Buried Treasure


September is the time we dig for buried treasure, that is, potatoes. I try to wait for a day at the end of a dry spell. The spuds come out of the ground without much muddy clay clinging to them. When I had to contend with muddy potatoes, I would spray them with water to get them clean, but I read somewhere that washing is not a good idea if the potatoes were going into storage. Better just leave the dirt on until it comes time to eat them. Don’t know how true that is, but I will use any excuse available for not doing work that I don’t have to do. For what its worth, dirt clings to red potatoes more than white or yellow ones, but I think that is because our red ones, Red Norland, are a bit rough-skinned while the white ones, Kennebec, are as smooth as a baby’s cheek. All red potatoes seem to develop slightly rough skins in our ground, but Red Norland is the best tasting potato of all to my taste buds.

Anyway, I like to dig potatoes. Maybe the next hill will have the biggest potato ever, or the most spuds in a hill ever. I leave the treasures lay on top of the ground for an hour or so to dry out in the open air and sunlight, then load them in a wheelbarrow and let them sit over night in a dark, dry place. If you let potatoes sit out in the sun too long, as you all know, they will start turning green and that green is somewhat toxic.

Next day or two days later, I re-bury the potatoes. For years I had two steel barrels (30 gallon size) that I dug into the ground to hold them. Digging holes for the barrels was not easy but I was younger then. The barrels rusted out and I had to replace them this year. Being older and smarter (debatable), I used plastic bins and dug them into a handy slope at the edge of the woods. The bins are less than two feet tall, easier to reach in to the bottom in the ground. They are two to three feet in length and so hold about as much as the barrels did. As you can see in the photo, taking advantage of the sloping hill, I only had to move about half the dirt I would have if on the level, and put the excavated dirt on the downside of the hill to bury the bins up to their lids. The slope also means that water will drain away from the site better. These bins have a curled lip around the edge, allowing me to drill little holes all around for a bit of air circulation without letting any water or mice in.

First a layer of straw goes in, then a layer of potatoes, then more straw and another layer of potatoes, and so on until the bin is full. Later in the fall, I will pile autumn leaves over the bins about a foot or so deep. The potatoes never freeze even in sub-zero weather. Then through the winter I just have to push aside snow and leaves and lift the lid to get another basket of spuds. The two bins will last until new potatoes are ready next year. In fact I make sure there are enough left over for seed. We’ve saved our own Kennebec seed potatoes nearly forever and got the Red Norland start a few years ago from organic growers Andy Rinehart and Jan Dawson (Jandy’s Farm Market). That’s the only way I can be sure that our potatoes continue to be truly organic, that is without the BT gene that has been put into commercial potatoes to combat potato bugs. The experts say it is safe to eat a potato that will kill bugs, but not me.

That’s all the know-how necessary. What could be a simpler, more secure food supply? Even if the electricity goes off, even if the house blows away, even if we are visited with “the rocket’s red glare and bombs bursting in air,” our buried treasure will be safe. Along with carrots which I leave in the ground in the garden covered with more leaves, and cabbages that should last where they grow until January if given a little protection, there’s about ten million scabby apples on the trees this year, too many for even the deer to eat. Apples can be stored for winter much like potatoes but we just keep some in the cellar. Plus, there’s all the stuff that Carol has canned. I think we could survive a couple of months anyway. Can’t say that about gold.


As things like beans, peppers, peas, tomatoes, corn, broccoli, etc. are no longer producing well, this morning I decided to have a Crockpot meal. This morning, I went out to the areas I’ve largely ignored through the season. Beets, Parsnips, Turnips, Rutabagas, Carrots and potatoes. They were all surprisingly large and don’t seem to mind having been ignored since the early season.

As the season for vegetables available changes, I no longer have an interest in eating the summer vegetables which I loved during the summer. I can almost sense my nutritional needs changing with the season.

The bugs have changed, too. There aren’t many bees anymore. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a ladybug. There are few dragonflies. But the spiders have invaded and are building webs all over. We are careful not to disturb their lives and they no longer get scared when we come close. The robins are gone. The ants are still happily farming aphids on my late pepper plants. The peppers don’t seem to mind. I suppose some might use a chemical to get rid of both of them. I just enjoy watching them. If they kill a pepper, I’ll eat something else.

The pattern of my life is changing, too. Eariier to bed and later to rise. More study time and time for reflecting.

Northern Wisconsin, we just dug late crop taters here today. Due to wet weather we’ll wait until tommorow to pick them up. After they are sacked they will be held in a shed covered during the day and uncovered and ventilated at night. Potatoes go through a sweat after harvest. The ones not sold will be placed in a root cellar or fed to the livestock. We grow Langlade an early white, Red Norland, Keuka Gold, and Goldrush which is the best tasting russet I’ve found. Just east of here around Antigo is one of the areas used for raising seed potatoes. We hooked up with two family operations to acquire seed poatatoes not found in most places. Many of the smaller seed companies buy potatoes from these people. They have bins in buidling with walls 4 feet wide filled with sawdust, bins are over 20 feet high. Much like the old icehouses. These families have been in business for generations.

I grow potatoes in raised beds, 16 plants per 4×4 bed, 32 per 4×8 bed. As the potatoes grow, I add an extra frame or two to the beds, and heap compost or shredded leaves around the stems. It’s easy to just sneak my fingers in around the base of the plants during growing season to filch out a few potatoes to go in with the green beans, or to make a batch of potato salad. I use the potatoes around the outside edges of the beds first, leaving the others; then in the fall, I add another frame and heap it with leaves. I’ve kept potatoes over winter in these beds, pushing the leaves aside to hand or trowel dig them – and the best part is that I always miss a few, and have volunteer potatoes come up in early spring! I just transplant them to a new bed, or plant around them and enjoy them as early potatoes.

Amen on the German Butterballs and I would also add Carolas which are another yellow fleshed potato. We discovered Seed Savers 7 or 8 years ago while we were driving from Burr Oak Iowa ( a great Laura Ingalls Wilder site ) to the Field of Dreams ( Which was actually 2 fields because the playing field had a property line going through it and the owners couldn’t agree on a way to share . Rather ironic since the movie’s overarching theme was reconciliation. ). Saw a road sign and ended up spending several hours there (Seed Savers). Neat place.

This made a great post to follow The Egg Hunter. Both gathering eggs and digging potatos can elicit unreasonable responses of triumph or frustration and defeat.

Thanks! Very timely, Gene..I was out there yesterday taking up some spuds. We don’t have cool cellar and mine didn’t keep well in our basement at all last year. So this will be just the ticket once the rain clears.

I laughed about Beth not paying your taxes with ‘taters. Well, you just never know. I’m thinking that a “sack of chickens” may be the next currency!


Happy Rain Day, Gene, Hope its drizzling just a little on you. I know we needed it. You know, I have kind of a crazy tale to tell, if you have time. But I can’t find an email for you. Drop me a line if you are interested – this one’s just for the ‘farm-y’ people.

Your pal,

Gene, as far as “mice chewing through plastic”, let tell you quickly of an experience I had several years ago. We had bought a riding lawn mower. One day I went out to use it and realized I was severely low on fuel. I discovered that some rodent had chewed through the corner of the plastic gas (yes, I said GAS) tank!! My goodness, why would anything chew through that?

We’re relatively new at the gardening business, keep expanding our garden each year, and experimenting with different potato varieties. So far, for my money, the absolute best are the German butterballs we got from Seed Savers Exchange. Nice buttery taste, I salivate just thinking about them. I’ve been rubbing some of the dirt off them and piling them into baskets that we store in our (root) cellar where the temps get down to as low as 30 degrees in the very coldest months. We’ll have potatoes right up thru May and last year I saved and planted some. Seems to have worked out quite well. But I’ve always dug mine up in August. Wait ’till a dry September day? Well, I guess I will do that with one patch I haven’t dug up yet.

P.S. Holy Shit is a delightful little book. Just the right size and interesting reading. Never knew you were such a shitty fella’, though, heh, heh, heh… 🙂

Paula, It should work for you, as long as the top of the bin is up enough off the soil surface so that water can’t get in in downpours. Part of the underground advantage is that the air stays moister than in a cellar (usually) and so the potatoes don’t shrivel as much towards spring. I’ve been cautioned that mice might chew through a plastic container. Don’t know about that yet. Gene

Gene- will your method work in the Portland, Oregon area? Sometimes it gets good and cold, but mostly it rains- temperatures tend to be in the forties. How can I make it work? Thanks!

Austin, yes burying potatoes will work in Minnesota. You might want to pile on three feet of leaves. I lived in Minnesota for four years. We had a real root cellar then, and it worked fine despite sub zero weather as lond as we kept the double doors shut at night. Gene

In SE Texas, Grandma and Grandpa always left the dirt on their ‘taters for the same reason you mentioned – preservation. They stored them in a shed next to the chicken house in old bushel baskets covered with burlap. They never had a rat problem as long as I can remember.

We were late planting potatoes this year (mid-May in MN). We couldn’t find seed potatoes so we just planted some red ones from the grocery store. I’d heard they are treated to prevent sprouting, but I thought “How bad could it be?” Only half of them came up, and it took 4 weeks!! We just dug them this weekend, and each hill had just one potato each! Not quite the buried treasure we had hoped to find, to say the least. I’m not sure if it was the abbreviated growing season or the chemicalized potatoes.

I’m wondering if the “barrel in the ground” root cellar would work up here in Minnesota were it gets a little colder than Ohio?

On the other hand, you can’t pay the taxes with potatoes (although in the economy of 250 years ago, you could probably have gotten away with it). Guess the key is to have enough of each to get by.

Please leave your comments...

Name and email address are required. Your email address will not be published.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>