Digging And Storing
Is full half the labor of growing and securing a crop of potatoes.
Digging is a long, laborious task. Many small fortunes are sunk yearly
by inventors in experimenting with and constructing "potato-diggers;"
but, so far, no machine has done the work properly
except under the most
favorable circumstances. Stones, vines, and weeds are obstacles not yet
fully overcome. Many tubers are left covered with earth, and so lost;
and besides, some machines so bruise the potatoes in digging as to
injure their appearance and keeping qualities. Undoubtedly, the day will
come when the great bulk of potatoes will be dug well and rapidly by
horse-power; but until that day does come, the potato-hook must be used.
Much of the back-ache and general unpleasantness incident to digging is
avoided, or greatly mitigated, by having the potatoes large and sound,
turning out a peck to the hill, especially if the digger is the owner
of the crop.
Digging should be done only when the ground is dry, that the potatoes
may come out clean and bright. A small plow, to turn a light furrow from
each side of the rows, is some help. Pull up the vines, and lay them
down so that they will be covered by the dirt dug from the hill.
Commence on one side of the hill; press the hook or hoe down, so that it
will reach a trifle below the potatoes, and draw the implement firmly
toward you. Repeat the operation, each time placing the tool a few
inches further in or across the hill, until the whole hill is dug. By
this method the potatoes will not be bruised; whereas, if the digging be
commenced in the centre of the hill, many potatoes will be sacrificed
and much injured. Potatoes should be picked up as soon and as fast as
dug; and immediately covered with straw or other material, to protect
them from the light. A few hours' strong sunshine will ruin the best
potato ever grown. Light changes the natural color to green, and renders
the potato so bitter and unpalatable as to be wholly unfit to eat.
Owing to the inconsiderate way in which potatoes are often dug, and the
light to which they are exposed while being transported to and while in
market, the denizens of our cities seldom, if ever, taste this vegetable
in its greatest excellence. If to be stored in the cellar, the potatoes
should be left in the field, in heaps covered with straw, until the
sweating is over, and then be removed to the cellar and lightly covered
with dry sand, or earth, just sufficient to exclude the light.
If to be buried in the field, choose a dry, sideling place; scrape out a
slight hollow, by merely removing the surface soil with a hoe; into
this, pile ten to twelve bushels; place the potatoes properly, and
cover them carefully with clean straw, six inches deep; cover over the
straw with four or five inches of earth, except a small opening at the
top; over this opening place a board or flat stone, elevated a little on
one side, to lead off the rain.
Let them remain so until the sweating is completely over, or so long as
prudence will permit; and when cold weather fairly sets in, add more
earth to keep from freezing, leaving only a wisp of straw protruding
through to carry off any foul air that may be generated.
Where the winters are intensely cold, it is best to cover but lightly
with earth, say five or six inches deep; and when freezing is becoming
severe, spread over the heap buckwheat straw, or coarse manure, to the
depth of six inches. There is danger in covering very deep at first,
especially if the autumn should prove warm. If kept too warm, rot is
sure to ensue. Experience shows that any vegetable keeps better buried
in pits that contain not more than ten or twelve bushels each.
Where large quantities are to be buried, it is advisable to open a long,
shallow, broad trench, leading up and down a hill, if possible, to
secure good drainage. Commence, at either end, by placing a desirable
quantity of potatoes as soon as dug; next to these put a little straw;
against the straw place about six inches of earth; then more straw and
more potatoes; and so keep on until the trench is full. A few furrows
plowed on each side assist in covering; and make a drain to lead off the
rains, which is a matter of the first importance. By this method each
lot of potatoes is kept separate; and any section can be opened at any
time to be taken to market, without endangering the others.
Potatoes buried properly are usually of better flavor in the spring than
it is possible for potatoes to be which are kept in a common cellar.
And here let me add that, if leaves from the woods be used instead of
straw, to cover potatoes to be buried, such potatoes will be of better
flavor; and further, if nothing but dry earth comes in contact with
them, they will be better still. Straw is used for the twofold purpose
of securing an air-chamber to keep out frost, and to prevent the earth
from mingling with the tubers on opening the pits.
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