Around mid-September, we would always keep a close eye on the forecast to figure out the best schedule for harvesting our vegetables. Squash, pumpkins and tomatoes had no frost tolerance so there was always a bit of panic to get them out of the field before temperatures dipped below freezing.
At the other end of the spectrum were vegetables like rutabaga and parsnips that could not only tolerate hard frosts, but actually tasted better when they were hit by a hard frost. These vegetables were always the last to be pulled from the field. However, I do remember a few years when we would get caught by an unseasonably early snowfall and these frost hardy – but not winter hardy vegetables - remained in the field all winter.
The one vegetable that always worried me were our potatoes. A light frost would kill the potato foliage that, in turn, would cause the skins of the tubers to "set". Without the tops being killed, the tuber skins would remain thin and slippery and were only capable of storing for a few weeks rather than throughout the winter.
But the problem with waiting for a hard frost was that cold air could penetrate down through the cracks in the soil and damage the odd tuber that was near the soil surface. The old adage, "One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch" applied equally well to potatoes.
I remember storing huge piles of potatoes in our barn one year where just a few tubers had been exposed to frost. These small pockets of frost-damaged potatoes did spoil the "whole bunch", and the following spring I remember literally pumping potatoes out of our barn.
Imagine wading into the middle of a huge pile of rotting, stinking, "potato soup" and dropping a sump pump in the middle. It’s a vivid memory that sticks with me to this day.
OK, sorry about that imagery! You won’t have to contend with any potato storing disaster like this but keep in mind that garbage-in equals garbage-out. Store only high quality vegetables and use those that don’t quite make the grade within a few weeks. If you don't adopt this strategy, I think it is safe to say that you need to keep your sump pump on standby.
Perish the thought.