Bad goat equals good dust
Here’s a final post on putting up food for the winter from Molly Bradford, one of our dedicated winter share members, who knows how to put food up like a champ!
I’ve been putting up food for nearly a decade with produce from the winter share through Garden City Harvest’s River Road, also called the grubshed. In my last guest post for this blog, I touched a little bit on using some grubshedder techniques for your summer CSA. In this post I’ll talk about best practices for storing onions, garlic, shallots, squash, and root vegetables: carrots, celeriac, parsnips, beets and potatoes.
I’ve tried numerous techniques over the years for preserving my food, for as many months of the winter as possible, with the least amount of effort as possible. After many years blanching and chopping and drying and vacuum sealing and freezing things like carrots, I’ve come to realize that most root vegetables are easily preserved in damp sawdust.
This week my son and I visited Mark Vandermeer at Bad Goat Good Wood products here in Missoula’s Northside. He generously gave us as much sawdust as we wanted. It was actually pretty fun to hang out near the train tracks and scoop up handfuls of these wonderfully scented curly Q shavings, some already damp from the rain.
The first thing I do is add water, a little bit at a time, to the shavings until they are damp but not swimming in it. I don’t want it to be so wet that when squeezed a bunch of water comes out. The next thing that I do is find some crates: milk crates, metal crates, doesn’t really matter. If the holes are pretty big, this is better for aeration. I either line the crates with screen, which I buy by the roll at Ace, or with cardboard that I’ve poked a bunch of holes in.
It’s a pretty quick and easy process:
- Couple inch base layer of damp dust
- Single, packed layer of root veggie
- Enough dust in next layer to cover and protect first layer
- Another layer of veggies
- Repeat until crate is full, veggies are gone, or you’re out of dust
The raw veggies, ready to go:
Then, the potatoes getting covered in sawdust:
I always reserve a large handful of carrots for my fridge to start, as I go through those the fastest. I’ll also keep out a little of the rest to cook this first few weeks: 6 beets, a couple parsnips, one celeriac, and a few potatoes.
I do get about 3 or 4 different kinds of potatoes in my grubshed. To keep them sorted, I like to divide one of my larger crates with pieces of cardboard horizontally so that I can create two or three little “bin” areas within my crate. Then I just layer each one of those areas individually after I line the crate with screen. I top each area with a little sticky note, so I know what kind of potatoes are in each “bin.”
Don’t forget to check how to dried out your sawdust is getting throughout the winter. You can just use a spray bottle to mist the sawdust on the outside to keep it damp. The stuff on the inside is going to be wetter than the stuff on the outside naturally. Usually when I’m peeling back sawdust to get out some more potatoes or carrots, I take this opportunity to mist from the top and the side.
Luckily the garlic and shallots we get from Garden City Harvest already come dried or cured. But the process that they used to do this really isn’t much different than what I end up doing with my onions. As as recommended by Greg at the River Road farm, get a long piece of twine about arms with, fold in half and knot it at the end. Start laying the onions with the green stems through the twine. After you lay one onion through, twist the twine two or three times in one direction and pull the stem through as far as you can so the twine is tight and as close to the onion is possible. Then layer the next onion in the opposite direction. Twist 2 or 3 times. Then lay an onion in the opposite direction, twist again. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Hang up the onion braids in a cool, dark, dry place so they are not touching. When the onion greens are completely dried out, you can snip the onions off and put them in the big crate with large openings for good air circulation. I store my garlic and shallots the same way as my onions; in crates or metal bins with good air circulation.
If you have a lot of squash, like we get with the winter grubshed, you first need to make sure that you harden them off inside. I usually spread them apart on a towel or a cardboard box and make sure that none of the skins are touching. I let them hang out for a week or so.
We have figured out a storage technique that seems to work pretty well. I rip pieces of cardboard from packing boxes. Because you don’t want any of the edges of squash touching, I use the strips of cardboard as barriers between my squash. The parts that touch can make soft spots quite quickly and cause mold.
The basic technique goes like this. Line the bottom of a crate with some cardboard. Put some squash in the bottom. Put some cardboard barriers between the squash that are taller than the squash. Put another horizontal layer of cardboard. Set some more squash on top. Put some more strips of cardboard between them to make a barrier. Repeat this until you have filled your crate. I check my squash once in awhile to for mold or soft spots. The lucky thing with squash is, if you get a soft spot, you can just cut that part out and then cook up the rest of the squash and you’re good to go.
Tidbit on last years harvest: this year we ate our last squash in about April, and we had onions, garlic and a few root veggies til May!
This weekend, in addition to packing vegetables in damp sawdust, we’ve been unpacking vacuum sealed fruit that we picked at the peak of summer season like apricots, raspberries, and flathead cherries. Can you guess what we’re making? Fruit leather! This year’s flavors include apricot almond spice, flathead cherry raspberry rhubarb with vanilla, and sweet asian plum with sour pie cherry, maple syrup and cloves.
Next up we’ll be making a huge batch of that sweet apple cider kraut I talked about in my last post, while my husband is turning all the hot peppers into an apricot hot sauce.