You count on your garden to feed your family, but what do you do during the winter months? Some root crops are simply not suitable for canning, freezing or even dehydrating. Root crops, like potatoes, onions and carrots are prolific in the garden and they can go a long way to feeding your family. Delicious stews and hearty casseroles are all made a little better when you can use food in its most natural state. In this case, chunks of real potatoes and fresh carrots are better in stew on a cold winter day than dehydrated or frozen varieties.
How do you store root crops so that you can enjoy them in their natural state for months after harvest?
You are going to discover how to do just that! It’s the middle of December and there is 3-feet of snow on the ground, but you are going to make your family a tasty meal with the food from your garden because you took the time to learn about proper storage of root crops. You have a couple of options to doing just that.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation has published a valuable guide for storing vegetables. I recommend downloading it and printing it for reference. Storing Vegetables At Home
Root cellars are an ideal way to store your potatoes, onions, carrots and the rest of your root crops. Potatoes and the other root vegetables will store throughout winter without getting soft, growing mold or sprouting if they are stored properly. The key is maintaining a cool temperature, without letting them get below freezing. The earth is the perfect environment to keep your veggies cool while providing the perfect moisture level. Doesn’t it make sense that items grown in the ground would store best in the ground? Potatoes do best when they are stored in an area where the temperature stays between 42 and 50 degrees. Because potatoes have a high water content, they need to be stored in a fairly humid place. Darkness is another key trait of any good root cellar.
Root cellars don’t require any electricity so you don’t have to worry when the power goes out in the middle of a winter storm. There are numerous plans you can use to create a root cellar if you don’t already have one. Some folks create cellars just by digging a hole in the ground, lining it with straw and putting a sturdy piece of wood over the top. Another common option is to use an old refrigerator or freezer. Dig a hole big enough to set the old appliance in and fill it up with your potatoes and such. You won’t have to worry about a door, it is already provided for you.
If you are not interested in making a root cellar, you can use your basement. However, you will need to do a little modification to increase the storage time. Most basements have windows in them. You don’t want your potatoes and other veggies exposed to sunlight. We will explain two options for storing in your basement.
*If you can get your hands on old apple crates or even large cardboard boxes, grab them! Add a layer of dirt to the bottom of your crate or box. You could also use newspaper if necessary, but dirt is best. Place your potatoes or veggies in the box. Toss a little dirt over the top to help hold in that moisture they need to stay fresh. Place the biggest items on the bottom. Close the box up and put it in the darkest corner you can find in your basement. Ideally, you should put the box or crate on a pallet or shelf that will keep the potatoes at least six inches off the ground in case the basement floods. The smallest bit of water could destroy your food.
*Build a small room in the basement to mimic a root cellar. You won’t have the benefit of dirt, but a cold storage is a pretty effective way to keep your root crops fresh for months. You can place the produce on pallets, in boxes or on shelves. Line the shelving or box with newspaper. Remember, the ideal temperature is below 50 and above 42. You don’t want the potatoes to get too cold. By choosing the darkest area of the basement and walling it in, you can create a cold room. Add a thermostat to the room so you can monitor the temperature.
The following are some tips you will want to use when putting your root crops away for the winter.
- Do not wash your potatoes, carrots or onions. Knock off any large clumps of dirt, but leave the rest as is.
- You can help the potatoes â€œhardenâ€ by letting them sit in the ground for a couple of weeks after the plant dies off above ground. However, if there is a lot of rain, you don’t want to do this. Your potatoes will rot before you ever get them to the cellar.
- With onions, carrots, beets and other root vegetables, remove all but about an inch of the stem. The stem will dry, which is fine. If the stem is long and leafy, it will rot and mold and ruin your crop. Do not cut the flesh of the vegetable as this will also lead to early rot.
- Potatoes with brown skin, like russets, will store the longest. The thick skin is ideal for long-term storage. Your red and yellow varieties have soft skin that don’t give you that extra time.
- When planting your garden, choose starts and seeds that are developed for long-term storage.
- Check your potatoes and veggies every week or so to identify any that are rotting. Like the old adage says, it only takes one rotten apple to ruin a good crop. A single rotten carrot, potato or onion can quickly wipe out an entire storage. Remove the rotten one and carefully check any neighboring produce to see if there are any damp spotsâ€”these generally indicate spoilage.
- Any potatoes that are leftover in March can be used to plant your new crop.
Don’t let your harvest go to waste. Take the time to build a root cellar or that room in the basement during the spring and summer so you are ready to put away your fall crops. Your family will appreciate the fresh produce all year round.
STORAGE REQUIREMENTS FOR COMMON VEGETABLES
|Vegetable||Temp. (Â°F)||Relative Humidity||Avg Storage Life|