As gardeners, the goal of growing our own food is to achieve good nutrition by providing enough healthy food to put on the table for the family throughout the year. Most crops are preserved by some sort of food preservation method: canning, dehydrating, freezing, etc. However, if you know how to store root vegetables properly, you can cut out a lot of extra work for yourself!
Benefits of Storing Root Vegetables
The benefits for storing root vegetables is obvious–it is a way to preserve what we have worked so hard to grow in our gardens. If you don’t grow your own root veggies, you can still use these methods while you partake in your grocery store’s best sales on your family’s favorites. All you need to know are the correct temperatures and conditions to store each type of vegetable. Mind you, though–store bought vegetables probably won’t store as long as your own home-grown root veggies.
Which Root Vegetables Can Be Stored?
Carrots, garlic, onions, potatoes, and sweet potatoes are our family favorites, but your family may want to store something different. Beets, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, sweet potatoes, turnips, onions, garlic, parsnips, and all manner of winter squash in peak condition can store nicely over the winter without a refrigerator if you understand the conditions they need to remain fresh.
A Few Guidelines
Here are some guidelines to follow when preparing your vegetables to store:
- Handle them carefully so as not to bruise them. Bruised vegetables will rot faster, and will cause the other vegetables around them to rot as well, if they are touching.
- Choose an area free of strong-smelling substances and hazardous chemicals. This can be an issue if you are planning to store your food in a garage or garden shed.
- Plan to check your produce regularly in order to remove spoiling pieces from the bag, basket, or box it is stored in.
- Choose a location that is cool, but frost free. Vegetables that have been frozen and thawed in storage will spoil all of your lovely food.
How to Store Root Vegetables without a Root Cellar
Most root vegetables can be stored for a long period of time under optimal conditions, which makes it worth the time to find out what environment your family favorites will need to be stored. Here is a list with some basic information that will help you understand the needs of each root vegetable and make putting together a storage plan much easier for you.
Beets, Carrots, Turnips, and Parsnips
These can be stored in sand that is only just moist, not too wet, in a frost free place. Layer the sand and the roots (unwashed, but brushed off) in containers such as barrels, crates, and deep seed trays. Make sure the roots do not touch each other. These vegetables prefer temperatures between 32-40 degrees F, with 90-95% humidity.
I usually store my carrots in my crisper draw, which works quite well for about a month for store-bought carrots. In her book, The Weekend Homesteader, Anna Hess recommends covering the roots with a damp towel to keep them from drying out.
Potatoes can be stored for long periods of time in a cool, dark place where there is low humidity to deter fungal growth. They can be housed in a cardboard box, cotton sacks or in paper. You will want to choose location to be one that will see the least amount of fluctuation in temperature. This is because your tubers may sprout roots and shoots in the event of warmer temperatures, and freeze solid in the event of very cold temperatures, thereby spoiling your potato storage.
I used to store my potatoes in a wooden box in my kitchen, and my store-bought potatoes usually lasted about a month to six weeks before they would start getting soft. Since we moved to our new place, I no longer use the potato box. Now I simply store my potatoes in a cupboard, which gives me pretty much the same result.
Onions, Garlic, and Squash
These three can be stored by hanging in a netting bag in a dry, cool, airy place that doesn’t freeze or get damp. If you don’t have any netting, you can strings yours and store them hanging up, but you will want to make sure they have dried adequately before doing so.
I have been storing my onions and garlic in baskets that hang from our kitchen ceiling. So far this has worked well for us. So far, my garlic has been just fine for the few months since I harvested and cured it.
You will want to store your winter cabbages in a place that is between 32-40 degrees with 80-90% humidity, or left in the ground and harvested through the winter. Remove outer leaves and store in straw or shredded paper in crates, or some other breathable box.
We don’t use much cabbage, so I simply use my refrigerator for cabbage storage. Cabbage from the store easily lasts a few weeks in the crisper drawer, so I would think it would last much longer freshly harvested from the garden.
Sweet potatoes prefer storage in a warm dry place between temperatures of 50-60% degrees F with 60-70% humidity.
I used to store my sweet potatoes for months in our preps room, but since I’ve learned that sweet potatoes store better at a higher temperature than our preps room will be in winter, I have started to store them on the top shelf of our kitchen cupboard in a basket.