Storage Crops

Storage crops have always been an important source of income for the farm. Living far from markets, I’d rather go less and carry more. Fresh vegetables are great, but need to be moved quickly. When I go to market, I like to be able to grab bushels from the storage areas that are already harvested and ready to go.

Potatoes are number one on the list. We planted 2,500 pounds of seed potatoes this spring. Some drowned in an area by the cave that gets flooded routinely. When they built the chicken house above my old home, they changed where the water drained, so now it all goes one way instead of two. This increase on the northside fills up the lower half of the organic garden there by the cave. It will have to be planted in grass for hay, I guess.

So I decided to try and grow fall potatoes, something I’d never tried before. Feed and seed stores gave me or sold cheaply their leftover bags of sprouting seed spuds. We composted and plowed up the old pumpkin patch, which had a rank growth of wheat and Austrian peas almost head high by June. I laid off furrows and we planted most of them whole. I thought cutting these wrinkled masses of sprout might increase their chances of rotting. It will be interesting to see what happens to a potato field planted on the first day of summer, rather than the normal planting on the first day of spring.

Sweet potatoes are another great storage crop. By placing horse manure under the bed where we started the slips, the plants were being pulled a full month earlier. So we plated ¾ of an acre all in one planting, and they look great. They are laid by, except for a bit of hand pulling of weeds we missed.

The third storage crop we’ve been selling for 30 years is butternuts. All winter squash store well, but none beats butternuts. A butternut grown in 2007 stayed on my mantle through 2008 and was still hard and edible in 2009. I’m going to plant a late crop of these in the first week of July, following a garlic crop. This requires 90 days, so I think I still have time. If not, another failure is a success in that I learn again what not go do.

Speaking of garlic, this is another traditional Long Hungry Creek Farm specialty. People know us for our garlic, again from over 30 years of selling it if stores well until late winter.

Our onions have done well the last few seasons. I’m finally learning their secrets. Fall plowing is essential, but compost is not. They can use the leftover fertility from the heavy composting of a previous potato or corn patch.

Onions go in around March 15, and need lots of hoeing. It gives us great practice to hoe onions in April, so that by May we are used to long days with long rows to hoe. Getting them out requires a dry spell in July, as wet weather at harvest can cause many to suffer from rotting.

I’m going to learn how to store beets. A second planting in early May caught up with the mid April sowing, and needed way less weeding. Whenever we can stir the ground a few times before planting, many sprouting weeds are destroyed and it makes for an easier time growing the crop.

We planted beets a third time with the late potatoes. I don’t know if they’ll survive summer, as they, like potatoes, are known a cool weather crop. But you never know until you try.

The cellar will store the potatoes and beets, and the winter turnips. Above it is the warm, dry area for the sweets and butts, and we affectionately call them. Onions and garlic will hang from the rafters.

This winter, when Nashville’s local food supply is limited, I hope to be able to offer up some goodies. Along with kale under row covers, these storage crops will make a lot of people happy next February.

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