1. Storage Pit
What Henry does is digs a pit about 4 feet deep and six feet long. All the root vegetables go into burlap sacks that hold one bushel each. The first of the bags he stands upright and the next get laid horizontally over the top. He makes a map of everything in there.
When it is full he covers everything with 3 to 4 inches of loose dirt to keep the mice out, then hay and straw to keep the cold out, and finally a tarp over the top of everything.
The pit stays around 35ºF. They are in central illinois and wait until December to put everything in the pit because before then it is cooler to store the roots in the garage.
I imagine if you had burrowing animals in your area like voles in your area this method may not work very well. But if you don’t it sounds like a very inexpensive option!
In my area if I dug four feet, it would make a lovely pond. I think if I did a shallower area around 2 feet and had it under a covered area like our pole barn it would be a viable option. I plan on trying this next year.
A clamp is an above ground storage method. A clamp works well for areas that average below 30ºF for most of the winter. However, in a very northern climate a clamp wouldn’t provide enough protection from frigid temperatures.
To build a clamp you would mound the potatoes in a dry spot that drains well. You lay down a thick layer of straw or leaves (about 12 inches) and then mound your potatoes. In the middle of the pile a vertical layer of straw from top to bottom helps to add ventilation.
At the top, add more straw or leaves, then boards over the straw if you want to keep mice out. Then layer on several inches of soil over the top of that.
According to the book “Root Cellaring” by Mike and Nancy Bubel, several smaller clamps are better than one large one. This is because once you open the clamp to harvest potatoes you must take them all indoors because they will freeze.
A garage generally isn’t the best solution for storing potatoes. However, if it’s conditions are cooler than your house (closer to the ideal 32-40ºF) the potatoes will last for longer. Keeping it moist enough that the potatoes don’t shrivel can be a challenge but damp burlap bags surrounding the potatoes can help increase humidity.
An ideal basement set up should be unheated and have a dirt floor to keep humidity high. When I lived in our NY farmhouse (built in 1900) the basement was 6 feet tall, it had a dirt floor in one area and it was unheated. It was a perfect root cellar area. My mom kept apples down there one year and they lasted through the winter.
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