Upon this subject I am able to speak with the freedom habitually enjoyed by some voluminous agricultural writers - my imagination will not be hampered by my knowledge.
In debatable climates, like Ohio, Illinois, Kansas and southward, it is conceded that a great point would be gained by the discovery of some plan - not too expensive - that would make it safe to put away potatoes in the summer, as soon as ripe, so that they would go through the winter without sprouting and preserve their eating qualities till potatoes come again. As it is, digging must be deferred till late, for fear of rot; the fields of early varieties grow up with weeds after they are "laid by." In the spring a long interregnum is left between old potatoes fit to eat and the new crop, and the seed stock of the country loses much of its vigor through sprouting in cellars and pits. Most farmers have had occasion to notice the difference between the yield from crisp, unsprouted seed potatoes and that from the wilted, sprouted tubers so often used. Some years ago Professor Beal made a test of this difference. I speak from recollection, but think I am right in saying that, according to the published account which I saw, he found one sprouting of seed potatoes lowered the yield 10 per cent.; each additional sprouting still further reduced the crop, till finally there was no yield at all.
Even a 10 per cent. shrinkage in all that portion of the annual potato crop grown from sprouted seed would result in an aggregate loss of millions of bushels. The question how to store potatoes and not have them sprout I have seen answered in the papers by recommending a "cold" cellar, of about 40 degrees temperature. If there are cellars that are cold in warm weather, without the use of some artificial process, I have not seen them. The temperature of well water is about 45 degrees only, and anybody knows how much colder a well is than a cellar. But the greatest difficulty comes in from the fact that potatoes are such a prolific source of heat in themselves.
If a 40 degree cellar could be found and be filled with potatoes, the temperature would at once begin to rise, and the later in the season, the faster it would go up. I repeat that a cellar filled with potatoes will have a much higher temperature than the same cellar would have if empty. This I have learned as Nimbus learned tobacco growing - "by 'sposure." I hope I won't be asked "why." I don't know. The reason is unimportant. The remedy is the thing. The only help for it that I know of is to give the cellar plenty of ventilation, put the potatoes in as clean as possible, and then shovel them over every month or two. This will keep the sprouting tendency in check very largely; but it won't make it practicable to begin storing potatoes in July or cause them to keep in good flavor till June.
Several years ago I placed some barrels of early Ohio potatoes in the Kansas City cold storage warehouses from March till July. They were kept in a temperature of 38 degrees, and came out crisp and very little sprouted. The plan of this structure was very simple: a three-story brick building so lined with matched lumber and tarred paper as to make three air-spaces around the wall. In the top story was a great bulk of ice, which was freely accessible to the air that, when cooled, passed through ducts to the different "cool rooms." The results were satisfactory, but the system seemed too expensive for potatoes. I have wondered whether it was necessary for potatoes to be kept as cold as 38 degrees. Would not a current of air passing through pipes showered with well water keep them cold enough? Wine vaults, I believe, are sometimes cooled by air currents forced through a cold water spray. If the air blast of well water temperature would be sufficient, the apparatus for producing it would be comparatively inexpensive - or at least much cheaper than those plans of cold storage where ice is stored in quantity over the cool room. However, any process that could be devised would probably be unprofitable to the small cropper, and the larger the business done, the less the cost per bushel.
If it should be found that individual operators could not reach such an improvement on a profitable scale, why could not several of them pool their issues sufficiently to build, jointly, a potato elevator? There are at least 50,000 bushels of potatoes held in store by farmers within three miles of where I live. It seems to me there would be many advantages and economies in having that large stock under one roof, one insurance, one management; on a side track where they could be loaded in any weather or state of the roads, besides the great item that the temperature could be controlled, by artificial means, in one large building much cheaper than in several small ones.