Saturday, February 18, 2012

Useful Info: Keeping Vegetables all Winter Long

God is day and night, winter and summer, war and peace, surfeit and hunger. – Heraclitus 

An old root cellar in the dead of winter. Photo: Wilson-Fam, Flickr ccl
I have a love affair with root cellars, although I think it's one sided. Perhaps it's better to say I love the idea of root cellars... They make me think of times more simpler, and paradoxically a more complex time, when we required greater understanding and participation in raising and keeping our own food. 

I guess that's a main theme in much of what I post – back to basics which have been forgotten. We need to return to that mind-set, before it's forced upon us and we're not ready for it. The "just-in-time" food delivery model we ALL function on in the global economy gives me the willies. I'm just being a realist, folks.

I posted some information last winter about friends who actually harvest vegetables all winter long from a 12-month unheated greenhouse close to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. The original post about their amazing 4-season farm is HERE. Besides my blather about root cellars, I hopefully will inspire you to think of ways to keep vegetables all winter long (without the cost of building a greenhouse).

Photo: Alan Gatham, Flickr ccl
This post contains some useful tricks. With a little advance planning and no greenhouse or other season-extending structures or machines, vegetable gardeners can eat their “fresh” produce every day of the year.

An old idea
The most common way to enjoy vegetables all season long is to “cold store.” Many old farm houses had a special room called a root cellar. It was often built in the basement but out from the main foundation. Sometimes they were completely stand alone structures, built into hillsides or dug into the ground.

Most root cellars had outside access so getting the vegetables from the garden to storage was easy. Freestanding ones always did, of course. They always are dark and slightly moist. Sometimes if built onto a basement of a house they received some warmth from the house so vegetables didn’t freeze. Freestanding root cellars relied on the surrounding earth to moderate the inside temperature through the cold months. 

When I was young, good friends (Bruce and Hillie) lived mostly off a sustenance farm and had a root cellar as part of their basement. They had special bins built to keep vegetables in "lots." Some (like squash and pumpkin) were often arranged on tarps on the cold earth floor. All of it was only just down the stairs from Hillie's kitchen. I remember that like it was yesterday... I'm assuming the cellar's still there in the house and probably still used.

A new way to "cellar"
A more “modern” (and practical if you don't have a root cellar) method is to store vegetables in airy baskets in cold areas of your house, for example an unheated bedroom or a garage. As long as it doesn’t freeze and it's not too damp, you’re OK. Dampness will encourage mould, mildew and rot. The baskets should also be covered with heavy blankets to block out the sun, mimicking the dark old fashioned root cellar.

Typical vegetables that can be stored in this manner are turnips, carrots, cabbage, parsnips, beets, potatoes, squash, pumpkin. But there's many more.

Some typical vegetables for root cellar preservation.
Photo: lynn.gardner, Flickr ccl
How to store and/or extend harvest
Here’s some other useful storing and growing tips on how to stretch your “harvest season”:

Green tomatoes can be slowly ripened if harvested while still completely firm. Plant some tomatoes a month or two later than recommended and harvest before the first frost. The fruit will not have had time to ripen before then. I had several bushels of green Roma tomatoes in late October one year when I planted late.

Protect the tomatoes by storing in single layers in cardboard boxes surrounded by newspaper. Store just above freezing. Use as they ripen and discard any that may go “off.”

Plant frost-resistant crops like kale and Brussels sprouts in May. The plants will stop growing (or slow down severely) when the weather turns cool. If you put good protection over them – still in the garden – you should be able to uncover as you need and harvest all through the winter.

Belgian endive. Note how it grows from the root.
Photo: purpletwinkie, Flickr ccl
Belgian endive is another good contender. The bleached white heads are quite pricey in the grocery store. Simply plant out in the garden as you normally would and harvest the green tops. Come Autumn, dig up the roots and trim off the tops to within 1” of the root stalk.

Plant the roots close together in plastic 5-gallon buckets of moist sand or sawdust, and cover the top with another bucket. This shuts out all the light. Keep the roots well watered and within a few weeks you will have those wonderful bleached endive that cost so much.

Try saving some of your root vegetables directly in your garden. Plenty of much will protect beets, carrots, parsnips, onions, leeks and the like. Do not harvest through the winter but keep very well covered. Come Spring, remove the protection and you have a massive head start on the current year’s crop.

The same holds true for many hardier salad greens. Sow in the garden in September and then cover for the winter. They’ll "spring" back to life when uncovered in April/May.

Stored squash. Photo: espring 4224, Flickr ccl
This last one I’ve never heard of, but I’m assuming it works because of my source. Harvest your cabbage but keep the stumps in the ground over winter. If well protected they will begin to grow fist-sized cabbage heads around the cut when the weather begins to warm again. Kind of like oversized Brussels sprouts, one would assume.

These tips are all good thing to keep in mind. Nowadays, anything that reduces financial outlay is welcome information. Keep these tips tucked under your hat. Perhaps this year you’ll try some. It can’t hurt.

Part of what you read above is a “Reader’s Digest” version of some excellent information I found online from the University of New Hampshire. Much of what they wrote was lost knowledge from times before the 24-hour supermarket was just around the corner – when people actually had to work for their food.

To view the original from The University of New Hampshire, click here


If you like this post retweet it using the link at top right, or share using any of the links below.
Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?

No comments:

Post a Comment