Soil and straw only

How to get storage vegetables through the winter in a simple way.

Looking serenely at the beets, which seemed to be making themselves comfortable on a bed of straw, he said, "That's where they are now. Certainly they tell each other all winter long stories."Matthias Fersterer, Oya editor at Klein-Jasedow, helped last year to create the windrow in which the beet harvest from our field was to be stored over the winter. His comment made me realize how much vitality is in these roots. If I replanted them the following year, they would bloom and give us seed.

Our rent looked like an oversized molehill at the end of the day. A small pyramid was created from several layers of beet, bark mulch and straw, which we first covered with a layer of soil, then with a thin layer of straw and finally another layer of soil. So even the worst frost had no chance to creep into the roots. Whenever I picked up a load of dark red tubers in winter, I felt like an animal from the forest. Nothing man-made got in the way: a pile of crops, straw, bark, earth – nothing else.
A few years ago, we sank plastic tubs into the ground to store our root vegetables out of concern for voles. Such constructions are called "field cellars". Once, the parsnip harvest was so plentiful that there was no tub left for a wheelbarrow full of carrots. Short-handed we piled the roots on a heap and packed soil and straw on top – with the result that they came through the winter even better in the above-ground rent. The vole feeding was fortunately kept within limits. Cats and weasels help against these garden inhabitants anyway better than all other attempts to keep them away.
The simplest solution is often the best. The archaic technique of embedding is a science in itself. Particular care is needed when removing the fruit: it is worth starting at the bottom and making sure that the fruit higher up slides in after it. If there is a small cavity in the front of the turf because the outer layer of soil is frozen and not everything wants to slide together nicely, it must be stuffed with dry hay. The opening itself is also sealed again with straw and soil after each removal.

The farmer and his manual
Runkles for our sheep also come in a rent. Neighbor Olaf Schroder helped us shovel sand over it last fall and said, "We still put in a pipe for ventilation." This increased my interest in the science of building windrows.
We can certainly learn a lot here from our local neighbors. For example by Christian Kickhefel. The part-time farmer lives in the old town of Lassan, which was melancholically sung about by Wolf Biermann in GDR times; our village is now a Lassan district. Traditionally it was a town of carpenters, turners and farm workers. Only from the two curved main streets do the low, somewhat Scandinavian-looking houses look like what you would expect in a small town. The backyards lead to gardens and potato fields. Until the 1950s, the people of Lassan were self-sufficient. Even today, especially the older people grow their own potatoes. Christian farms a larger field, about two and a half acres. Annually, he harvests 300 hundredweight of potatoes, a tenth of which he rents for his family and as animal feed. I stop by to ask how he piles up his potato windrows.
"Everything is written here," he says, proudly handing me a yellowed little brochure. "I don't need to tell you anything." It is the "Handbook for Farmers and Settlers" from 1947, published shortly after the land reform, which in the first years of the GDR divided up farmland previously worked by landlords among the population. Many new settlers, who had nothing to do with agriculture before, thus got a five to eight hectare site and needed information.
Christian has opened the book on page 97 and points there to a drawn longitudinal section through a "soil windrow for wintering permanent vegetables", that is for all types of cabbage, celery, carrots, beets, radishes and kohlrabi. One thing that strikes me is how pointed the elongated pile overarched with soil and straw is at the top. "So that the rain can drain off well," Christian Kickhefel points out. – "Do you do it the same way as in this book?", I would like to know. " Yes. For potatoes, we first dig a bed of about 20 centimeters into the soil. There is a rule for the cardinal direction, which is also here in the book: 'The direction of the rent goes from east to west'." The cold east wind and the wet west wind have less surface to attack on the narrow sides of the hill. Learned something again!
"Potato piles must not be particularly large, otherwise they become too warm," Christian explains further. "Here it is: one and a half meters wide and 80 centimeters high." In the drawing in the book, a pipe lies directly on top of the pile of vegetables – not vertically like a chimney into which it might rain, but parallel to the ground. A drainage pipe five centimeters in diameter is suitable to form the air channel, I read, but so are four slats nailed together. "That's for venting," the farmer knows. "But you don't necessarily have to do it. We just packed a sheet of straw on top of the windrow and left that open, so no soil shoveled over it yet until frost – works the same way. Just before it gets really cold, straw bales come around the rent, and then earth over it again."Aha – just I understand something: A rent is not built immediately after the harvest ready. If the autumn still has warm days, the time for the straw layer has not yet come, but only a first layer of earth – Christian's book says: 10 centimeters thick – provides darkness, cooling and moderate moisture. At the top, a narrow strip remains uncovered or. only stuffed with some loose straw for ventilation. Only shortly before the frost is the actual insulation layer applied. "There used to be elongatedbales of rye straw, about 20 centimeters thick," the farmer recalls. "They were perfect for insulating the rents. You build them staggered – like bricklaying – so there are no cracks. Mice don't go into rye straw, it's much better than wheat straw."
There's nothing like the advice of a long-established neighbor! But even creative newcomers sometimes have good tips: When we visited Wibke Seifarth and Stefan Raabe from Landkombinat Gatschow near Demmin at the beginning of May, we were given carrots by the case. Stefan got them from washing machine drums he had buried in the ground; a few bales of straw were placed over them. Such a construction may seem more comfortable than a pile vaulted with soil, but we'll still be making the archaic turnip mounds again this fall. The technique is so simple and so effective! Whenever my gaze falls on the piles, I wonder what stories the roots are telling each other through the winter. –

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