It is the Season of Root Crops! But how much of these treasures can you store yourself?
It is Autumn, and the farm stands are offering bulk supplies of winter roots: potatoes, carrots, beets, and onions. Some store easily, others not so much. I’ve had my share of onions that rotted, carrots that turned to slime, potatoes that sprouted large plants, and winter squash long forgotten under the bed in the spare room!
While onions and potatoes may be the easiest to buy in large quantity and store, other roots such as carrots and parsnips need a little more attention.
Over the years, as my children left home and my own garden grew smaller, I came to a comfortable compromise. I let the local farm grow the crops I’ll want to store in bulk, such as potatoes. I might grow a few of a specific variety no one else carries, but for the most part, I let them do the bulk of the growing. The space I use for growing now is for instant gratification–greens that I can pick after a few weeks from planting, summer cherry tomatoes to pick all season and enjoy for lunch, herbs, radishes, beans, etc.
Whether you grew them yourself, or purchased from a local farm, the storage needs are the same. What do you have room to keep? Do you have an extra refrigerator in the cellar? Space in a cool, dark place to store other produce? Do you have a spare room that you can leave unheated? Do you have a winter CSA where you live so you don’t really have to think about any of that?
No matter the vegetable you are storing, there are a few basic rules. First, choose only the best specimens to store, no bruising or bad spots. Secondly, don’t wash them! Cut off any tops (a lot of them are edible), leaving just a bit of the stem. And finally, they will all need to be stored in a cool or cold environment, such as a root cellar, unheated room, or even your crisper drawer.
Carrots and Parsnips: If you are storing a lot of carrots, place them in boxes of sand or sawdust in the cold cellar or unheated room. Again, store only the best, don’t crowd them, and check them from time to time. They will last for a couple months in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
Beets: You can store beets in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator in a plastic bag that is not tightly closed. They also store well in boxes of sand or sawdust in a cold room or cellar.
Onions and Leeks: Onions store well in a cool spot in mesh bags to allow plenty of air circulation. Hang them on hooks for the best results. They will also store a long time in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, as will their cousin leeks. Leeks store well in boxes of sand in cool spots, and small amounts in your crisper drawer. If the outsides turn soft or brown, just peel them off, the insides will still be good.
Garlic: A mesh bag hung in a cool spot is a good place to keep your garlic. Heat will cause them to sprout and turn soft.
Potatoes: Potatoes are fairly easy to store if you have a nice cool space, but one of the biggest enemies of potatoes is light. Place them in a lined storage bin or box, in a very cool spot such as an unheated room, or corner of a cellar. Make sure they stay covered to protect from light.
Winter Squash: No, not a root crop, but these hardy squashes store well in a cold, unheated room or in the refrigerator where space allows.
Of course, we are lucky enough in this part of the country to have Winter CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) available to us, so we can pick up perfectly stored winter crops all season long, fresh greens as well! As at your local farm stands or farmers’ markets if they offer this service.
© Copyright 2018 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read