Bone-chilling nights nature’s directive to weatherize garden produce

By Jennie Hagen December 07, 2011 04:26 pm
If you haven’t weatherized your garden produce yet, our cold nights are a good signal to complete the project prior to losing your hard work to freezing temperatures.

As many of you will recall, we were able to harvest an outstanding crop of potatoes in the early fall of 2010. Our usual method of storing potatoes in upright sacks on a concrete floor was not the wisest decision we could have made. We lost many pounds to rot as the bottom layer froze which spread, as you know, to the layers above. An indoor concrete floor, with no auxiliary insulation or heat, was not a good insulator. So if you are storing any vegetables on a concrete floor, make sure there is an insulating factor between them and the concrete. Our squash that was layered on a shelf suspended above ground level did not rot and maintained their firmness for months.

These recommendations do not obviously apply to basement-stored produce. Most basements rarely, if ever, freeze. If you need to store potatoes, squash or apples, think of how longevity is maintained for retail outlets.

Optimum storage temperatures hover around or at the 42-degree mark. This inhibits growth, retards the production of methane (which all fruits and vegetables give off as the “ripen”), and maintains an optimum storage life. If you aren’t certain about the temperature your storage area has, simply adding a thermometer to the area can provide valuable information. A recording thermometer is also a wise investment; it will allow you to see the maximum and minimum temperatures of your storage area. If most of your produce is on the floor or only a few feet above, that is where you need to place the thermometer, not at eye-level for personal convenience.

I received many positive comments from local readers regarding a previous article describing sprout inhibitor that is used on commercially harvested potatoes. The key point here to remember is that even if a potato is advertised as “new crop,” they have already been treated. The treatment method of choice for potatoes in the United States is chlorpropham or CIPC. CIPC interferes with cell division and usually is applied one time. As the demand for organically grown products increases, new research is being conducted to find alternative treatment methods that are commercially successful and acceptable to consumers. The University of Idaho, our sister potato state, has years of research to support new and innovative methods of controlling sprout production in stored potatoes. A full-color, four-page newsletter is available online from their website at: www.kimberly.uidaho.edu/potatoes/CIS1120.pdf.  It is an excellent paper and one worth your time reading or printing for future reference. Alternative sprout inhibitors are out there. Please note that while most of the documents on this website are listed at cost, they are nearly all free if downloaded or printed online.

The last point to note here is that one must always wash and scrub thoroughly any produce that is not home grown. Until next time, happy eating from this year’s crop, and enjoy planning next season’s bounty.

Jennie Hagen is a Grande Ronde Valley gardener. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it