A Low-Energy Way To Keep Root Veggies Fresh

You don't need to invest in chest freezers—all you need is straw and a little bit of outdoor space.

November 5, 2015
storage clamp
PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS MACDONALD

If you're looking for a way to store your garden yield, but don't have a root cellar, try building a storage clamp. A clamp gives gardeners an inexpensive means to store fall-harvested root vegetables through the winter. The technique of insulating heaps of potatoes, turnips, carrots, and other vegetables with layers of straw and soil has been used for centuries in Europe. Here’s how it works:

storage clamp
PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS MACDONALD

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1. Choose a spot on level ground where snowmelt or rain doesn’t collect, and place straw on the ground in a circle about 4 feet in diameter and 6 inches thick.

Related: How To Build A Root Cellar

storage clamp
PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS MACDONALD

2. Inspect the vegetables to be stored and remove any with cuts, bruises, or signs of decay. Pile the vegetables atop the straw in a conical mound.

 

storage clamp
PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS MACDONALD

3. Layer loose straw over the vegetables 6 to 8 inches thick.

 

storage clamp
PHOTOGRAPH BY THOMAS MACDONALD

4. Carefully add a 6-inch layer of dry soil over the straw. Leave a tuft of straw exposed at the top of the clamp for ventilation.

Related: What To Store In A Root Cellar

The clamp shown here was constructed in late fall 2011 to hold about 100 pounds of potatoes. We opened the clamp 14 weeks later, in March 2012, and found that the potatoes remained in excellent condition. The winter here in eastern Pennsylvania was milder than usual, dipping to 10 degrees one night and into the teens on several other occasions.

Clamps are often recommended in regions of Europe that are the climatic equivalent of USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 6 to 8. In these areas, the temperature inside the clamp is more likely to remain within the ideal range of 32 to 40 degrees. In colder climates, underground clamps—straw-lined pits or barrels—offer additional protection from cold. Clamps are probably not the best storage method in areas warmer than Zone 8, colder than Zone 5, or where rodents or slugs are a problem.

In theory, vegetables can be removed a few at a time by reaching through the straw at the top of the clamp. Instead of a single large clamp, it may be easier to build several small clamps that can be opened as the vegetables are needed. Or construct a long, narrow clamp and remove roots a few at a time from one end, replacing the straw and soil to protect the remaining vegetables.

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