is important to take care where you make this cache. It may be prudent to leave the crops in the coolers or totes or at least make a wire barrier around them to keep hungry visitors away. I never bury wooden crates as they will begin to decay. Natures refrigerator is really quite amazing, in the fall we have even buried excess beet, endive, and rutabaga greens in plastic bags for over a 1 1/2 months so that they could be distributed to the chickens at our leisure.

These crops constitute a very large percentage of what we grow. Not only do we depend upon them but the recent addition of a flock of collaborators in our gardening enterprise rely on them as well.

Please forgive the picture quality as I had to 'steal' these pictures from my video camera. More of our root cellar pictures can be found in this previous post. Summer's Over


Rhonda Jean said...

Very interesting. It never fails to amaze me how our climates in various parts of the world, dictate how we grow and store our food.

BTW, you've got an excellent bloglist that I'm slowly working my way through. :- )

Mr. H said...

Hi Rhonda Jean,

You and I definitely have different climates. While you deal with heat and firestorms, we are stuck in the final throws of winter...I hope.

I must say that, yes, I do have an excellent list of blogs, sometimes I hesitate to even post after reading some of the interesting things that others are experiencing..yourself included.

A small world indeed,


Chiot's Run said...

Wow, that's a lot of produce & food. I love it. I'm hoping to start growing more and more (although I'm limited by our small lot). But I think eventually I can grow just about all of our fruits & veggies. We've considered getting a few ducks as well and this spring we're getting bees!

Mr. H said...

Chiot's Run,

Growing your own food can become quite an empowering addiction...and a good one at that. The health aspect alone makes the whole endeavor worth while.

I really do hope you get the bees this spring. It would be most interesting to read about in your posts. We have thought about taking the leap but as yet have not. I worry about all our neighbors poisons getting into the honey...someday, some other place we hope to do it also. I watched a really good series of YouTube video's on beginning beekeeping last week. It was titled "Bees for beginners part 1". Here is the link ↓


Perhaps watching you will help encourage us to get started in a new undertaking.


Kristin said...

Hey Mike,

I jumped here from "In My Kitchen Garden" because I was intrigued by your comment that you grow forage crops for feeding your chickens in the winter. We just got chickens last fall, and I'm curious what you grow for them, what they seem to like best/need most. I see you mentioned in this post various greens. How do you store greens in the winter? Just freeze them, figuring chickens don't care if their greens are mushy?

I could probably find this info. somewhere else on your site, and I'll start reading back a ways because even just this one post is impressively detailed, but I thought I'd take the lazy way out and just ask first . . .

Mr. H said...

Hello Kristin,

I may have some difficulty responding to your query do to the fact that I just read a few of your recent posts and am still laughing...love potion.

Anyway, we are able to feed grated carrots, beets, turnips to the chickens all year. They also get a daily portion of cooked potatoes along with any greens we can pull out of our cold frames. The only frozen greens we feed are kale greens...they freeze well.

The hens do have rather refined palates and and have provided me with a list of their favorite foods.

They love grated broccoli stems, fresh purple brussel sprout plants (the whole plant, roots and all). Any fresh cabbage, kale, collard greens, swiss chard...or any greens from the garden for that matter.

On cold days nothing is better then a warm (not hot) bowl of oatmeal, a nice baked spaghetti squash, or even pasta, rice, and lentil's.

We also mix finely crushed eggshell into the feed for calcium and upon occasion return their eggs to them in the scrambled form for extra protein.If we are short on greens alfalfa hay makes a nice substitute.

If given free rein the roosters would probably add small children and cats to the menu but that is a story for another time.

All of these things are grown for our own use anyway so it is a great way to feed the chickens and really helps keep the feed bill down. Makes for on heck of a healthy egg also.

I posted a picture of "chicken salad" that is fed to our spoiled birds on my January 23 post titled "All Cooped Up"

Still smiling,


KK said...

I just found your blog and am just beyond impressed!! I live in a city brownstone but this year for the first time in my life I grew two kinds of squash, beans, tomatoes, carrots and lettuce! All in a very tiny amount of space- like very very tiny!! I am going to try canning and pickling green beans this week for the first time.

Mr. H. said...


Good for you, it's not so important how much you grow as that you know how to grow your own food. It's pretty neat to create some of your own food and not have to rely on others...ya know.

I just made up a batch of lacto fermented dilly beans....I hope they turn out. Spending time in the kitchen canning really is pretty "cool".:)

Thanks so much stopping by,


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