In mid-November, it is just about time to take a breath after making it through the summer growing and fall harvest seasons. Hopefully, your larder is full of carrots, potatoes, winter squash and the other storage crops that will last through weeks or months of hearty, cold-weather and holiday meals.
Dave Colson, the agricultural specialist for Southern Maine at the Maine Organic Gardeners and Farmers Association, shared some good ideas about how to make sure you are doing the right thing for your harvest stash and minimizing your chances of discovering rotten potatoes and moldy squash come December in this 2015 interview.
I know that all storage vegetables aren’t created equal. How do you find the right home for them?
Squash and pumpkins need to be stored above 50 degrees. The same with sweet potatoes. Ideally, they’d be kept around 65 degrees and in a place with no humidity. They can be kept in the house, in a closet or a back room that doesn’t get too cold.
What about root vegetables?
All the root vegetables — carrots, parsnips, potatoes, turnips, rutabagas and onions — want to be closer to freezing but not freezing, and not in a wet but in a somewhat moist environment. We have a walk-in cooler that we run pretty much all year round. We’re able to keep potatoes and carrots from the fall harvest all the way through to the next fall. You can do that at home, but the problem with our modern, frost-free refrigerators is that they warm up to thaw themselves out and keep from frosting. Root vegetables don’t like that. They’ll still keep quite a long time, probably a couple of months, in a home fridge. For a small garden, that might be what you need.
How about for people who have more than what fits in their refrigerator?
Coolbots are popular now. This is an electrical mechanism that hooks up to an air conditioner and allows the air conditioner to go colder than the 50 degrees they usually do, so people can insulate a little closet and turn it into a walk-in cooler. I visited a grower last week who made a 15 foot by 16 foot cooler with a high ceiling. He put two of the biggest air conditioners he could get in there and it’s doing a pretty good job. The simplest way is to have a root cellar. If it’s correctly built and can maintain soil temperatures, it’ll do a good job. You don’t want a spot that’s too wet. It needs to be insulated well.
What about garlic? It would be awful to lose that crop!
Garlic wants to be also in a dry kind of space. Onions and garlic do better in a dry space. Too warm and they’ll start to sprout. We keep some out that we’re using on the counter and keep the rest in a mesh bag in the refrigerator. That lets it breathe a little better than a plastic bag.