Leaf-Bags For Easy
Garden Root Storage
(My Newest YouTube Video))

30 December 2014

Illustration of a traditional root clamp.
I have a better idea...

Clamps were once a reliable pre-industrial method of storing root crops through a cold winter and into spring. Clamps will once again be a reliable method of food storage in the post-industrial era ahead of us. Thus it is that using clamps to store potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, cabbages, and even apples, is a food storage technique worth learning. 

The best way to learn about keeping roots in garden clamps is to first read the literature about this ancient food preservation technique, then personally experiment every year with different ideas until you perfect your own clamping system that is relatively easy and consistently reliable.

The traditional-style garden clamp is an earthen mound with straw-insulated vegetables inside, like you see in the illustration above.

Old-time farmers used larger clamps for storage of various root crops, which they fed to their cattle in the winter. Turnips and rutabagas were popular cattle feed. Here is an illustration of a farm-scale clamp design...



Longtime readers may recall that I have made small garden clamps in past years to store root crops. I’ve used variations on the earthen-mound clamp, and have had excellent success keeping roots in such clamps, right in my garden, through a cold New York State winter, and into spring. It’s mighty satisfying to have mounds of perfectly preserved, “fresh”  root-food in the garden all winter. 

The only problem with making a traditional root clamp is that it requires a fair amount of shoveling and moving of soil.  Then, in the spring, the ground needs quite a bit of work to be put right again for planting. Also, traditional-style clamps require a supply of straw. If you have a farm, you may have all the straw you need. If you don’t have a farm (and most people do not) then you need to buy some straw.

Those drawbacks to the traditional clamp led me to try something very different this year. I made a clamp with a standard plastic pail, some hardware cloth, and 5 bags filled with dry leaves. A couple days ago I opened it up to see how 26 pounds of carrots had fared through snow, and rain, and cold. I made an impromptu YouTube video of the opening....




As the video shows, the clamp is very simple to make, and the carrots came out just fine. I will be using several of these clamps for root storage next winter. However, I will modify the design just a bit.

If you watch the YouTube clip, you can see that there is a lot of moisture under the top bag of leaves when I remove it. The moisture is due, I’m sure, to the fact that we have had lots of rain during the December thaw. But it is also due to the fact that the clamp has no ventilation shaft to let excess moisture out. 

So the one modification I’ll make in next year’s leaf-bag clamps is to add a small ventilation shaft consisting of a bundle of goldenrod stems. The shaft will extend from the screened top of the clamp cylinder, up through the middle of the top bag of leaves.

The plastic pail, the 1/2” hardware cloth, and even the poly twine used around the leaf-bags are an inexpensive, one-time investment that can be reused for many years. The thin garbage bags used for leaves are cheap. The leaves and goldenrod stems are free. 

Another advantage to my leaf-bag clamps is that you can get into them during the winter without destroying the integrity of the clamp. You can simply take the top bag off, remove the screened lid, reach in, take out a bunch of roots, then replace the top bag (and weight it down with a rock or chunk of firewood). With a traditional garden clamp, you typically have to remove all the contents once the clamp is opened.







14 comments:

Denise said...

I've been following your blog for a few months now and even received your book for a birthday gift this past year. I love your ideas (and philosophy on life)! I'm intrigued by this clamp idea. I notice this post is dated 12/2013. Have you used this same clamp idea this year? If so, how has it worked? Have you made any changes/improvements?
Thank you for so freely sharing your ideas!

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Denise,

Thanks for the comment. The clamp idea is brand new here in December of 2014, not a year old. I made a mistake on the "Dateline" and will change it to 2014 now.

Denise said...

Got it! Thanks for the clarification. I have already logged this in my "garden notes - things to try" for next year. Thanks again. Have a happy and blessed New Year.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I have heard of this kind of storage for years but rodents have been the big problem here for any of the old designs. Your clamp should work for me and will be an important way to store food if the economy goes as I suspect. Thanks for posting this, your video answered my questions!

odiie said...

Thanks for the great idea. It's hard to keep vegies for the winter up here in Minnesota. I have a root cellar, but my cabbages never do well. I'll be trying this for the 'bagas and the cabbages.

Everett R Littlefield said...

Hi Herrick, Am enjoying the clothespins and they will never see the rigors they were intended for. We have used clothes pins for years to hold all sorts of things closed! So they will lead a very sedentary life!

I also will be using a few of the clamps to store veggies this coming year. been cutting lots of side walls out of tires and thought that either part of them could be used to hold the bags in place!

Checked everyday even though I knew you were taking some time off. OBTW, are you still selling the chicken/turkey shrink bags? A friend came and stole all the ones I had left as he had 36 chickens to bag up!

Happy New Year and have a good WINTER AND spring "resting up" Ha HA! Best to you and the family, Everett

Tucanae Services said...

I know a fella who uses the shell of a non working refrigerator as a clamp. He buries the whole thing with just the doors above ground level. Adds a couple of ventilation holes then covers it with a tarp then earth.

jean said...

Would a mosquito screen keep out slugs, maybe?

Herrick Kimball said...

jean,

Probably, yes. But the slug really wasn't doing any damage. The hardware cloth I used it good enough for my needs.

Herrick Kimball said...

Hi Everett,

It seems to me that two or three tire sidewalls on the top leaf-bag would hold it down just fine, and provide an opening for me to have a chimney through the center of the bag. That sounds like a plan.

Yes, we still sell the shrink bags, though not so many in the winter. I'm actually relieved that sales have slowed down for a couple of months.

I imagine life on the island must be a whole lot different in the winter, without all the tourists.

Herrick Kimball said...

Tuscane S.,

That will work. I stored apples in a buried chest freezer, with straw bales over the top, during the winter of '99/'00 and they kept very well.

michaelmaloney said...

I am in no means a farmer and this root clamp storage idea thing totally flabbergasts me! I found the article a bit difficult to read too.. Is there an idiot's version somewhere on here for me (the idiot) to look at?

storagetowerhill.co.uk said...

Thanks for the nice explanation! I totally got it! I am very happy to stumble upon your blog. I am finding really amazing stuff! Greets!

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