Tag Archives: storage crops

The Case for Storage Crops

Jacob’s Cattle (Trout) Bush Dry Bean

You don’t need to be a “prepper” to grow storage crops. In fact, there are many reasons anyone with room should add a few storage crops to their garden. Storage crops can help you cut down on your grocery bill, eat a more local diet (which is better for the environment), and even eat a little healthier too. They’re also a great way to connect with history. Not long ago all of our ancestors relied on storage crops to help them make it through the year. Today we may not depend on them but growing some can be a worthwhile pursuit.

Dry Beans

They’re wonderfully easy to grow and a great source of protein. Beans are also a nitrogen-fixing legume perfect for growing after or in combination with heavy-feeders like corn. Dry bean varieties are either pole or bush type so consider your space before choosing a variety.

Dry beans should be allowed to fully mature and if possible dry before harvest. If frost or wet weather threatens you can pull the entire plant and hang them under cover to dry. An easy way to thresh dry beans is to take the beans still in pods and pour them into an old pillowcase. Then you can beat the pillowcase against a hard surface to break up the pods. You can then winnow the pods out.

Potatoes

While we often associate potatoes with the Irish they’re actually indigenous to the Andes in what’s now southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia. They’ve been cultivated for over 10,000 years!

Potatoes need to be cured before storage. Once harvested potatoes should be cured in a single layer somewhere dark and dry. Avoid washing them. You can gently brush off any dirt as they dry. After 7-10 days they can be placed in cardboard boxes and stored somewhere cool and dry. Around 55°F is ideal.

Sweet Potatoes

Don’t think sweet potatoes are only for Thanksgiving! This super versatile vegetable is nutritious and easy to grow at home. Unlike store bought sweet potatoes, varieties available for home cultivation range from starchy to sweet with a variety of colors including purple and white!

If cured and stored properly, sweet potatoes will keep for months with little effort. Check out the link above for everything you need to know about growing, harvesting, and storing sweet potatoes.

Winter Squash & Pumpkins

These awesome plants were developed by Native Americans and were an important dietary staple. Most have a sprawling nature so they require quite a bit of garden space but they can be grown beneath taller crops like in the “three sisters” method. Once established their vines will shade the soil reducing the need for watering and weeding.

Like sweet potatoes, winter squash must be harvested, cured, and stored properly to maximize their storage potential. However, this process is fairly straightforward and simple and squash can keep through the winter.

Floriani Red Flint Corn

Flour Corn

Also called maize, corn is still a staple crop in much of the world. Originally cultivated by Native Americans, flour corn is nothing like the sweet corn most of us are accustomed to eating at summer cookouts today.

Check out the link about to learn how to process your own flour corn for making food like grits, tortillas, and cornbread.

Root Vegetables

There are a variety of root vegetables that make excellent winter storage crops. Depending on your family’s preferences consider growing extra carrots, beets, turnips, or rutabagas.

If you live in a fairly mild climate one of the best ways to store root vegetables is right in the ground. Simply mound some mulch over them like hay or stray and harvest them as needed. Alternatively, you can harvest them, remove the tops and store them in layers in boxes of damp sand or shredded newspaper. Make sure they’re not touching and check them every week or so for spoilage.

Cabbage

When many people picture storing cabbage they often think of sauerkraut. While this is a fine and delicious way to preserve a cabbage harvest, you can also keep cabbage fresh. If you have a root cellar or cool damp space you can hang heads of cabbage upside down by their roots. Cabbage stored this way can keep for 3-4 months.

Garlic

While garlic may not be a staple crop it does provide a lot of flavor for little effort. Many believe that garlic may also have health benefits and historically has been used to treat a variety of ailments.

Garlic is started in the fall from cloves. There are two types hardneck and softneck garlic. Hardneck produces scapes and handles cold temperatures well but softneck typically stores longer, though both will store for several months. Both types should be cured before storage.

Onions

At SESE we carry both bulb and perennial onions which are ideal for winter storage. Like most other storage vegetables, onions must be cured. Then they can be stored at room temperature and bring flavor to meals for months to come. They’re also a great crop for small gardens because they take up little space and are ideal for companion planting with many other vegetables.

Storage Tomatoes

While you can preserve any variety of tomatoes some varieties can be stored fresh! They’re harvested green in the fall and brought inside to ripen. All you need is a place to lay out your tomatoes with air space in between each one at room temperature. They can provide fresh tomatoes up to three months after harvest. Check out the link above to learn about three storage tomato varieties.

All of these wonderful vegetables can be stored for winter use without any electricity or complicated preservation techniques required. Having these on hand can help you make and eat healthier meals from home which is better for your budget and the planet.

Sweet Potatoes From Order to Plate

Sweet potatoes are really underutilized in backyard gardens. They’re so easy to grow, nutritious, and tasty. They’re often overlooked and many believe that the store-bought and homegrown versions are virtually indistinguishable but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Store-bought sweet potatoes tend to be of a few hardy, orange varieties. While they’re absolutely still delicious there’s so much more variety to be had if you grow your own.

Just like other crops there’s sweet potatoes that are better suited to different growing conditions and cooking methods. The classic orange Beauregard is an excellent baker while the white fleshed O’Henry is one of our favorites for mashed potatoes. The Bunch Porto Rico has compact vines better for small gardens while the All Purple is especially hardy.

There are also dry and moist varieties. Dry varieties tend to be starchier and are more like regular potatoes. Some people consider them to be more versatile. Moist varieties are often sweeter and usually are the ones you find at the grocery store.

Choosing a variety can be tough so it may be wise to try a mix. Southern Exposure has two mixed packages available.

Bed Preparation

Sweet potatoes thrive in loose, well drained soil. If you have heavy soils it’s a good idea to work in a lot of compost and maybe even broad fork your garden bed before planting. To help with drainage you can grow sweet potatoes in raised beds, ridges, or hills.

Sweet potatoes also prefer warm temperatures and a relatively long season. Using black plastic mulch to help heat up the soil may be a good idea for those in cooler climates.

Surprisingly sweet potatoes don’t require especially fertile soil. In fact using chemical fertilizers often leads to tiny potatoes and huge vines. Simply adding some compost before planting is more suitable.

Planting

Unlike regular potatoes, sweet potatoes cannot be planted using seed potatoes. You need to use slips. Slips are the eyes on sweet potatoes. These are grown and then broken off to be replanted.

Note: for information on saving sweet potatoes and growing slips for next year check out our growing guide.

Slips should not be planted until 3-4 weeks after your last frost date. They’re very susceptible to frost. They should be planted 2-3 inches deep with their leaves above the soil. The slips you receive may or may not have grown roots already but they’re fine to plant either way.

Sweet potatoes have large sprawling vines and require quite a bit of space. You can plant sweet potato slips 10-18 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Water them the evening after you plant them and be sure to keep them moist for the next few days as they get established.

Care

Sweet potatoes should be mulched soon after planting. If you’re in a warm area where black plastic isn’t required straw or old leaves can be used. This will help keep the soil moist and block out weeds. Until they’re large it’s a good idea to keep them well mulched or weeded occasionally to keep weeds from overtaking them.

While sweet potatoes don’t like to be soaked (too much water can cause rotting) they do better with consistent waterings especially in dry areas. Too little water can lead to splitting and poor yields.

Pests & Diseases

Sweet potatoes can be affected by a number of pests like sweet potato weevils and diseases. The best way to combat them is purchasing healthy disease free slips, using simple crop rotation, and through maintaining healthy soils.

They’re also a favorite of deer so make sure you fence them off or cover them with netting.

Harvest & Curing

Aside from the potato itself the sweet potato shoots can also be harvested for cooking greens throughout the season. Just ensure you don’t take too much and kill the plant. 

Choose a dry, sunny day to harvest your potatoes. It will make both harvesting and curing much easier. Potatoes can be dug whenever they’ve reached an ideal size. It is best to harvest them all before the temperature dips below 55°F. Any lower temperatures can harm their storage capability.

Use a garden fork to lift them from the soil before collecting them by hand. Be careful and try to avoid nicking or damaging the potatoes. You may have to search a bit as they can grow up to 1 ft away from the plant itself. Sweet potatoes should be dried before any excess dirt is shaken off. Do not wash them, they don’t store well when washed.

For the first 7-10 days they should be kept at about 85°F and 90% humidity to cure. Then they can be stored at about 55°F in a dry, dark, well-ventilated area. Colder temperatures will affect their flavor so don’t refrigerate them until they’ve been cooked.

Any sweet potatoes with nicks or bruises will not keep well and should be used up first. You should regularly check you potatoes in storage and remove any bad ones as needed so they don’t spoil the whole crop. Properly cured sweet potatoes stored under the right conditions will keep 5-12 months.

Summertime Sweet Potato Ideas

If you still have have sweet potatoes in storage from last years garden (or are now craving them) there’s a couple simple ways to cook them even in the summer heat. Unlike in the autumn where I don’t mind baking them and heating up the house, in the spring and summer I typically cook sweet potatoes outside.

The simplest method is to clean them, poke a few holes in them, and wrap them whole in tinfoil before popping them onto a grill or into the coals of campfire. Alternatively they can be thinly sliced and wrapped in tinfoil packages with slices of onions, other veggies, and seasonings. All the ingredients should be drizzled in oil oil and the edges of the foil should be rolled or folded tightly to avoid leaking. Then they can be cooked just like the whole potatoes they’ll just cook much quicker.

Sweet potatoes truly are a wonderful crop. They’re high in vitamins and their storage ability makes them great for people looking to lessen their dependence on a global food system. It’s not too late to order slips! Try one of our productive varieties in your garden this summer.

What’s your favorite sweet potato variety?