Kitchen Garden Seeds

Tips for Harvesting and Storing Root Vegetables

Fall is in the air and gardeners are as busy as squirrels, storing away food to sustain body and soul through the winter months. Our shelves are lined with pickles and canned Tomatoes. The freezer is full of Corn, Green Beans and pesto. Onions, Shallots and Garlic are dry and hanging in mesh bags. Finally, it’s time to turn our attention to our prized root vegetables~those delicious, nutritious and deeply humble tubers who have been waiting so patiently for us to pull them from the still warm earth.

In the fall and winter, we would be quite happy to eat root vegetables almost every day of the week. Meals that include Potatoes, Carrots, Beets and other root vegetables (tonight we’ll be making Hopkins Inn Rosti Potatoes!) are both healthy and economical, not to mention deliciously satisfying. If you are lucky enough to have grown a plentiful supply of root vegetables, these tips will help you make the most of your harvest.

Harvesting and Storing Potatoes
Though Potatoes are not considered true root crops, they are harvested and stored in much the same way. Potatoes may be dug at anytime after the plant’s foliage has died back and before a hard frost. Dig gently to avoid piercing or bruising the tubers, and move them immediately to a cool (50 to 60 degree F), dark (so they don’t turn green), well-ventilated place. Lay the Potatoes out on newspaper in a single layer and leave them to “cure” for two weeks. This will toughen up their thin skins and extend their storage life. After two weeks or so, rub off any large clumps of dirt (Potatoes should never be washed before storage) and cull any tubers that are blemished or were nicked during harvest (these should be eaten straight away and not stored).

By weight, Potatoes are about 80% water, so they should be stored under humid conditions. Dark-colored, perforated plastic bags will help retain moisture~just make sure there are lots of holes for good air circulation. Nestle your spuds into ventilated plastic bins, bushel baskets or wax-lined cardboard boxes with perforated sides. Completely cover the Potatoes with newspaper or cardboard to eliminate any light. Even a little light will cause Potatoes to turn green, and render them inedible. The ideal storage temperature for Potatoes is a chilly 40 degrees F, though they will usually keep well for several months at 50 degrees F. If winter-long storage is your goal, it’s best to grow varieties that are known to be good keepers, such as Bintje Dutch, Yellow Finn, or Red Ruby Potatoes.

Need ideas on how to use your Potato stash in some new ways? Try our Cream of Potato-Leek Soup, Crabby Corn Chowder, Union Square Cafe’s Creamy Potato-Gruyère Gratin or Hopkins Inn Rosti Potatoes. We also adore Ina Garten’s Potato-Fennel Gratin that you can get at www.foodnetwork.com~it is one of the best Potato recipes ever.

Harvesting and Storing Beets, Carrots and Parsnips
There’s no need to hurry when it comes to harvesting root crops. These cold hardy vegetables will tolerate light frosts, and fall’s cool, moist weather helps to keep them in perfect condition. Any plant parts that are above the soil surface can be damaged by heavy frost, so that’s a good cutoff time for harvest. Pull or use a garden fork to gently remove the roots from the ground. Use scissors to remove all but the top ½” of foliage, and rub off all excess soil. Don't cut off the root ends or root hairs because this will invite decay. Do not wash them until use.

The flavor of Carrots, Beets and Parsnips actually sweetens during storage. For all three, ideal storage conditions are 90% to 95% humidity and a constant temperature of 32 to 40 degrees F. There are three ways for home gardeners to replicate these conditions: in a refrigerator, in moist sand or right in the garden.

To store Carrots, Beets and Parsnips in a refrigerator, lay similar-sized vegetables in a single layer, in gallon freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible before sealing each bag. Stack the bags flat on a shelf or in a drawer in the refrigerator. Check monthly for signs of decay. Beets will stay hard and sweet for five months or more; Carrots and Parsnips will last almost as long.

Moist sand is another storage option. Prepare the roots as above. Moisten clean sand in a large container or wheelbarrow. Pack the vegetables into a plastic tub, 5-gallon bucket or a wood or cardboard box that’s been lined with a plastic trash bag. Start by placing several inches of moist sand on the bottom of the storage container. Lay vegetables on the sand in a single layer, not touching each other, and cover completely with sand. Continue layering until the box or bin is full, and top with moist sand. The container will be very heavy, so plan accordingly. Remove the stored vegetables as needed.

A third technique for cool climates is to store these root crops right in the ground. Before a hard frost, cover beds of Carrots, Beets or Parsnips with a 12” to 18″ layer of straw or leaves. The shoulders of Beets and Carrots are susceptible to frost damage, so be sure to cover them up before a heavy frost. Lift back the mulch and harvest as needed. If you see that voles have discovered your stash, dig up the root vegetables and store them in the refrigerator.

Rutabagas and Celeriac
Rutabagas and Celeriac can be prepped just like Beets and Carrots. Remove most of the foliage, making sure to not cut off the root hairs. Both will keep for months in a refrigerator, although their size may make this option impractical. The damp sand technique described above works perfectly. For short-term storage, Rutabagas and Celeriac will keep on a shelf in a cool basement.

Need any inspiration for root vegetable enjoyment? One of our favorite Sunday afternoon get-ready-for-the-week activities is to have a big veggie roast. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut into similar size pieces a whole slew of washed and dried veggies of your choosing: Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts (with any tough outer layers removed), Butternut Squash, Fennel, Rutabagas and Red Onions. In your biggest mixing bowl, gently commingle all of the cut vegetables, drizzle good olive oil all around and sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt. After another gentle mixing, we lay them out in not-overcrowded single layers in big roasting pans. (If they are overcrowded, they will steam instead of roast.) Roast for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F. Take them out and turn as many of them over as possible. Roast for another 15 minutes. (Each time you open the oven door, stand back, because there will be a huge billow of steam escaping.) We enjoy them freshly roasted on Sunday night, then we quickly reheat them for week night dinners. (You can add some lightly oiled, salt and peppered seedless black grapes in the last ten minutes too.) So good.