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best way to store potatos,onions and garlic?  RSS feed

 
john muckleroy jr
Posts: 40
Location: nacogdoches,texas
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I mean pre-electricity.The way they did it in the old days or a better way to do it than they did in the old days without electricity,etc.
 
Jordan Lowery
pollinator
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Location: zone 7
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Potatoes store best in earth or dirt, garlic is cured and if done right it will last 18 months. Onions are also sort of cured, but can also easily be dried. All store best in a cool dark place
 
John Elliott
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The best way? In the ground.

The most primitive way to "store" a plant is to just leave it there until you want to eat it. Then go dig it up. Bulbs, tubers, and corms go along with this idea and have their dormant phase where they just sit there waiting to either spring back to life or be dug up and eaten.

I have plenty of wild garlic on my property, and all I have to do when I need some is to go out into the garden with the trowel. I'm in the process of establishing beds of Egyptian Walking Onions so that I never need to worry about harvesting, curing and storing onions as well.

This puts the "perma" in permaculture -- let the garden do the storage for you. You're just making more work for yourself when you think you have to harvest what is in the garden and put it in the pantry.
 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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As with most everything, root storage is not a one-size-fits-all solution but depends on your climate and what you've got to work with. First consider the needs:

potatoes, carrots, beets, cabbage, parsnips, rutabegas: cold and damp
apples and pears: cold and damp, best away from roots because the ethylene gasses can cause potatoes to sprout. Alternatively, good ventilation and keep them together and watch for deterioration.
onions, garlic, squash: cool and dry
sweet potatoes 55 degrees/85 % humidity
everything in the dark

I have no doubt that where John Elliott lives, he can store his potatoes in the ground. In my climate (zone 5b/6a) it gets too cold: the potatoes will convert starches to sugar (not tasty). About the only thing I can leave in the ground are parsnips, and we don't get that much snow cover so I don't have to worry about finding them. In some places with loads of cold running springs, people built a spring house that would have a cool but not freezing storage component.

Old timers would dig a root cellar where the temperatures hovered above freezing (prop the door open in the fall, turn a light bulb on in the depths of winter-or a kerosene lantern before electricity-yuck sooty veg). Store the veg in baskets to get good air circulation. Gravel floor to splash water down to keep humidity up.

I wanted a root cellar, but our summer water table is too high to dig basement-deep. When we build the main structure, there will be a superinsulated room on the north side, with vents high and low for passive air circulation. I suspect I can get to and hold 35 easily from Nov to March, low 40s on the shoulder seasons; in our mountain climate we get huge daily swings in temp. We actually may do two of these rooms, one to hold at 50-55 for our canned foods, wine, cider and cheese-making.

For now, we use what I call the redneck root cellar. I took an idea for vermiculture from Harvey Ussery and adapted it. Before we built the hoophouse, our neighbor had his backhoe over and dug a 30' trench up to mid-thigh down the center of the site. We decked it over with plywood sheets, built the hoophouse over it. I went thrift-shopping for coolers. We put the veg in the coolers in the trench. So far it's working. If we ran across a dead frig, we could use that too, but the coolers are well insulated and easy to handle. As it gets colder, we may need to stuff some straw into the trench. We could also do what Harvey does and line the trench with cement block. I may need to do that to stabilize the trench walls, but so far so good. I won't be doing vermiculture in the trench with the roots!

There's a great book on root cellars by Mike and Nancy Bubel with lots of examples of DIY improvised cellars, including one from an ice cream truck if I remember right.
 
Galadriel Freden
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Location: West Yorkshire, UK
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An old-fashioned clamp can store root vegetables over winter. Here's a link with an explanation with pictures:

http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/storage-clamp
 
Karyn Tietz
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I saw a video the other day, really simple and easy. 5 gallon bucket filled with sand, then store in a cool dark place.
 
Dan Boone
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Location: Central Oklahoma (zone 7a)
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Ann Torrence wrote:
Old timers would dig a root cellar where the temperatures hovered above freezing (prop the door open in the fall, turn a light bulb on in the depths of winter-or a kerosene lantern before electricity-yuck sooty veg). Store the veg in baskets to get good air circulation. Gravel floor to splash water down to keep humidity up.


This is an old post but I have a lot of experience with old-timer style root cellars and keeping them above freezing, so why not?

First of all, a properly-operated kerosene lantern is not sooty. Soot appears when you run it with the wick too high or too low; when you run it out of oil and the wick burns excessively; when it's not well-adjusted, or when you try to run it on diesel, cheap "lamp oil", jet fuel, or pretty much anything but genuine "Pearl" brand kerosene from Chevron (formerly Standard Oil). I know this because I was home-schooled through grade 12 and did all of my schoolwork in a dark cabin in Alaska with no electricity, in a place where the sun did not rise for six weeks straight in December and January. Filling and maintaining the lamps was one of my many chores. My own personal lamp for schoolwork and pleasure reading needed its globe washed about once every six weeks, and typically that was because I got fingerprints on it or toasted marshmallow stuck to it. Sooty? Not an issue.

We had a root cellar dug into the side of a permafrost slope next to our cabin door. We kept 600-800 pounds of potatoes through winters that dipped to 70 below, plus carrots, cabbages, celery, beets, and a few other things. I'm pretty intimately familiar with the mechanics of keeping those vegetables from freezing because it was another one of my chores, as was washing, paring, and cutting the veggies for our meals, which became a bigger task the later the season got as more and more stuff had bad spots and mold.

Because this root cellar was in frozen permafrost, there was enormous thermal stability, but when outside air temps were substantially below the ground temp we would leak warmth through the double doors and through the logs-and-soil roof. A source of heat was required to keep everything from freezing and turning to mush, but it could be very minimal. A kerosene lamp was actually too much heat, and it contributed too much humidity, making the mold problem worse. We did however maintain about a dozen chickens in an 8x8 log coop, and when it got below about twenty below outside their body heat was not enough to keep them from freezing their feet inside, so we would run a well-protected barn lantern in there to help them keep the temperature up. That worked well, although we didn't get many eggs in the dark months.

For the root cellar, the system we used was a pair of 5-gallon metal military-surplus water cans (the kind with the large lid on a hinge and built-in vents). We'd keep one on or near the always-roaring wood-burning barrel stove in our cabin, and swap the hot one for the cold one in the root cellar twice a day. (Another of my frequent chores in the morning, although my dad usually did the "before bedtime" swap.) It worked a treat, although well-vented cans of hot water definitely contributed to the humidity issue in our root cellar.

This, however, was the source of our most horrifying injury during our years living there. On the rocket mass heater forums they talk of "boom squish" any time water is at risk of boiling in a pressurized environment. Well, for some reason my father got to using a metal military fuel can instead of a water can. These have much less robust vents, typically just one small hole the size of a BB. And our hard well water was prone to mineral flake buildup when it boiled. Sure enough, one night when my dad pulled the hot can down off the stove, it was in a superheated state because the vent had become clogged, and the can exploded. He suffered no mechanical injury from the steam explosion but he got superheated water splashed on his face and upper body, where it was held against his skin by his beard and by three layers of cotton and good Pendleton wool. (Undershirt, thermalweave underwear, wool shirt.) He went screaming outside to roll around in a snowbank at thirty below but it took him and mom quite some time to get his boiling clothing off of his torso. In the end he suffered 2nd-degree burns over about 30% of his upper body.

We of course had no access to health care or money to pay for it. Dad declined a military rescue evac to civilization and a hospital, arguing stubbornly but I think correctly that the risk of serious infection was much worse in a hospital setting. Of course this meant that he would not have access to serious pain medications. But pretty much everybody in that little town gave up their spare oral antibiotics, antibiotic creams, and hoarded painkillers. He healed amazingly fast and with no significant infection, but the pain he went through is impossible to imagine or describe. Moral: if you're going to heat water on your wood stove in closed vessels for any purpose, be ridiculously paranoid, and then check your vents every day.

As for the root cellar, though, we kept potatoes through the winter just piled in old garden tubs (leaky galvanized washtubs). Carrots stacked in tubs atop a layer of sand. Heads of celery were wrapped in newspaper (which became damp) and stacked roots-down in tubs. Cabbages we kept in burlap bags. Beets, like the potatoes, just piled in tubs. It all worked fairly well except for that one boom-squish mishap. By about this time of year (late March) everything in the root cellar was getting pretty beat up, with sprouts on the potatoes, lots of rotten and squishy spots, mold on the carrot and beet tops, brown slimy ends on the carrots, mold between the outermost cabbage leaves, that sort of thing. The celery we didn't eat by January turned gray and mush soon after, so it was an early-winter treat only.
 
Rebecca Norman
gardener
Posts: 1207
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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Wow, what a story! Boom squish. But excellent root cellar info.

Here in Ladakh most people on't actually build a root cellar, they just dig a deep hole in the garden in late fall and heave several sacks of potatoes and carrots down, and cover them over with 3 feet of soil. It's not that convenient because you have to dig it back up every time you want to get some out, so you take out a large amount but infrequently. However, it keeps the root vegetables in perfect condition for months.
 
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