It’s Harvest Time, You Tubers!

What to do this week

With wind and cold in the forecast – and supposing you haven’t already been hit by frost – it’s time to get serious about the winter food supply. I mean, you‘d better start digging your potatoes and getting them down into the cellar. If you can, try to do it when the soil is dry. There’s little more miserable than digging potatoes out of cold wet clay and trying to dry them out enough to store.

My friend Gerard and I dig ours together and we always have a little argument over the best way to dig them. He likes to bring them to the surface with the potato hoe and let them dry in the air for an hour or two before gathering them up. I am never patient enough for this. And besides, I think it’s more efficient to dig them and put them right in the buckets, to save going over the same ground twice. Mind you, he can usually put his right in the cold room while I generally leave the buckets in the warmth to dry them off before bagging and cellaring them. It is a cordial argument and there really isn’t any clear winner.

Kartoffeloptagning (potato picking) (studie) – 1911 By Jens Birkholm  Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Potatoes should be stored in cool but not freezing temperatures, and in the dark. Potatoes that are exposed, even intermittently, to light will turn green and somewhat poisonous, not to say bitter. I save large paper flour sacks for this purpose, but a cardboard box with a blanket over it will do, as well. My cellar sometimes dips below freezing in a February nor’easter so I place them in old broken chest freezers which prevent the spuds from freezing too. Once frozen, there is nothing you can do to bring them back to life.

You will find that after being stored in the cold for a while your potatoes will start to taste a bit sweet which is not what you want for your mashed or fried. Worry not. Just bring them into the warmth for a few days and the sugars will convert back to starch. Bring upstairs only as many as you need for a few days, and keep them out of the light. Late varieties of potatoes store best. Eat the early ones first, along with any that were inadvertently damaged by your digging fork. Resist the temptation to wash the potatoes before you store them. That will only make them susceptible to bacterial infection and spoilage. Gently brush the dirt off if you must, being careful if the skin has not yet cured and thickened.

Do not store apples near your potatoes or other root vegetables – it will give the apples a musty taste according to the folks who wrote Putting Food By, my favorite book about canning, freezing and otherwise storing food for the winter. If you don’t have a separate area, you can put your apples in bins with lids.

Carrots and parsnips don’t mind going a bit longer before you dig them. Parsnip actually improves with a frost. If you don’t mind going at it with an ax, you can even dig them up in mid-January. I am not that hardy, so I prefer to put them in the cellar with the carrots. Many people put them in moist sand, but I found I lost too many that way. I ended up with a lot of rotten vegetable sand that I had to dispose of somehow in the spring. Now I keep my carrots, beets and parsnips in a doubled layer of old feed bags which lets them breathe but keeps them moist. These three vegetables can handle the odd freeze-thaw cycle with only a little loss in texture and quality, making them suitable for soups and stews.

Photo By Bo Jessen – Own work, CC0  via Wikimedia Commons

There are other, less common winter vegetables I have stored that make my seasonal diet more varied. The big, knobby roots of celeriac are delicious in stews or roasted on their own. You can also pot them up and force them to grow leaves you can cut off and use as seasoning. When I dig my leeks, I store them upright in bins with damp soil around their roots.

It is easy to grow your own Belgian endive. Dig up and store your chicory roots as per carrots and parsnips. When you want a bright taste of summer, force them in deep pots of soil in a warm corner of your living room. Cover them over with another pot on top and the little chicons will grow up just like in a fancy gourmet magazine.

Jerusalem artichokes are delicious root vegetables, good for diabetics who must watch the simple carbohydrates of potatoes. They can be eaten steamed or raw, sliced in salads.

You can also root cellar cabbage and turnips, but be warned that they give off a strong smell in storage which can permeate the house. This is true of all the cruciferae, like brussels sprouts and kohlrabi. I prefer to make sauerkraut of my cabbage. Putting Food By has an excellent method for doing this, with the correct proportion of salt to cabbage. You can make small or large quantities and have easy access to some of that fermented food that the health gurus are going on about these days, but which is really all about delicious. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to make your own trendy Kimchi after that. Root cellar some of that daikon radish as well for some forays into Asian cooking

All of the above vegetables should be stored cold. Sweet potatoes and winter squash, however, need to be kept warm – not lower than 10C.

 

 

Market gardener, farmer, workshop leader, seed-saver, political candidate and mother, Michelle Smith has spent over 30 years coping with the challenges of our bioregion and in the process has built a store of practical and technical knowledge. The Inverness resident has served on the board of Seeds of Diversity Canada and represented Alternative Producers with the Federation of Agriculture but can do nothing about her hair. She is pictured with a head of Club Wheat, a seed that shares her approach to hairdressing.