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Ahhh potatoes

January 7, 2010

Along the way from seed to table there is storage.  Potatoes are often taken for granted like other root crops.  Hiding their earthly delights for most of the growing season only to get lifted from the soil, weighed, measured and thrown back in the dark.   Usually I post regularly about what I dig from the garden root-wise, but I don’t often post about the spuds because they are tucked in their little straw bale house in the barn.

Straw bale "root cellar"

For everyday use, I store a box in the fruit room of the basement where it is a little warm to store all our potatoes for the winter.  When I need to replenish, I go through my stores and check for bad potatoes.  You know, the one bad apple thing… .  Anyway, today I pulled out the bales in front and checked over each box.  So far, so good.

I smell hashbrowns!

We’ve been down to 9°F this winter so far.  The R-value of straw bales is variable depending on the baler.  Something to consider if you’re thinking of using this method.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. January 7, 2010 2:15 am

    Don’t they look wonderful! Our garden is small (relatively speaking) so we are just about out of our ‘stash’ of potatoes. I am lamenting also the nearing end of my garlic supplies — which I have hoarded and kept selfishly all to myself, horrible! =)

    • January 7, 2010 6:23 am

      Sandy, I know what you mean – I’ve got lots of garlic left, but I always worry about running out before the replacement vegetables are ready. April is the hardest. Stuff is getting old, and the new garden is just barely getting going. 🙂

  2. January 7, 2010 2:56 am

    eh…little help here … ‘R’ value? I barely speak English and now technical farming language : ).

    Whats the best temp to keep the potatoes at? I left some in the garage and they are sprouting….which is not good. The heater keeps it at 40 F. Should I put them in the shed where they would be as cold as outside? I dont have a cellar…which is the problem. In Japan they make a huge container out of hay and leave their daikon and cabbages in there thru the winter. It seems I can replicate the same with bales of hay. I am glad I tuned in today. I do have a 200 year old basement…but the furnace is there and so it it always 50 F.

    Happpy Thursday!! ( I wish I were closer…I would have bought some milk from you. In NJ they can’t sell raw milk…)

    • January 7, 2010 6:32 am

      WEF, the R-value is the insulating factor, house insulation is sold that way. The thicker and denser the insulating material the more cold protection it offers.

      40 F is a good temperature for your potato storage. What potatoes need is dark, cool, and humid conditions (95% humidity or so). It may be that your potatoes are a variety that don’t keep too long. If you are selecting potato varieties for keeping look for that in the description. The Moose Tubers section of the Fedco Seed catalog has a great chart of all the qualities, keeping, texture etc., of potatoes.

      My basement is cool enough, but too dry for long term storage 😦

      • January 12, 2010 5:05 am

        Thank you for the temp info, and even more so about the humidity factor. I’m keeping my potatoes in temps about 35*F to 40*F, but had no idea about the details of humidity. I’ll take a look at the Fedco seed catalog too – sometimes even if I don’t buy the product, the info in seed catalogs/gardening booklets is invaluable.

  3. January 7, 2010 4:05 am

    We don’t get alot of potatoes, but we stored them in the basement and they did really well, I was so glad we had some. Nothing beats fresh potatoes along with all the other wonderful things from the garden that you can put up for the winter!

  4. January 7, 2010 6:32 am

    Lisa, so true – potatoes always taste good!

  5. January 7, 2010 8:05 am

    We don’t have a basement or a barn 😦 but we do want to store our veggies over the winter! I have been looking for some ideas on how we should do that so your post is great timing. Do you think the straw bales have enough warmth to them that we could build a straw bale “shed” in the yard (unprotected) and have things like apples, potatoes, cabbage and other root veggies keep? We are outside the Portland Metro area, and usually don’t get below 20 in the winter.

    Thanks for always posting such great information, reading your blog is always a treat 🙂

    • January 7, 2010 8:26 am

      Janna, I’m outside the Portland Metro area too (thank heavens!) In this climate you can store most of your root vegetables right where they grew with a little mulch for freezing protection. Potatoes are the exception unless you live on the west side or at the head of the valley where some CSA farmers have been able to store their potatoes in the ground to over winter. We live on the east side and get twice the rain + that Portland does. The only downside to an outside straw bale structure is that it might get too wet without some sort of roof. Then your vegetables might possibly rot. I know this sounds counter intuitive when I am recommending leaving the roots in the ground, but there is a difference between a harvested vegetable that is stored and one that is still attached by its roots to the soil.

      While a root cellar sounds great in theory, some vegetables and fruits can’t be stored together, and some have very different storage requirements. I keep squash upstairs in our house – dry and cool; apples & pears on our porch – cool and humid; most root crops in the row where they grew; onions and garlic in the basement “fruit” room; and potatoes in the barn. We literally live with our food!

      • January 12, 2010 5:07 am

        Do all winter squash go in “dry and cool”? My storage is sort of in the middle of potatoes and squash – both cool as you describe, but the humidity is sort of in the middle (not too much, not really dry either). My space is somewhat limited, would they “live” well in the same area? Which would be more effected by the mid-way humidity? I considered apples/pears on my porch, but we’ve gotten some snow and I worried about that effect on the fruit. Tips?

        • January 12, 2010 6:19 am

          mangochild, the potatoes need quite a bit higher humidity and the squash need low humidity. That being said, I am probably storing more squash and potatoes than you are so I am always talking about long term, so a couple of months of in between humidity wouldn’t be the end of the world. Apples and pears are stored just above freezing for long term, and then metered out to stores. So you can let that be your guide for your porch storage temps. If we are going to have a deep freeze I bring the fruit in for short term and then put it back outside. My friend stores her squash in a cool bedroom under the bed! 🙂

  6. January 7, 2010 8:37 am

    “The R-value of straw bales is variable depending on the baler. ”

    I got a laugh from that. What a simple statement to express the joys and craft of producing food from the land.

    The R value would vary depending on the condition of the straw when cut, the moisture when baled, the tension set on the baler that determines how densely packed the straw is and how rapidly heat and air migrate about the bale. Then there is how the bale is handled and stored after baling. There may be exposure to moving, warm air that would further dry the straw, increasing the insulation value, or vermin, sunlight or moisture that would hasten the bright, shiny straw toward, eventually, compost.

    Most insulation depends on trapped air to limit the conduction of heat. Keeping air – insulation – dry increases the value of the trapped air.

    I love the idea of the straw root cellar, I had never seen one. I suspect that the straw provides thermal insulation at the same time it provides a semi-permeable moisture barrier, to keep the moisture in the potatoes trapped near the potatoes – so the potatoes experience very little temperature change or moisture loss. Lovely!

    • January 7, 2010 8:47 pm

      Brad K., too funny you picked up on the baler comment. The best bales for a cold climate storage unit like this would be straw bales made for export – tight and very heavy. Since we don’t get all that cold here, these manageable 60 pounders work well. We buy either oat or barley, but rye would work well too if a person was interested in growing their own. Rye puts on a tremendous amount of carbon, in addition to the seed head. Hay making can be a touchy subject 😉 Everyone thinks their method works the best – including me!

      With the potatoes on the north side of the barn they easily keep until June and barely sprout even then. Of course, we are blessed with high humidity until then, and then the dry summer begins… .

  7. January 7, 2010 12:15 pm

    I am going to plant more potatoes this year, didn’t have much last year. I’ll be sure to refer back when it comes to long term storing of potatoes(only small scale).

    • January 7, 2010 8:50 pm

      YDavis, once you start tasting the different varieties you won’t go back to the store bought fare until you have to. The different flavors are amazing, just like apples. I see the potato ads – so appealing *not* Red, White and Yukon Gold. Oh boy, three choices, how will I ever choose?

      Best wishes for a great 2010 garden!!

  8. January 7, 2010 1:02 pm

    I agree with Brad; I love the idea of a straw root cellar, too. Protected in your barn, it must be nearly perfect. Janna mentions building one in the yard and I believe you are right, with a roof of some kind, it might work very well. I’m picturing a salvaged piece of corrugated metal, bungee’d down securely.

    That’s an idea I can use in Kentucky the first year or so I am there, until I get a proper root cellar dug and built.

    • January 7, 2010 8:56 pm

      TD, my “cellar” is in one of our draft horse tie stalls. Perfect size, complete with a floor and sidewalls and easy to reach with a wheelbarrow!

      I would almost think in Kentucky you could overwinter your veggies in the soil like here. Not all, but quite a few. It just depends how deep the soil freezes and if you get much snow cover. The property that my husband built his log cabin on had a root cellar dug into the steep bank, quite intriguing but too small.

  9. January 7, 2010 1:03 pm

    Your potatoes look wonderful! You did a good job raising them and right fine job storing them! We use a root cellar here. Still I get soft spots and sprouts. Sigh.


    • January 7, 2010 8:58 pm

      Linda, I have learned not to put anything in storage that looks a little off or wet. I found a few bum ones a couple of weeks ago. This time everything was fine. I got smarter (older?) this year and used smaller boxes. Much easier for me to move them around to check for spoilers!

  10. January 9, 2010 7:10 pm

    When I was a kid we stored our potatoes in a hole dug in the cellar just for the potatoes, they kept very nicely until spring.


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