How To Store Your Vegetable Surpluses Once Harvested? There Are Many Storage Options, Without Freezing, Bottling Or Drying The Crop. Which Will You Choose?
Growing the crop is just part of the gardening equation. Once grown the crop needs harvesting and then needs using or storing. That sounds easy, but what if you have a glut? What are the options? These are my thoughts on How To Store Your Vegetable Surpluses.
How To Stagger Crops
Option one is to ensure we don’t get a glut. Staggering sowing and planting dates by sowing little and often works for some crops, but not all crops.
Plant spacing, ie planting density, can also be used to control harvest dates. Varied spacing can affect maturity dates as well as plant sizes.
But, even with these and other techniques some crops will still be problematic. So how can we store them?
Fruit and Veg Storage Options
There are plenty of options available to the gardener. From pickling onions to being a bit more adventurous with kimchi, or maybe salting, dehydrating, drying or freezing. all these are tried and tested methods.
But each of them requires some form of processing. What about storing crops with minimal preparation?
How To Store Your Vegetable Surpluses Without Processing
In some cases we can just leave the crop in the ground. Indeed, in some cases there is no need to harvest crops immediately, unless you need the space. For example, early potatoes are quite happy left in the ground until we need to dig them. And in some cases so are main crop potatoes. I’ve dug plenty of maincrop potatoes in winter.
And leeks are not harvested until needed.
Carrots and celery are also crops I’ve “stored“ in situ for late harvests. Covered in straw and a fabric sheet I’ve harvested as many as 20,000 celery head in a week in December. This was on my market garden in Bedfordshire and was after snow. A few plants tend to be lost in this way but it was the easiest way I knew of storing celery which couldn’t be stored any other way. See below for more on this
Of course the above all assumes you aren’t gardening on cold wet clay and don’t have a plague of slugs. If so harvest the crops asap.
Commercial potato growers store their harvested crop in huge temperature controlled warehouses. In many cases the atmosphere is also controlled , especially CO2 levels. The crop will have been “cured” prior to storage and a chemical used to stop them sprouting used.
We can’t do this at home even if we wanted. But there is a tried and tested way that was used on farms on in gardens before the controlled warehouse stores were built. Clamping.
Five Reasons to Build Vegetable Clamps
Potato & Root Clamps are built to preserve the roots or tubers until they are required for eating or processing into other products. That means we need to provide conditions that ensure the following:-
Protection From Damp
Roots should be dry with as much soil removed from them as possible before being stored. They then need to be kept dry throughout the storage period. Indoors this tends to be much easier but outdoors a shaped clamps that sheds water, covered with a layer of soil and straw helps a great deal. To stop humidity rising in the clamp a few chimneys were often added. These consisted of screws of straw that allowed the humidity to escape but rain not enter. If that sounds hard to achieve, it was. Building clamps was, and is, a very skilled affair.
Frost damages the roots and damaged roots decay. It’s that simple.
So we need to ensure that frost doesn’t enter the clamp. Again, harder to achieve than said. Especially in the past when winter temperatures were much lower than today.
Protection from Excess Heat
When you create conditions that protect the crop from frost they can also overheat. The frost protection prevents heat entering but the builders had to be careful to ensure the heap could breathe and lose any excess moisture.
If we protect from heat and frost we grew half way towards protecting from decay. But we also need to ensure that we don’t clamp damaged roots. The slightest damage can cause rots.
Pest and Disease Protection
Build a cosy clamp and if you aren’t careful you’ve provided a home for rats and mice was well as slugs. Having a feral farm cat or ten helped with rats and mice and removing as much soil from the roots as possible helps reduce slug number.
Take care when removing soil from roots as they can be damaged in the process. Harvesting in dry conditions is the best way to ensure there are as soil free as possible.
Using Ashes, Lime ands Sulphur in Potato Clamps
The Victorian gardener threw nothing away. The ashes from the fire were like gold dust and never thrown away. In the garden clamp it was advised they were used as a base on which to lay each layer of crop. Fortunately fires were common in homes so ashes were available to most people. But reading that each layer of root should be separated by three inches of ash always amazes. They must have used huge quantities of ash.
Another piece of advice given in books printed as late as the 1960s were advising that lime and or sulphur could be sprinkled on the roots to prevent decay. Eg. my copy of Charles Boff’s Big Book of Gardening recommends it. My book doesn’t have a publication date but it belonged to my parents and would haver been bought around the early 50s. Some secondhand book sellers still sell this book. It’s an interesting read.
Interestingly, when I first grew dahlias in the 70’s the recommendation was to lift them for winter storage and to dust them with Flowers of Sulphur to prevent rot.
I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed edible roots that had been dressed with sulphur or lime!
Build a Potato Clamp
The answer to potato storage years ago was to build a potato clamp.
The first rule of potato storage is to ensure the crop is dry. You don’t want wet claggy soil sticking to them. So harvest on a dry day and leave them to air dry any soil on them before storing.
Naturally you don’t want to leave them in the sun to shrivel and to go green so use common sense here.
Then heap them in a frost free shed or garage and cover them with straw or similar to stop them getting frosted or drying out too much.
Careful handling of the crop is essential. Any damaged or bruised potatoes aren’t going to last too long.
Potatoes stored like this can last all winter. But you do need to check them own a regular basis. Open the clamp and check for any potatoes that are showing signs of rot. If you find them, dispose of them asap. The saying is that one bad apple can spoil the barrel. With potatoes they spoil a whole clamp very quickly. So check at least once a month.
Cabbage and Root Clamps
Potatoes aren’t the only veg that can be clamped. Any root crop such as swede, turnips or mangels can be clamped and a century or so ago this was common practice on dairy farms. The roots became winter feed for cattle.
Cow cabbages were also clamped. Forget the size of cabbage we grow today, these were huge. Averaging 50lb in weight these were the monsters of the cabbage world. They were prepared by removing the loose outer leaves which left a cannonball of cabbage for the clamp. One downside of feeding cabbage and roots to cows is that the milk is tainted when too much is consumed by the cow. Milk tasting of cabbage is not pleasant!
Before I started my market garden an old friend of mine had a 2 acre filed he used to produce veg for sale. Each year he grew Cheltenham beet and clamped them outdoors. The beet were piled high in a long tent shaped clamp. It was then covered in deep straw and then a layer of soil. The beet were then removed from one end as required throughout the winter.
The Art Of The Clock Clamp – Another How To Store Your Vegetable Surpluses Option!
What is a clock clamp? It’s a small clamp that is circular and designed to store pointed roots such as Cheltenham beet, carrots etc.
The idea is to have a circular layer of wood ash with the roots laid in like the hands of a clock. The pointed end towards the middle and wider end pointing out. Larger ones might have two rows of roots at the bottom and taper to one row at the top. That way the sides were tapered and shed the rain. Other than being round the construction method as the same as other clamps.
Carrots were often stored in slightly damp sand. Discussion about whether they should be stood upright or use the clock clamp principle were rife with people strongly in one camp or the other.
Note I said damp sand for storage. This might seems contradictory to keeping roots dry and needs understanding. Dry sand would dry the carrot over the months and they would shrivel. Wet sand would encourage rots. So we need something in between. Again the skill of the gardener is evident, not too wet and not to dry or the crop is lost.
Onions can also be clamped but the more usual practice is to plait them into ropes and hang them from a hook. In the right conditions they’ll last all winter like this.
Garlic can be treated the same way.
After World War One Breton Onion sellers used to come to England to see strings of onions. It was another era.
Today we have Roscoff onions but no onion sellers visiting each year.
Celery Storage: How To Store Your Vegetable Surpluses
Celery is quite a tender plant and could be problematic to store. This is especially so as it is a marsh plant and has a high moisture content.
So how can celery be stored for us through the winter months? If it it cut and laid on its side celery will soon curl towards the light. So lying it on its side is not a great option. And being vey leafy it is going to quickly succumb to fungal rots such as botyritis.
Commercially I often grew a late crop of 20,000 outdoor celery and stored them in the field. The trick is to take the crop to maturity before the first frost, then, on a dry day, cover the growing crop with a breathable fabric (plastic only works short term as it encourages high humidity) and a deep layer of straw to insulate the crop.
A waterproof layer over the above in a tent like fashion will shed water and maintain the crop for months. On several occasions I’ve removed the covers on my celery and cut it for the Christmas market .. on one occasion having to first shovel snow from the cover. The crop was in good condition and then sent to supermarkets and the wholesale London markets where it commanded a premium price.
So that’s on How To Store Your Vegetable Surpluses as far as clamping goes. There’s an article of other preservation techniques coming soon.
There is another thought. We can always eat what is seasonal and dispense with storage, at least in part. For example many crops grow all winter as my article on Winter Salads explains