Digging and storing flower and vegetable bulbs

Question: Does the frost indicate it is time to dig flower and vegetable bulbs?

Answer: Light frost is actually good to send bulbs into dormancy. The accumulated heat in the soil is usually enough to protect bulbs from freezing even though the tops are damaged.

Root vegetables which should be harvested before heavy frost include potatoes, onions, beets and turnips. Carrots are the hardiest and can be harvested last.

Tender bulbs like begonias, dahlias, gladiolus, canna, calla lily, ranunculus and caladium should be harvested now. Caladiums and tuberous begonias are the most tender. Some people dig them before heavy frost to make sure the bulbs are not damaged. You can check for soft spots which appear when bulbs are frozen. If the bulbs are firm, they have not been frozen.

I avoid washing the soil off bulbs because moisture stimulates the development of rot organisms. A brush works just fine. Bulbs should be stored in a cool, dry place where temperature will not go below freezing. Temperatures between 40 and 55 degrees work quite well. Bulbs can be stored in a refrigerator. However, they should be checked periodically to make sure they are not picking up too much moisture. Potatoes stored in a refrigerator tend to become sweet. Bring them out to room temperature a few days before use to restore normal taste.

In our arid climate, it is important to store flower bulbs in dry peat moss, vermiculite, sawdust, or similar materials to protect them from excessive moisture loss. Never use plastic bags for bulb storage. Paper or mesh bags allow some air movement.

Green tomatoes can also be stored in a cool dry space to allow for gradual ripening. Tomatoes should be spaced so they are not touching to avoid transferring rot. Ideal temperature is 45 to 55 degrees.

Allen Wilson can be contacted at allenw98663@yahoo.com.