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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Homeyer: Storing The Garden

It occurred to me recently, as I was contemplating what to serve on Thanksgiving Day, that there was no refrigeration back in the days of the pilgrims. There were no 18-wheelers bring carrots from California or frozen turkeys from Texas. Although I have freezers and refrigerators, I may do things more like the Pilgrims than the average American. And it’s easy.

I love mashed potatoes and always serve them on Thanksgiving. They’re great for creating deep pools for gravy on my plate. A single 2-ounce chunk of potato planted in June can yield 2 lbs of potatoes when harvested in late summer. That’s a great return on investment.

Like most root crops, potatoes store best in high humidity and cool – but not freezing - temperatures. That’s a good description of a dirt-floor basement in an old Vermont farmhouse. But cement floors and furnaces are commonplace now, so most of us will have to store potatoes elsewhere. A spare fridge is good – and if you keep it an unheated garage, the motor won't run much in winter. The insulated walls will keep produce from freezing except perhaps on the coldest of days, and then running a droplight in the fridge for a few hours will warm things up nicely.

To keep humidity up, you can store potatoes, carrots and other root crops in bins or buckets with a little moist sand in the bottom. I have a cold storage area that I built of cement blocks in my basement that can hold several 5-gallon pails. It’s 3 blocks long, two wide and 2 blocks high. I use a tight plywood lid to keep out rodents that might want to feast on my spuds.

Winter squash, on the other hand, does not want to be stored in a cool, moist location. They like cool temperatures, but low humidity. An old Vermont farmer once told me to store my Hubbards and butternuts upstairs in a spare bedroom. Turn off the heat, he said, and store them under the bed. They’ll last all winter. I do that, and they do last – but they don't really need to be under a bed.

Onions are another staple at Thanksgiving, too. I keep them in a cool dry location along with my garlic. I like to keep a few bunched together and hanging from a post in the kitchen, but the bulk of my onions and garlic I keep at forty to fifty degrees.

I grew sweet potatoes this year for the first time in ages, and harvested a great crop. They’re the Southern belles of storage, so never put them in the fridge. The ideal temperature for storing them is 55to 60 degrees, and not too dry. Some people recommend wrapping individual sweet potatoes in newspaper and storing them in a wooden crate or basket.

I couldn’t survive the winter on what I store, but I sure do enjoy eating my garden produce on Thanksgiving - and at least some of it all winter long.

Henry Homeyer is an author, columnist and a blogger at the
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