DON'T FEED THE ANIMALS There is one problem with using hay bales as winter mulch-they can provide a cozy nest for ground mice and voles that love to eat crunchy root crops. So keep an eye out for these pests and any damage they may be doing. If they do infest your winter storage plot, it's best to harvest everything and store your produce in a different place
Handle produce as gently and infrequently as possible. When you're out harvesting, treat each vegetable as if it were an egg. Any bruise or cut will be the first spot to spoil. Lay each harvested vegetable separately in a box of sawdust or crumpled newspaper; don't pile them all together. Do not wash or scrub the produce. Leave the bottom of the root on root crops, and at least an inch of the top growth. For crops such as vine crops, leave as much of the stem on as possible. Only store produce that is in really good condition.
Vegetables in the group that need cold and moist conditions are all root crops—beets, carrots, turnips, white potatoes, and winter radishes plus all of the cabbage family. This group also includes
fruit—especially apples. The ideal storage temperature for them is as cold as you can get without actually freezing—35 to 45 degrees F (1.6 to 7.2 degrees C).
Actually, the simplest way to store root crops is not to dig them up at all. Roll a bale of hay over the planted area; this will break their tops and stop the plants growing cycle while keeping the ground from freezing. When you re ready to harvest, simply roll the bale over, dig up a few vegetables, and then replace the bale. Regular radishes wont hold up too long in freezing weather while the winter radish will last almost indefinitely. Carrots and leeks also do quite well through the entire winter. If you re feeling adventurous, you can experiment with leaving different root crops in the ground to see which last through the fall and winter so you 11 know what to expect the following year.
Cabbage and other leaf and head crops can also be stored in the garden, but they wont do well under a solid bale of hay. Instead, it is better to use a loose, fluffy covering of straw or leaves. To keep the wind from blowing this loose covering around, try placing a 2-foot-high fence of chicken wire around your garden areas and anchoring the wiring at each corner with stakes.
Another storage method for root crops is to bury a container in the ground and pack your vegetables in layers of moist sawdust, peat moss, or sand. You can sink a plastic or metal garbage can straight into the ground while keeping the top a few inches above the surface so no water gets in. Make sure the cover fits tightly; then pile at least 12 inches of hay or leaves over the top. Keep everything dry by covering it with a weighted-down plastic sheet or tarp. Watch out for leaks in the container that can allow groundwater to seep in. If you can, select an area on high ground to locate the storage container. The ground will not freeze under or around this container, and your vegetables will be maintained in a very even and moist condition.
Don't forget to draw a diagram of whaf s left in the garden and where so you won't be frantically digging around on a cold winter afternoon looking for the carrots but finding only radishes. The entire garden looks the same once the snow covers everything.
On a cold night you can walk around your property and actually feel the differences in temperature. The cold air virtually rolls down the slope and settles in low-lying areas; in fact, this is called cold air
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