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Test Dig and Potato Report

December 18, 2013

Occasional “Cold Snaps” is a great way to describe our winter weather here west of the Cascades.  We get bouts of cold weather but for the most part winter just means coolish in the 35°F to 45°F with an occasional snow.  Winter in the Pacific Northwest just means wet unless you live east of the mountains.

roots - 12/17/13

roots – 12/17/13

We had about 3 days of cold in the 5°F – 6°F degree range over a week ago.  The last time in my memory that we had cold like that was in the early 80’s and of course, like all our neighbors we were having winter calves.  Yuck!  I am sure that’s why I remember those winters, and the cold snaps of the early 90’s are a dim memory because by then we had smartened up enough to not be winter calving!  I also was canning many more vegetables then too, and not trying to store them in the ground to make it over winter.

So this year has been a good test, both of the in situ storage of hardy root crops, and the straw bale “root cellar” in the barn.  I chickened out on the barn potato storage when we dropped to 10°F and brought the bulk of the potatoes to the house and stored them in the basement.  I did however leave some potatoes in the straw bale enclosure to see what the limits of that storage method would be.

Yesterday I checked on the potatoes and was pleasantly surprised to find a few previously frozen potatoes that were soft and juicy, and about two-thirds of the potatoes no worse for wear.  The conclusions I have drawn from this experiment is that 10°F is probably my cue to bring in potatoes, and if not I can expect some spoilage from freezing of the weaker specimens.  It reminded me of how a box of apples may spoil, one here and there and really no clue what caused the spoilage.  Since I sorted my potatoes by size, I have no idea what soil health or lack thereof played in this.  The potatoes could have come from anywhere in the garden.  Tweaking the adage a bit, I figured one bad potato could ruin the whole box, so I pulled those out, and checked every potato for soft spots before putting them back in the straw bale barn cellar.

We had clear and beautiful weather yesterday while Portland was socked in due to the temperature inversion.  A glorious day to do a damage assessment on the root crops.  We had hilled them with soil in earnest before the cold snap hit, but that’s a by guess and by gosh method.  One garden stays colder because of shade from the hedge and one is warmer due to no shade issues.  As it turned out, DD hilled in the shady garden and did a much better job than I did in the warmer staple garden.  Subsequently we both had good results, she really worked hard and piled on the soil adding more protection than my pitiful showing of about half that amount of coverage.  It’s a good thing she did the cold garden and I did the warm garden. All the roots are fine, we lost a some top growth on the celeriac due to exposure to the cold, but other than that, compared to the work of digging and storing all those vegetables, the soil hilling did the trick.

Keep in mind, though we aren’t selling these vegetables, this is a farmstead food supply situation in a weather area that usually only experiences weather this cold maybe every two decades or so.  Our cabbages and most kale varieties made it through this recent cold spell with no propping up whatsoever, totally exposed to the weather.  It’s taken me years of trial and error to find the varieties of vegetables that take the cold and the relentless wet (and that we care to eat) of our Western Oregon winters – I am pretty pleased with the results, but crossing my fingers that is the coldest bit of weather we get this winter!

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Monica Swift permalink
    December 18, 2013 4:33 pm

    I somehow found your blog because I googled “How to raise a calf to a milk cow on grass” because I have 7 acres and a few chickens and I thought it would be nice to have a cow to have fresh raw milk…two hours later I am still reading your blog, all the way back to July, and I have to say first of all, your writing is so good, I have really enjoyed it, and secondly, there is no way, I could do what you do, day in and day out, I told my husband that I wanted a cow, and he said absolutely, good idea, but you have to research everything about it, so I landed on your site and you have definitely given me the nitty gritty of it. I really wanted to do it, but not at the expense of an animal, so I just wanted to Thankyou, I’m sure my husband would really thankyou, cause he knew the work involved in having a real farm, and I guess I just didn’t think! I will be following your blog to catch your next story about Jane and Dickey!

    • December 18, 2013 8:28 pm

      Hi Monica, yes a milk cow is definitely not a project to be taken on lightly 🙂 Many months per year of responsibility twice a day, and hoping everything goes right. It’s great when it’s all good, and can be pretty bad when things go south 😦 But you may just find out with your research that you do want a cow, you can’t beat the fresh dairy at your fingertips, and of course the manure is great too for the garden.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. alex permalink
    December 18, 2013 4:39 pm

    Would row cover work to protect your crops? I have been using it for a couple of years and it seems to do the trick?

    Off topic question – does your milk cow kick?

    • December 18, 2013 8:34 pm

      alex, yes, definitely row cover would work great, and I do use it some, but soil doesn’t have a shelf life or disposal problem 😉

      Yes, she kicks but only about 3 times per milking, so that would be about 1620 kicks at me per lactation – not bad if none of them connect 😉
      (Milking TAD x 6 kicks x 270 days = 1620) They are only half-hoofed kicks anyway, so I don’t even really count those as kicks.

  3. December 18, 2013 8:58 pm

    You’ve made it rather evident I really don’t need to even dig my potatoes to see the damage our cold snap did. I did not get any hilling or mulching done and then we hit well around -15 to -20 degrees F for about 4-5 days in a row. Looks like I’ll be buying taters the rest of the winter. 😦 I’ll remember and be better next year. Good but tough lessons.

    • December 18, 2013 9:14 pm

      Brrr, that’s cold! Those are the kind of lessons I learn the best on unfortunately 😦

      • December 19, 2013 12:20 am

        You never know though lazymomgardner, we regularly have those kinds of temperatures over the winter and it is amazing how many potatoes still come up the next year, from ones that got left accidentally. Our temperatures at the moment though are more like MOH’s winter and not normal for us, we should be seeing a little more cold and snow than now. Still there is a long way to go yet and winter doesn’t normally kick in with ferocity until the New Year

  4. mims permalink
    December 19, 2013 6:15 am

    I would love a future post about the varieties you have found to be frost tolerant. Glad to hear the hilling worked.

  5. Jackie H. permalink
    December 19, 2013 1:20 pm

    Nice info about your potatoes that I can use. I’m in zone 5 Ohio. We had a weird crop of late maturing russets because of all the rain we had – but it was still a bumper crop!

    Some global warming we’re having. LOL.

    Hey, how do you get the snowflakes coming over your webpage?

    Love your website.

    • December 19, 2013 1:29 pm

      Jackie, Brrr! I bet you’re getting some cold now 😦

      The snow is something that WordPress offers, just click for snow and there it is every December 🙂

  6. Martha permalink
    December 20, 2013 2:50 pm

    Ha! I was going to call husband and tell him we have picked up a virus or something, there’s random white specks all over my screen now!

  7. December 30, 2013 8:39 am

    Just out of curiosity, how do you store your root veggies over the winter once they’ve been dug? I guess I’m wondering if rodents are a problem and how you deter them. Rookie question I’m sure 😉

    • December 30, 2013 10:24 am

      Meg, not a rookie question – rodents in the garden, namely voles are the biggest problem. But I don’t dig any roots until needed except potatoes. Carrots, rutabagas, beets, celeriac, parsnips, leeks all stay in the garden with soil hilling for freeze protection and I did as needed, a benefit of our climate here in the PNW. The ones in this post are actually for Jane, that’s just a several days worth…so dig, wash, and store in buckets in the barn, a few go to the house bucket for our use and the rest go to making milk. You’ll find our climate is pretty conducive to that. The recent really cold weather was pretty unusual. We’ve had trouble before in the barn with the straw bale “root cellar” for the potatoes , packrats (which is really a squirrel) and chipmunks have tried a few spuds before, but that’s usually when the cat population is low. We’ve got a good number of barn cats right now, so they keep everyone at bay and hunt in the garden too.

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