Raising the Root Cellar: Crops for Winter Storage



On January first, the seed catalogs come out of hiding. They have been flowing in for several weeks, but I like to keep them back until the holidays are almost over, giving me something to look forward to in early January, when the world is still dark and muddy. The back garden is the low spot for the entire block. It is often flooded during heavy winter rains and not always accessible in January, so it is a good time to start planning for next year’s garden.

My garden consists of nine raised beds, four-by-ten feet, which hold annual crops. There are also three raised beds for permanent plantings: blueberries, asparagus, and herbs. We supplement the space using large black nursery pots, which move into the front driveway for tomato plants in the spring, and wine barrels, which hold currants, a bay tree, and an apple.

We just added a greenhouse, which has one three by eight foot bed and space for various tubs and planters. And we are about to build a bed on the south side of the house, which will replace the three barrels there at the moment, giving us a little more planting space and the chance for roots to touch earth. When it is all planted, I am able to harvest our dinner vegetables from the back yard from June until October and supplement for another month on either side. With careful planning, there is also some space for storage crops.

I expect to raise all of the potatoes we will eat for the year — about 95 pounds, minus what I put aside for next year’s seed. I raise five varieties — 'Yukon Gold', 'All Blue', 'Desiree', and 'Kennebec', plus a fingerling — so they take up two and a half beds from early March until mid-August. Last year, I cleared one bed early and replanted to fall greens, which I plan to do again. It is comforting to know that there are potatoes in the bins in the basement under the stairs.

This year, I want to grow more winter squash. I need twelve fruits to make it through the winter as we eat one every other week. This will mean planting some 'Delicata' seed for early eating along with the 'Baby Blue Hubbards' and 'Sweet Meats' that last until late March in the larder. They like warm sun, so I will try planting them in the new bed along the south wall of the house, running them up the wall with the beans and tomatoes to provide afternoon shade inside. If I start them in the greenhouse in late April, they should have enough warm weather to produce a good crop.

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