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Dear Methow Gardeners,

By Jane Gilbertsen

You missed a good one!

Tess Hoke of Local 98862 held a great class on root cellaring last Saturday at her greenhouse. Tess is a wonderful teacher - clear, well- organized, thorough and entertaining. I would like to share a few of the major points with you.

Your goal for storage foods is to stall the ripening of fruits and vegetables until the best time for them and for you. For them, it means to maximize nutrition, flavor and keeping ability. For you, it means when you can get to them to treat them well. Anyone that food gardens knows the hysteria of harvest time. First, you are exhausted from the summer's labor and second, everything seems to come on at once. So stalling techniques come in very handy just after you worked hard on ripening techniques!

There are really several categories of vegetable produce - the hot season and frost sensitive foods like tomatoes and peppers, the cool season root crops like carrots, beets, parsnips, and the triad of garlic/onions/shallots. Finally, there are the big keepers like the potatoes and winter squash. There are basically 3 categories of keeping conditions - moderately warm and dry (squash, green tomatoes and peppers), cool and dry (garlic and onions) and cool and moist (carrots, beets, cabage, potatoes, and ripe tomatoes). Fruits pose another issue as apples cause other things to ripen with their offgassing but fruit is generally cool or cool-er and moist.

Given that the various foods need differing conditions to slow ripening/rot but no matter how you slooowww the progress of life in "live" food, the inexorable rotting process will progress. So monitoring your storage crops is important. You can either eat the best as you go or eat what is close to spoiling as you go. (If you or a dear friend has chickens the decision is much easier. Almost anything except the onions and garlic will be very appreciated by chickens enduring winter boredom!) But be sure and eliminate items that spoil before they impact their neighbors in the cellar.

So, if you have or build a structure for storage, you will have to make separate sections for the crops with different needs, only store the compatibles or something. One size doesn't fit all. It is the complexity of the produce requirements and the structure or storage requirements that can overwhelm. I suggest you select your favorite food category and start with that. Favorite means first and foremost what you will eat and enjoy. And do not pick the most challenging of foods to start. Get a victory under your belt!

Thankfully, Tess sold the great book "Root Cellaring" by Mike and Nancy Bubel. She has more, so stop in and pick one up if you want to take a run at this. It is best to take a look at the book even before you harvest because there are tips for each and every food - like wash v. no-wash, keep stems/roots v. no-keep stems/roots, and so on.

The class was timely due to the season we are now enjoying, but also because some of our Twisp area finest have banded together to do a "Root Cellaring Project" under the umbrella of the RED SHED for the benefit of THE COVE. We can thank Kelly McMillan of the Red Shed, Raleigh Bowdon of Methow Valley Inn, Nancy and Carl Hubert, cellarers extraordinaire and Tess for this effort. The basement of the MVI will start out as the storage area. They are going to officially kick off this effort by a LIVE Food Drive at the Inn on Friday, October 22. That is your day, Methow Gardeners, to lighten your storage load by dropping off excess produce at the Inn.

Pass the word.

Oct 4, 2011