Storing Root Crops for Winter: A How-To Guide

It’s harvest time – and that means it’s time to figure out how to store all that food you spent all summer growing, before it goes bad! Root crops are easy…if you have a root cellar…(which you probably don’t). Here are some other options.

Got a root cellar? No, me either! Unfortunately, over the past several decades, root cellars have gone the way of, well, growing your own food….

But never fear – there are still plenty of ways to store your root vegetables for the winter months. (It’s hard to believe this week, but those months are coming….)

Here are some helpful tips for storing root crops such as potatoes, turnips, beets, parsnips, carrots, and more.

The Ideal Climate for Roots

Root vegetables keep for months if the conditions are right. Between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit with 95-percent humidity keeps them crisp and fresh—exactly why the refrigerator was invented….

But since you can’t cram a winter’s worth of produce in your fridge, there are other ways to provide ideal storage conditions. The goal is to insulate the storage space as much as possible to guard against fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Exactly how you do that depends on the climate where you live and the resources you have available.

Basements and Boxes

In northern climates, most houses have a basement. If the basement is unfinished (i.e. no heating system), it’s likely to remain cool, but above freezing through the fall and winter—which means it is already a close approximation of a root cellar.

One approach to enhancing a basement’s capacity for storing root crops is to build an insulated closet in a corner where there is foundation window…. You’ll need a reliable thermometer and hygrometer (a tool that measures humidity) to keep the climate fine-tuned.

If building an insulated closet just isn’t on your to-do list this year, wooden crates, plastic totes, coolers, and cardboard boxes are all viable substitutions for storing root crops in a basement….


Non-Basement Options

If you lack a basement, put root crop storage boxes in your crawlspace, garage, mudroom, under the back porch, or anywhere else that stays cool, but doesn’t experience deep freezes. The insulation in the box will keep the veggies from freezing in sub-freezing weather, but only to a point….

Another option is to dig a pit in a shady area—essentially a mini-root cellar. Because of the thermal properties of soil, the deeper you go below the surface, the more temperatures resemble that of a refrigerator, year-round…. Use rigid plastic bins or other rodent proof containers to store the roots inside the pit….

In climates where the ground doesn’t freeze, it may work to leave the roots in the ground where they were grown and harvest them as needed…. To prevent damage from the occasional frost, cover the roots with a six-inch layer of straw….

Preparing Roots for Storage

When your root crops are ready for harvest, there are a few simple steps to ensure they last as long as possible in storage.

  1. Harvest in the morning after several days of dry weather and let the roots dry on the surface for the day. This toughens up the skin and kills the root hairs, causing the roots to shift into dormancy mode.
  2. Cut the foliage from the tops of the roots, just above the root crown. There is no need to wash or clean the roots—they will keep longer if left dirty. Handle them as little as possible to prevent bruising and nicking.
  3. Sort through the roots and remove any that are damaged, diseased or broken. These may be set aside for immediate use. Blemish-free roots will last the longest in storage and you don’t want rot from one spreading to the others.

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Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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