Are you lucky enough to still have root vegetables (think: beets, carrots, parsnips and potatoes) in your garden? Soon it likely will be time to pull them out of the ground before freezing weather or soil pests appear.
Although keeping root vegetables in the ground works for areas that don’t experience heavy frosts and maintain soil dryness through the winter season, most climates don’t keep the vegetables well. Hard freezes will cause the tops to die off and either rot or freeze the vegetable in the ground, and wet soil will invite pests like the maggot fly to gnaw on the vegetable underground.
Harvesting Root Vegetables
Harvest your root vegetables as late as possible, but before the first frost. Cold weather digging encourages the vegetable cells to store up a higher concetration of sugars and starches, giving them a longer storage life. Also aim to harvest root vegetables in dry weather because they’ won’t be as full of water and will have less damp soil clinging to them.
Selecting Root Vegetables
Only select the healthiest looking root vegetables with no nicks, splits, bruises or ones that are underdeveloped, for storage. Use the good parts of your damaged root vegetables first, within a week of digging them up out of the ground. You can blanch and freeze or pickle carrots, beets and parsnips, while potates make a great stew or curry base for a main dish.
Cleaning Root Vegetables
It’s important to clean off some of the dirt from your root vegetables when preparing them for storing, but leaving a light coat of dusty dirt on the surface is actually a good idea. Avoid scrubbing the root vegetables clean, but use a soft brush to gently take off larger or thicker clumps of soil. If you have to harvest from wet soil, let the vegetables dry out for a day or so after digging, then brush them off and store them. Clip off the greens on any root vegetables that have them about one inch from the top before storing. If you don’t, the greens draw moisture and will cause the vegetable to turn slimy. You can eat the tops of beets, parsnips and turnips, which are delicious steamed or added to a stir-fry. Try not to do any damage to the root vegetables when clipping the greens, as any splits or nicks will invite spoilage. If you have an overabundance of greens, feed them to your chicken, turkeys and goats (if you happen to have them).
Storing Root Vegetables
Once you’ve cleaned and clipped the green off your root vegetables, it’s time to get them into a storage container. Using some sort of areated box that doesn’t have holes big enough for rodents to get in. If you’re using an unbreathable container made of plastic or styrofoam, use a sharp knife or tool to poke small holes in the bottom and top of the container. You can use lightly moist sand, saw dust, or moss for packing your root vegetables in cointainers. Place a layer of sand or sawdust on the bottom of your storage container, place a layer of root vegetables so that they are not touching each other on the sand or sawdust, and then cover them with sand or sawdust. Continue until you reach the top of your container and place the lid or cover on top.
It’s best to have your container in the place you want to store it before you start filling it, as moving a full container is much more difficult thant moving an empty one. Most root vegetables like to be stored at temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees F. Try to find a spot that stays at a fairly even temperature day and night. This might mean that an unheated shed or outdoor building might have to have its door cracked open at night to let cool air enter if daytime heat has warmed the room up a bit. Under a house, in a cellar or basement or a cool pantry might be good spots to store if they are cool and temperate enough.
Image: Skånska Matupplevelser