For storing small quantities of the roots, such as carrots or beets, they are usually packed in boxes or barrels and covered in with clean sand. Where an upstairs room has to be used, swamp or sphagnum moss may replace the sand. It makes an ideal packing medium, as it is much lighter and cleaner than the sand. In many localities it may be hard for the gathering; in others one may get it from a florist.
It is a very common thing to allow the garden vegetables not used to rot on the ground, or in it. There is a great deal of unnecessary waste in this respect, for a great many of the things so neglected may just as well be carried into winter, and will pay a very handsome dividend for the slight trouble of gathering and storing them.
A good frost-proof, cool basement is the best and most convenient place in which to store the surplus product of the home garden. But, lacking this, a room partitioned off in the basement and well ventilated, or a small empty room, preferably on the north side of the house, that can be kept below forty degrees most of the time, will serve excellently. Or, some of the most bulky vegetables, such as cabbage and the root crops, may be stored in a prepared pit made in the garden itself.
As it is essential that such a pit be properly constructed, I shall describe one with sufficient detail to enable the home gardener readily to construct it. Select a spot where water will not stand. Put the vegetables in a triangular-shaped pile, the base three or four feet wide, and as long as required. Separate the different vegetables in this pile by stakes about two feet higher than the top of the pile, and label them. Then cover with a layer of clean straw or hay, and over this four inches of soil, dug up three feet back from the edges of the pile. This work must be done late in the fall, as nearly as one can judge just before lasting freezing begins, and preferably on a cold morning when the ground is just beginning to freeze; the object being to freeze the partly earth covering at once, so that it will not be washed or blown off. The vegetables must be perfectly dry when stored; dig them a week or so previous and keep them in an airy shed. As soon as this first layer of earth is partly frozen, but before it freezes through, put on another thick layer of straw or hay and cover with twelve inches of earth, keeping the pile as steep as possible; a slightly clayey soil, that may be beaten down firmly into shape with a spade, being best. The pile should be made where it will be sheltered from the sun as much as possible, such as on the north side of a building. The disadvantage of the plan is, of course, that the vegetables cannot be got at until the pile is opened up, in early spring, or late if desired. Its two advantages are that the vegetables stored will be kept in better condition than in any basement, and that basement or house room will be saved. In storing vegetables of any kind, and by whatever method, see to it that:
- They are always clean, dry and sound. The smallest spot or bruise is a danger center, which may spread destruction to the lot.
- That the temperature, whatever required--in most cases 33-38 degrees being best--is kept as even as possible.
- That the storage place is kept clean, dry (by ventilation when needed) and sweet (by use of whitewash and lime).
- That no rats or other rodents are playing havoc with your treasures while you never suspect it.
Beans:--Almost all the string and snap beans, when dried in the pods, are excellent for cooking. And any pods which have not been gathered in the green state should be picked, as soon as dry (as wet weather is likely to mold or sprout them), and stored in a dry place, or spread on a bench in the sun. They will keep, either shelled or in the dry pods, for winter.
Beets:--In October, before the first hard frosts, take up and store in a cool basement, in clean, perfectly dry sand, or in pits outside (see Cabbage); do not cut off the long tap roots, nor the tops close enough to cause any "bleeding."
Brussels sprouts:--These are improved by freezing, and may be used from the open garden until December. If wanted later, store them with cabbage, or hang up the stalks in bunches in a cold basement.
Cabbage:--If only a few heads are to be stored, a cool basement will do. Even if where they will be slightly frozen, they will not be injured, so long as they do not freeze and thaw repeatedly. They should not be taken in until there is danger of severe freezing, as they will keep better, and a little frost improves the flavor. For storing small quantities outdoors, dig a trench, a foot or so deep, in a well drained spot, wide enough to admit two heads side by side. Pull up the cabbages, without removing either stems or outer leaves, and store side by side, head down, in the bottom of the trench. Now cover over lightly with straw, meadow hay, or any refuse which will keep the dirt from freezing to the cabbages, and then cover over the whole with earth, to the depth of several inches, but allowing the top of the roots to remain exposed, which will facilitate digging them up as required. Do not bury the cabbage until as late as possible before severe freezing, as a spell of warm weather would rot it.
Carrots:--Treat in the same way as beets. They will not be hurt by a slight freezing of the tops, before being dug, but care must be taken not to let the roots become touched by frost.
Celery:--That which is to be used early is blanched outside, by banking, and as celery will stand a little freezing, will be used directly from the garden. For the portion to be kept over winter, provide boxes about a foot wide, and nearly as deep as the celery is high. Cover the bottoms of these boxes with two or three inches of sand, and wet thoroughly. Upon this stand the celery upright, and packed close together. In taking up the celery for storing in this way, the roots and whatever earth adheres to them are kept on, not cut, as it is bought in the stores. The boxes are then stored in a basement, or other dark, dry, cold place where the temperature will not go more than five degrees below freezing. The celery will be ready for use after Christmas. If a long succession is wanted, store from the open two or three different times, say at the end of October, first part of November and the latter part of November.
Cucumbers, Melons, Egg-plant:--While there is no way of storing these for any great length of time without recourse to artificial cold, they may be had for some time by storing just before the first frosts in a cool, dark basement, care being taken in handling the fruits to give them no bruises.
Onions:--If the onions got a good early start in the spring, the tops will begin to die down by the middle of August. As soon as the tops have turned yellow and withered they should be pulled, on the first clear dry day, and laid in windrows (three or four rows in one), but not heaped up. They should be turned over frequently, by hand or with a wooden rake, and removed to a shed or barn floor as soon as dry, where the tops can be cut off. Keep them spread out as much as possible, and give them open ventilation until danger of frost. Then store in a dry place and keep as cool as possible without freezing. A few barrels, with holes knocked in the sides, will do well for a small quantity.
Parsley:--Take up a few plants and keep in a flower-pot or small box, in the kitchen window.
Parsnips:--These will stay in the ground without injury all winter, but part of the crop may be taken up late in the fall and stored with beets, carrots and turnips, to use while the ground is frozen.
Potatoes:--When the vines have died down and the skin of the new potatoes has become somewhat hardened, they can be dug and stored in a cool, dry basement at once. Be sure to give plenty of ventilation until danger of frost. Keep from the light, as this has the effect of making the potatoes bitter. If there is any sign of rot among the tubers, do not dig them up until it has stopped.Squash and Pumpkins:--The proper conditions for storing for winter will be indicated by the drying and shrinking of the stem. Cut them from the vines, being careful never to break off the stem, turn over, rub off the dirt and leave the under side exposed to a few days' sunlight. Then carry in a spring wagon, or spring wheelbarrow, covered with old bags or hay to keep from any bruises. Store in the driest part of the basement, and if possible where the temperature will not go below forty degrees. Leave them on the vines in the field as late as possible, while escaping frosts.Tomatoes:--Just before the first frosts are likely to begin, pick all of the best of the unripened fruits. Place part of these on clean straw in a coldframe, giving protection, where they will gradually ripen up. Place others, that are fully developed but not ripe, in straw in the basement. In this way fresh tomatoes may frequently be had as late as Christmas.Turnip:--These roots, if desired, can be stored as are beets or carrots.
It is hard to retain our interest in something when most of its usefulness has gone by. It is for that reason, I suppose, that one sees so many forsaken and weed-grown gardens every autumn, where in the spring everything was neat and clean. But there are two very excellent reasons why the vegetable garden should not be so abandoned--to say nothing of appearances! The first is that many vegetables continue to grow until the heavy frosts come; and the second, that the careless gardener who thus forsakes his post is sowing no end of trouble for himself for the coming year. For weeds left to themselves, even late in the fall, grow in the cool moist weather with astonishing rapidity, and, almost before one realizes it, transform the well kept garden into a ragged wilderness, where the intruders have taken such a strong foothold that they cannot be pulled up without tearing everything else with them. So we let them go--and, left to themselves, they accomplish their purpose in life, and leave upon the ground an evenly distributed supply of plump ripe seeds, which next spring will cause the perennial exclamation, "Mercy, John, where did all these weeds come from?" And John replies, "I don't know; we kept the garden clean last summer. I think there must be weed seeds in the fertilizer."
Do not let up on your fight with weeds, for every good vegetable that is left over can be put to some use. Here and there in the garden will be a strip that has gone by, and as it is now too late to plant, we just let it go. Yet now is the time we should be preparing all such spots for withstanding next summer's drought! You may remember how strongly was emphasized the necessity for having abundant humus (decayed vegetable matter) in the soil--how it acts like a sponge to retain moisture and keep things growing through the long, dry spells which we seem to be sure of getting every summer. So take thought for next year. Buy a bushel of rye, and as fast as a spot in your garden can be cleaned up, harrow, dig or rake it over, and sow the rye on broadcast. Just enough loose surface dirt to cover it and let it sprout, is all it asks. If the weather is dry, and you can get a small roller, roll it in to ensure better germination. It will come up quickly; it will keep out the weeds which otherwise would be taking possession of the ground; it will grow until the ground is frozen solid and begin again with the first warm spring day; it will keep your garden from washing out in heavy rains, and capture and save from being washed away and wasted a good deal of left-over plant food; it will serve as just so much real manure for your garden; it will improve the mechanical condition of the soil, and it will add the important element of humus to it.
In addition to these things, you will have an attractive and luxuriant garden spot, instead of an unsightly bare one. And in clearing off these patches for rye, beware of waste. If you have hens, or by chance a pig, they will relish old heads of lettuce, old pea-vines, still green after the last picking, and the stumps and outer leaves of cabbage. Even if you have not this means of utilizing your garden's by-products, do not let them go to waste. Put everything into a square pile--old sods, weeds, vegetable tops, refuse, dirt, leaves, lawn sweepings--anything that will rot. Tread this pile down thoroughly; give it a soaking once in a while if within reach of the hose, and two or three turnings with a fork. Next spring when you are looking for every available pound of manure with which to enrich your garden, this compost heap will stand you in good stead.
Dispose of your old pea-brush, tomato poles and everything that is not worth keeping over for next year. Do not leave these things lying around to harbor and protect eggs and insects and weed seeds. If any bean-poles, stakes, trellises or supports seem in good enough condition to serve another year, put them under cover now; and see that all your tools are picked up and put in one place, where you can find them and overhaul them next February. As soon as your surplus pole beans have dried in their pods, take up poles and all and store in a dry place. The beans may be taken off later at your leisure.
Be careful to cut down and dispose of (or put in the compost heap) all weeds around your fences, and the edges of your garden, before they ripen seed.
If the suggestions given are followed, the vegetable garden may be stretched far into the winter. But do not rest at that. Begin to plan now for your next year's garden. Put a pile of dirt where it will not be frozen, or dried out, when you want to use it next February for your early seeds. If you have no hotbed, fix the frames and get the sashes for one now, so it will be already on hand when the ground is frozen solid and covered with snow next spring. If you have made garden mistakes this year, be planning now to rectify them next--without progress there is no fun in the game. Let next spring find you with your plans all made, your materials all on hand and a fixed resolution to have the best garden you have ever had.