I have a favorite writer who is fond of saying that Thanksgiving dinner needs to be started in March. The potatoes for mashing get started then, as do the little turkey babies. Since Thanksgiving is traditionally a celebration of well stocked winter food stores, well, you can guess where I’m going with this.
You must think about winter stores, before winter. Especially if you’re aiming to grow your own or purchase from a local farmer. I started a whole year before my first attempt.
Track your usage of store-able vegetables. I tracked onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, potatoes, apples and winter squash. I kept track of how many we used each month from December through March. Those months were chosen because that’s when I have very little fresh food coming out of the garden and they are reliably below freezing. I used those numbers to decide how much of each I wanted to grow and how much of them I wanted to purchase, with the aim of storing everything I’d need.
Using the numbers you decided in the winter, purchase and plant the (potential) winter stores. Many of them need to go in early, in order to ripen in the shorter growing season we deal with in zone 4. I’ve got a couple of books in my library that help me keep track of what needs starting, and when. I highly recommend them. Gardeners A to Z Guide to growing Organic Food, and the Resilient Gardener. Find a couple of books that work for you, every garden is different, the important thing is to have some references handy. After you start storing winter food, spring is a good time to recap the storage attempt, examine any problems and try to make plans for solving them.
Grow your food, or start making contacts with the farmer who is. Good storage comes from well grown, healthy plants. Air out, and sweep out the storage room if you can.
Some harvests will happen in the summer. I’ve mentioned onions and garlic already this summer. Those two early harvests are nearing their completion with curing. I’ll supplement with some nice onions from the farmers market, curing those as well. Most of your winter storage crops need to be timed so they harvest in the fall though. You need the cool temps to keep the storage areas chilly, to slow decay. Root Cellaring has been my go to for reference on set up and keeping everything in peak form. Different vegetables have different storage needs, (squash like to be room temp, while potatoes need something closer to 40 for good storage.) Again, I think there are several books that would serve, just make sure you have one around for reference, that touches on the foods your family actually stores. Remember to store gently, bruises and cuts will shorten lifespans. I like to keep some sort of record up in the kitchen to remind me what I have in storage. Usually a sheet of grid paper with names and amounts, and I update it a few times during the winter. Those records also allow me to compare between years. I can compare amounts grown and amounts lost to mold and all that good stuff. I’m one of those geeks who likes to play with numbers and such, if that’s not your bag, figure out your own system.
Keep the food as happy as it can be, at the temperatures and humidity levels best suited for each crop. It’s tricky and hard to do everything. Just do as much as you can and accept that you’re likely to never have a perfect winter storage situation, and do the best with what you have. The most important thing is to eat the food! Enjoy your winter stores of onions and apples and squash.
This is not something you want to be trying for the first time when it really matters. Start practicing now, because you really will need it. The first year will have losses to things you didn’t think about. Better to get through that before you’re depending on the calories for survival.
For those of you practicing this art form, any tips or tricks to share? I still consider myself new to the practice and would love to hear them.