- Here’s a quick way to store your beet harvest for winter
- How to store beets quickly for winter
- How to Store Root Crops for Winter
- The Ideal Climate for Roots
- Basements and Boxes
- Non-Basement Options
- Preparing Roots for Storage
- Make Your Root Vegetables Last All Winter
- Harvesting and Storing Beets
- How to Store Beets So They Stay Firm
- STORAGE CROPS • Post-Harvest Handling & Storage Guidelines
Here’s a quick way to store your beet harvest for winter
No matter how much you love beets (there’s a phrase I would never have written 15 years ago…) if you’ve grown a bumper crop this fall, you might find yourself wondering, “What am I going to do with all of these?”
You might start thinking that you have to spend an afternoon in your kitchen canning a big batch of pickled beets. Or you may wonder which of your neighbors is secretly a beet lover and would be delighted to receive a surprise bag of beets on their front steps this weekend.
But, what if I told you there’s really no such thing as too many beets? Would you believe me?
This is only true if you know how to store beets easily and quickly for use in savory recipes all winter long. I’ve harvested beets from my garden in late fall and was still using them fresh the next April and May. That’s over 6 months of storage!
Let me share my method with you, so you’ll never have to say, “I grew too many beets.” again.
How to store beets quickly for winter
If you’ve grown a great crop of fall beets, the first thing to know is that beets are extremely cold hardy. They can survive in the garden down into the mid-20’s F and lower. (Here’s how to grow fall beets next year if you missed the chance this season.)
So, it makes sense to take advantage of the natural refrigeration of the fall and early winter weather and keep them outside in your garden as long as possible.
They’ll turn to mush if you let the ground freeze around them, so make sure you harvest the entire bed before that happens. Here in Madison, WI (zone 5a), I generally clear out my bed of beets sometime in November or early December at the latest.
When you’re ready for this step, here’s what to do:
Step 1: Harvest all of your beets. Brush off any excess soil back into the garden bed. I like to harvest all of mine into a crate for easy transport.
Step 2: Grab a pair of garden scissors and some plastic bags. You can use plastic handled bags, produce bags, or any other plastic bag you have around.
Step 3: Remove the greens from the beets by cutting them with the scissors pretty close to the top of the beet root.
(Optional): If your beets are wet and muddy, maybe because it’s rained recently, or you have heavy soil, you may want to lay them out to dry before putting them into storage.
Spread newspaper or a tarp in a location out of the elements and freezing weather, a heated garage or your basement. Lay the beets out in a single layer overnight to dry and then continue with the remaining steps. Don’t leave them out too long or they’ll become limp!
Step 5: Transfer the beets into the plastic bags with the soil on. This is an important step! Do not wash your beets before storage. Many vegetables have a waxy layer that protects them, and if you scrub this off by with washing you’ll compromise their storage life.
Step 5: Poke a few small holes in the bags to let moisture and humidity escape. I’ve found this keeps the beets drier in storage so they last longer.
Step 6: Clear some space in a back corner of your fridge and transfer the bags of beets there. I usually store my beet harvest in the back part of the lowest shelf so they’re out of the way.
Step 7: When you need beets for a recipe, take a portion from the bag, scrub them off in a bowl of water, and use them. Easy peasy!
Step 8: Check the beets periodically to make sure none of them are rotting and infecting the rest of the bag. (You know what they say about one bad beet…?!)
I’ve had beets store with this method until the April and May of the following year. So long that by the time I got to the end of the bag of beets I was sick of them. (This must be why I never grow spring beets…)
You can also use this exact same process for storing your fall carrot harvest and they’ll last just as long.
Fresh, organic, local food can be difficult to find, and expensive to buy, in the winter. Growing your own crop of fall beets, and learning how to store beets easily yourself, gives you quick access to your own produce without having to make a special trip to the grocery store for ingredients.
And if you also store onions, garlic, potatoes, and carrots fresh in your house you have the makings of an amazing winter meal right from your own pantry.
Want more quick and easy ideas for preserving food?
I’ll teach you how to use your basement, fridge, and freezer to eat from your garden all 12 months of the year. Check it out here.
More reading on fall gardening:
How to delight in more food this fall by beating the first frosts
Tips for tidying up the vegetable garden for winter
8 Easy Vegetables to Grow for Big Fall Harvests
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How to Store Root Crops for Winter
Canning, drying and freezing works for many vegetables, but root crops are best preserved ‘as-is’ in a cool, humid place. Now that root cellars are largely a thing of the past, a bit of improvisation may be in order.
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. Root vegetables aren’t very tasty once frozen and they start to sprout (and rot) when temperatures rise above 40 degrees or so. Low humidity causes them to dry out and shrivel up.
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. The ideal temperature can be maintained by opening and closing the window – if it’s too warm, let some cold air in from outside. Humidity is controlled by leaving a pan of water on the floor to slowly evaporate. The roots can be spread out on wooden shelves, making it easy to go in and grab them when needed. 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. The sides, top, and bottom of the container should be lined with an insulating material (the thicker, the better) with the roots placed in the middle. Peat moss is ideal because it self-regulates the humidity level in the container – it will absorb moisture given off by the produce when it gets too dank and gives the moisture back if the roots become too dry. For best results, moisten the peat moss slightly and spread a layer of it between each layer of roots. If coolers, plastic totes, or other air tight containers are used, leave the lid open and cover the top with peat moss so the roots can breathe – otherwise, they are more likely to rot.
Take roots from the container as you need them throughout the fall and winter (and even into the following spring, if they last). Whenever you remove some for cooking, check to see if any are rotting and remove those, too.
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. Ultimately, this is a function of climate, so finding the right place to store your roots may be a matter of experimentation – buy a few thermometers and leave them in potential storage areas to see which has the least temperature fluctuation.
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. In climates where the ground freezes in winter, the pit needs to be deep enough for the roots to be below the freeze line, which can be two feet or more below the surface in the coldest climates (ask your neighbors if you don’t know the typical depth of frozen soil in your area). Use rigid plastic bins or other rodent proof containers to store the roots inside the pit. Cover the top with a wire mesh to exclude rodents from above, fill the remainder of the pit with peat moss, and cover the hole with a piece of plywood.
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. (Though rodents may show up to eat the roots before you do.) To prevent damage from the occasional frost, cover the roots with a six-inch layer of straw. They will rot if they’re surrounded by heavy wet soil, but this technique works in well-drained raised beds in California and the Deep South. You can cover the beds with plastic to shield them from winter rains.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Choose bright red, young beets that are tender, but not soft. Then, sort them by size — make one pile for small beets and one for medium. Each size requires a different cooking time. Tip: If you buy your beets, rather than growing them yourself, save time by choosing beets that are all about the same size. This will allow you to cook them all at once.
- Cut off the leaves a half inch from the top of each beet, and set them aside (they’re edible, so don’t throw them away). Do not cut off the roots just yet — leaving a bit of the top and the roots in place will prevent the beets from bleeding when you cook them.
- Give the beets a thorough scrub to remove any dirt.
- Then, fill a pot with water; add the beets, and bring the pot to a boil. Cook small beets for 25 to 30 minutes; cook large beets for 45 to 50 minutes. Your beets are done when you can easily pierce them with a fork.
- Transfer your cooked beets to an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process. Allow them to sit there for a few minutes, so they have a chance to cool down.
- When your beets are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins (they should slide right off). Then, cut off the rest of the tops and the roots.
- Slice or chop the beets up; then, spread them out on a cookie sheet, and flash freeze them. This will prevent the beets from freezing together in clumps.
- Once your beets are fully frozen, package them in freezer bags; and return them to the freezer. They’ll keep indefinitely, but are best when used within a year. Since beets have a high water content, you may want to consider vacuum sealing them. This will help to prevent freezer burn. If you don’t have a vacuum sealer, just do your best to remove all the excess air from your freezer bag, and seal them tight.
Last updated on February 9th, 2015
After seasons of gardening failure, this year I suddenly have a spectacular crop of squashes appearing daily. Any ideas on how to store these beauties for use during the long, cold winter?
What, you mean you don’t squash-bomb people like my neighbor Jim does? (Kidding, Jim. I love coming home to random piles of produce on my doorstep!)
Apart from canning, fermenting, and other preservation methods that change the taste and texture of the garden’s bounty, our homesteading ancestors also came up with a few options for storing squash, carrots, potatoes, and more in their original state. Until the first hard freeze comes through in your region, root vegetables like leeks and sunchokes can be left in the ground (sometimes even throughout the winter if they’re in raised beds and covered in mulch) but if you want to actually use the vegetables when another storm dumps two feet of snow on your garden, you’ll have to bring the crops indoors.
The absolute easiest way to make a “root cellar” space for your vegetables without building a new space or digging into the ground is to find the coldest space in your house—it doesn’t have to be a basement nook, but if it is, make sure it’s far away from the furnace room. Think about an unfinished attic, an unheated garage, a mudroom, or unused sun porch.
Cool temperatures and high moisture levels are the best friends a vegetable can have for maintaining freshness over the winter. Squash, peppers, eggplants, and potatoes are the easiest to store indoors, staying happy around 50˚, while most other cellarable produce needs a colder environment: between 32-40˚. (The University of Missouri has an excellent storage temperature reference chart.) Leave a thermometer in the space in question to get an accurate reading before setting it up, lest you end up with rotting radishes and putrefying parsnips.
Once you’ve found a suitable corner, fill a plastic bin—any old storage bin from Target or the local home improvement warehouse—or old wine crates with playground sand or sawdust (again found at the home improvement store) and bury the root vegetables. Cover the sand with a layer of hay or more sawdust for insulation. Those lucky people with two refrigerators can convert an unused crisper drawer into an in-fridge cellar for cauliflower, pears, Brussels sprouts, and other vegetables that crave the cold.
Note, though, that while you might be able to keep your beets in great shape for months, the leafy tops of the veg in question probably won’t make it intact. So trim the greens and sauté them up while they’re still fresh, then plunk the cut but unwashed vegetable into its winter home.
For those of you who do want to take things a step further and create a true cellar for your vegetable storage, here are a few resources:
- The book Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel is pretty much the Bible of root cellar construction and maintenance, referenced by nearly every other resource (and now also here!).
- Or The Complete Root Cellar Book has more building plans, along with recipes for the lovely produce you’re storing in your super-cool new cellar.
- Feeling so confident that you actually want to grow produce indoors over the winter? Hie thee hence to WinterSown.org, a community whose members are much more successful at this technique than I’ve ever been.
Have any GFS readers built their own root cellar? How’s it working out for you?
Ask Casey is proof positive that there are no stupid questions—just stupid quips that Casey thinks are funny while she’s figuring out your food-related quandaries. Ask me anything! Email me and I’ll answer it here.
Make Your Root Vegetables Last All Winter
Did you have a good garden this year? Many of our readers have reported they’re growing bumper crops of carrots, turnips, potatoes, and other root veggies. But using them up is always a challenge. You don’t want them to go to waste so what can you do? Many root vegetables, like carrots, can be kept right in the garden over the winter when covered with a thick layer of mulch. But it’s not very convenient. The method of storing root vegetables in sand indoors not only provides an efficient way for you to reduce waste, but also helps you conserve energy, save money, and put delicious, quality produce on the table for months to come—no root cellar needed!
Which Fresh Root Vegetables and Fruits Store Well in Sand?
Vegetables that store exceptionally well in sand are turnips, beets, rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, salsify, ginger, onions, and winter radishes. Firm fleshed fruits such as apples and pears also keep well in sand.
The Basics of Storing Root Vegetables in Sand
- Temperature. Root crops require cold and moisture when stored in sand. They are best stored at a temperature of 32 to 40° F. with 90 to 95 percent relative humidity. High humidity helps keep carrots and other vegetables from shriveling. Apples and pears require the same cold temperatures with a relative humidity of 80-90 percent.
- Container. Use cardboard or wood boxes placed off the ground on pallets. The crisper drawer in the refrigerator also easily transforms into a mini root cellar. Plastic storage bins also work.
- Location, location: In the book, Root Cellaring, authors Mike and Nancy Bubel advise, “All you need …is a 3.5′ x 7′ space. It will hold 28 half-bushels of produce.” The room you store your veggies in will need to be unheated, enclosed, and well insulated. If you have a basement, a corner or a closet can easily be converted into a root cellar. If you don’t have a basement, you can use an interior corner of an unheated garage or storage shed during the cooler months, as long as the temperature does not drop below freezing.
- Type of sand. Once you’ve decided on a suitable location to store your root vegetables, you’ll need “play” sand to pack the harvested vegetables. Play sand is a fine-grade sand that has been washed, dried, and screened. This type of sand is used in children’s sandboxes and landscaping projects. It is usually sold in 50 lbs. bags at your local garden and home improvement stores. Play sand is typically damp—not soggy. If it isn’t, you can add some sand to a bucket and moisten with a spray bottle of distilled water and toss sand with your hands to evenly distribute moisture, before packing root vegetables. The sand locks in freshness and deters rot by keeping excess moisture away from the vegetables.
Procedure for Sand Storage
- Remove the leafy tops of vegetables before storing them, but don’t clean or wash the root vegetables prior to storage. Let them sit in the air for a couple of days prior to storage to let the skins “cure.”
- Select the best of the crop—mature, but not overripe, unbruised, and unblemished produce.
- Pour a layer of sand, several inches deep, into your storage container. Work your fruit or vegetables into the sand, adding more sand and vegetables in layers, making sure the sand covers the vegetables being stored, and allow for space between the vegetables.
- Store carrots and parsnips as they grow, vertically in the sand, ensuring they do not touch each other.
- Don’t store apples and root vegetables together. Apples release ethylene gas that would speed the ripening and process and can cause your root vegetables to rot.
- If your storage room is dry, check the sand periodically. Add moisture when needed to keep the sand from drying out. An easy way to do this is to spray the sand with distilled water, as needed.
- Check stored food every week or so, culling those veggies showing signs of deterioration.
- Generally, root crops should stay fresh in sand for two to five months.
- Remember, the vegetables are stored to eat through the winter months, So, eat them before signs of spoilage appear.
- When you’re ready to eat your vegetables, remove the desired quantity, dust the sand off, and clean thoroughly before preparing.
Be sure to check our Gardening by the Moon calendar for the best days to plant and harvest!
Carrots can be grown quite densely compared to a lot of other crops. They’re not only good for fresh eating, but they store particularly well for use in the fall and winter — and beyond in some cases. With a little guidance the home gardener can easily learn how to store carrots in the ground, in cold storage, in the refrigerator, and in the freezer. Carrots can even be canned, pickled, and dried for really long term storage.
Of primary importance is preserving moisture in the root, and preventing its loss. For cold storage (in the ground, root cellar, fridge, or freezer), thick cored carrots are the better choice. That’s as opposed to baby carrots or coreless types.
One of the tastiest carrots for fall harvest is Napoli Organic F1, which become naturally sweeter after the first frost. If you garden in a region with mild winters, or where deep snow is not typical, Napoli can be left in the ground for harvesting as needed into the winter. Yellowstone Organic is another that works well for fall harvest and makes one of the nicest roasted winter vegetables. Plus it’s open pollinated. Bolero F1 is another good fall and winter harvest variety, but it is even better for long term storage in the cellar or refrigerator.
Storing Carrots in the Refrigerator
Remember that the key is to minimize moisture loss while keeping the roots cool and dry. Remove the tops (leaves and stems) right away upon harvest — or as soon as you get them home from the market. The leaves act to draw moisture into their tissues, so get rid of them. It is also recommended, if possible, to not clean freshly harvested carrots. Rather, let the skins of the carrots dry and firm up slightly in an airy location. Seal the roots in zip top bags and store in the vegetable crisper, or higher up, where cold air is circulated. Wash them (and peel, if you like) just before use. Using this method will keep almost any carrot variety fresh and crisp, with minimal nutrient loss, for 10 days or longer.
For longer storage, choose Bolero F1. Repeat the stages above by removing the greens and allowing the roots to air dry completely. Washing is not required, and might add unnecessary moisture to the scene. Line a vegetable crisper with several layers of paper towel (kitchen paper) and place the carrots on top. Check the paper once or twice a week for any moisture build-up. It can be replaced or allowed to dry and then recycled back under the carrots. Again, wash the carrots just before using them. Kept cool and dry like this, carrots should stay fresh for three months or longer.
Storing Carrots in the Freezer
Most vegetables contain enzymes that act to deteriorate the colour, texture, and nutrient value starting fairly soon after harvest. These enzymes are slowed by refrigeration, but they can also be killed outright by blanching. This process exposes the vegetables to high temperatures, usually in steam or boiling water, for a short time before cooling and prepping for the freezer.
To freeze baby or whole small carrots, or larger carrots cut into similar sized chunks, immerse them in boiling water. Aim for approximately one gallon of boiling water per pound of prepared carrots. Once the water returns to the boil, wait five minutes, and then remove the pieces with a strainer or slotted spoon and move them to a bath of ice water to bring down their temperature quickly. This will stop the cooking process, and improve their texture. Give them a stir in the cold water bath.
For diced carrots, or matchstick slices, only two minutes of blanching time is needed, but otherwise repeat as above.
When completely cooled, drain them and allow them to dry more thoroughly on clean kitchen towels. Once dried, they can be either tray-packed or dry-packed. Tray-packing works better for larger chunks and whole carrots, while dry-packing works better for diced or sliced carrots. To tray-pack, lay the blanched, dried pieces out on a clean baking sheet and place in the freezer until the pieces are well frozen. Then move them into a tightly sealed zip top freezer storage bag, and remove as much air as possible before returning to the freezer. To dry-pack, simply skip the tray step, again removing as much air as possible before sealing. It’s good practice to write the date and contents on your freezer bags.
Following the steps of careful preparation, blanching at the precise timing, and preparing for the freezer, carrots should remain in good shape for eight to twelve months.
Storing Carrots in a Root Cellar
Lots of root crops, along with many other fruits and vegetables, will store well for months in root cellar (or cold cellar) environment. Cellaring, as it is known, is an age-old technology for keeping the harvest fresh and edible through the winter. The cellar provides the perfect combination of high humidity and low temperature for crops to last almost in a state of suspended animation, with very little spoilage.
Few homes these days are designed with root cellars, but if the conditions can be approximated in a garage or shed, or in a covered hole in the back yard, it makes the perfect no-energy cold storage. For carrots (along with beets, parsnips, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and turnips), aim for a relative humidity range of 90% to 95%, and a temperature range of 0.5 – 4.5°C (33 – 40 °F).
Storing Carrots in Sand
If that temperature range can be maintained more or less steadily in a garage or other protected area, it’s worth trying to keep carrots (as well as beets and other root crops) layered in boxes full of sand. Place two inches of sand at the floor of a wooden crate or box, and lay carrots in a single level, not too crowded, and then add another one inch of sand. Repeat this process until the box is full or all the carrots are tucked away. A little water added to the top of the sand will maintain moisture in the sand without adding humidity to the surrounding area.
Important: When prepping vegetables for root cellar or sand layer storage, keep them in nearly the condition they were in at harvest time. Trim off the leaves, but keep all other roots and soil intact, minus any really big clumps of soil. A coating of soil acts as a barrier to the elements, and will help preserve the crop in storage.
Harvesting and Storing Beets
When to Harvest
Harvesting the Roots: Beets can be harvested at any time in their growth cycle. Greens are best when four to six inches tall. Beet roots are generally most tender after growing for 40 to 50 days. The best size is between 1-1/4 to 2 inches in diameter. As beets get larger, they tend to become more fibrous. When harvested, leave at least one inch of foliage on the root to avoid bleeding during cooking.
We mentioned earlier in the planting section that if you plan well, you could have tiny beet greens quite early in the season if you use those plants that were thinned or removed to give the main crop room to grow. These thinnings are particularly good additions to soups or stir-fries.
Beets taste best when picked soon after maturity. Most gardeners leave them in the ground too long before picking. The flavor of beets fluctuates when the plant is in the heat of summer. Beets taste best when picked in late spring and again in late fall.
Beets can withstand frost and mild freezing but should be harvested before a hard freeze occurs.
If you are harvesting for the roots they don’t have to grow to any particular size to be ready to eat. However, they are best small: picked when 1 1/2 to 2 inches in size though some varieties can grow twice that size with little loss of flavor or texture. The texture of the larger beets can become fibrous or woody unless plants are supplied with adequate water during hot weather. You don’t have to pick all your beets exactly as they reach harvest size, but the sooner the better. You can pick them for up to 4 to 6 weeks before they become too woody. For the sweetest taste and most tender texture plant a fall crop and plan to harvest the roots after the weather turns cool.
Harvesting the Greens: As the beetroots mature, you can harvest some of the leaves to be used as greens. You must be careful to avoid overdoing a good thing. Excessive removal of the leaves for greens will inhibit enlarging of the root. Harvest greens lightly until beet is ready for harvest at 1-3″ in diameter. Young, tender tops are the best quality, but tips of leaves can be used until they get large and strong flavored. Young plants can be cooked with the root and top together, or use the root alone when it is golf ball size or larger.
Beet Greens: Beet greens can be wrapped in plastic and stored for several days in the refrigerator.
Storing Beet roots: Dig the root when the soil is dry so less soil will cling to the roots. They may be washed but should be allowed to dry before being stored. Cut off the tops two inches above the root, and refrigerate beets in plastic bags. They will keep for one to two weeks.
Best Long Term Storage Method: Beets can be stored in damp sand in a cool (32°F to 40°F), humid (95 percent) place such as a root cellar for two to five months. To store roots, first remove beet tops, leaving about a half-inch of stem and don’t cut root end to prevent bleeding. If the leaves are not removed, water will travel to them from the roots, and the beets will shrivel. You can store beets through most of the winter by snipping off the greens and laying them in layers of damp sand, sawdust, or peat moss in a plastic container with a tight lid like a garbage can. The tight lid is important to keep the moisture in the sand. Keep the beets and layering in a cool place such as an unheated attic or in an insulated but unheated garage. They will last for two to three months in this condition.
Frozen beets are only fair in quality but will keep for about 8 months. Canned beets will keep for more than 12 months. Beets can be pickled as well.
How to Store Beets So They Stay Firm
You can roast beets and put them in a beet hummus, fry them into beet latkes, or leave them raw and add beets to no-bake granola bars. The trick to making these recipes work, though, is storing fresh beets properly so that they don’t get mushy. And the good news for people who are convinced they can’t keep veggies fresh for longer than a day or two is that beets are really hardy vegetables. In fact, beets can have a shelf-life of up to three months, according to H.C. Harrison, professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
But beets will only last that long if you know how to store beets correctly. (Having access to a root cellar helps. If you don’t have one of those, don’t worry. You can still learn how to keep beets feeling firm for a long time—though they probably won’t stay fresh for months.
The first step in preventing beet roots from getting soft is separating the beet greens from the actual bulbous root. You don’t have to throw out the greens, though. Beet greens are totally edible; according to Harold McGee, in his book On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, these greens are actually related to chard and spinach. So sautée them with some oregano and feta cheese, and serve them alongside eggs. The greens can also be a good indicator of a beetroot’s freshness: If you buy a bunch of beets and the greens are already wilted, chances are good the beets are not that fresh.
The beet greens also last only a couple of days, so if you keep them attached to the beetroots, there’s a higher chance the beets will spoil more quickly. Once you’ve chopped off the leaves from the roots, all you have to do to store beets properly is pop them in a plastic bag, seal it up, and put it in your fridge’s crisper drawer. According to our friends at Real Simple, those beets should last between two to three weeks. Remember that washing them before putting them in the bag will only speed up the rotting process, so leave these unwashed until you’re ready to use them.
STORAGE CROPS • Post-Harvest Handling & Storage Guidelines
Because most people think of root crops and tubers first when they think of storage crops, we provide information for them first, then alliums, brassicas, and curcurbits, including a few examples of our recommended favorites and top-performing varieties.
BEETS & CARROTS • Tips for Post-Harvest Handling
- It is ideal to harvest in dry conditions, when the soil will easily slough off of the roots.
- For beets and carrots, it is also important to trim the tops off close to the root — leave about ¼” of tops material there. Leaving any more than this will invite decay, but not leaving anything will hasten the drying out of the root.
- Some say to wash these root crops before storage. We do not agree, for two reasons: 1) getting them wet can encourage decay; and 2) washing them will remove much of the beneficial bacteria that occupy the thin film of soil on the roots. These bacteria actually help fight decay.
- Instead, we recommend gently removing soil clods from the roots, being careful not to use anything abrasive that may scratch the root surface.
- Wash them as you remove them from storage for eating throughout the winter.
BEETS — Cold & Moist
- Harvest before the first hard freeze, at about 1¼–3″ in diameter.
- Trim tops (stems and leaves) to ¼” in length.
- The taproot should be cut off with a sharp knife prior to storage.
- To store, pack in perforated plastic bags or in sealed containers filled with damp sand.
- Beets of all varieties will keep for 3–5 months when stored at 32°F/0°C and 90–100% humidity.
CARROTS — Cold & Moist
‘Bolero’ is a late-season favorite: perfect for late fall and winter harvest, maintaining good flavor, sweetness, and crunch with long-term storage.
- Harvest carrots for storage before the first hard freeze.
- Trim tops to ¼” length. To store, place in perforated bags, or pack in damp sand in sealed containers.
- Carrots are sensitive to ethylene gas emitted by certain fruits (such as apples), so be sure to keep them separate.
- Store at 32°F/0°C and 90–100% humidity.
Tip: ‘Bolero’ is the best variety for harvesting in late fall, and will hold for up to 6 months under the above-noted conditions.
CELERIAC (CELERY ROOT) — Cold & Moist
‘Brilliant’ celeriac: pure celery flavor with excellent storage potential.
- Harvest celeriac prior to the first hard freeze.
- Trim tops to ¼” in length.
- Store harvested celeriac with soil and roots intact.
- Can be placed in perforated bags or packed in damp sand in a sealed container for storage.
- Clean before selling.
Tip: ‘Brilliant’ is an excellent celery root choice for storing, with large, round, solid roots that will hold nearly as long as a carrot under the same conditions.
KOHLRABI — Cold & Moist
Big and round and beautiful, ‘Kossak’ kohlrabi can be stored for up to 4 months.
- Harvest storage kohlrabi while the tap root is still round, before it begins to elongate.
- Remove leaf stems and tops prior to storing.
- Can be placed in peforated bags for storage.
- Store at 32°F/0°C and 90–100% humidity.
Tip: ‘Kossak’ is a variety that maintains its dense white flesh — still sweet, delicious, and tender — with storage for 2–4 months.
PARSNIPS — Cold & Moist
‘Albion’ is a parsnip variety well suited to fall harvesting.
- Mow tops then broadfork or undermine, or use root crop harvester.
- Parsnips require a full season of growth, and their sweet flavor is brought on by cold weather. Harvest in the fall or leave in the ground through the winter.
- When harvesting in early spring, dig before the tops begin to re-grow for the highest quality roots.
- Storage conditions are the same as carrots — hold unwashed (or washed) in perforated bags or bins at 32°F/0°C and 95% relative humidity — but they should be handled with more care as they bruise more easily.
POTATOES — Cold & Moist
‘Elba’ organic potato has excellent storage potential.
- Plants are mature when foliage naturally dies back. Late-maturing varieties may need to be flail-mowed to encourage maturity prior to frost.
- Tubers should remain in the ground for at least 2 weeks after foliage has died back to allow for skin set. Do not allow tubers to freeze, as they will become watery and unusable.
- Dig tubers and allow skins to air dry for a day if rainy weather is not expected.
- Do not wash tubers or put wet tubers directly into storage.
- Place in mesh bags, crates, or vented boxes.
- Store in a dark cooler at 40°F/4.4°C and 95% relative humidity.
- Healthy tubers can store for 5 months or more under the proper conditions.
RUTABAGA — Cold & Moist
- Harvest rutabaga when roots reach the desired size, preferably after a couple of good frosts.
- Remove tops.
- Store at 32°F/0°C and 90–100% humidity.
- Clean roots may be waxed prior to delivery at market to prevent drying, but this step is not necessary.
Tip: ‘Helenor’ and ‘Laurentian’ will keep for 4–6 months under the conditions noted above.
SWEET POTATOES — Cool & Moderately Moist
‘Mahon Yam™’ — cured properly, this organic sweet potato has excellent storage potential.
- Sweet potatoes can be dug when they reach the desired size, but always harvest prior to frost, as plants and roots will be damaged.
- Clip vines at soil surface and dig tubers with fork.
- Handle tubers very carefully to avoid damaging skin; do not wash.
- Cure tubers in a warm (85°F/29°C) dark place with good ventilation and 85% relative humidity for 5–7 days.
- Place tubers in crates or vented boxes and store in dark at 60°F/16°C and 85% relative humidity. Do not allow the storage temperature to drop below 50°F/10°C, as this will chill and injure the tubers.
- Once cured, store the tubers for 3–4 weeks before selling and/or consuming for better sugar content and eating quality.
- Properly handled tubers can be stored for 7 months or more.
TURNIP — Cold & Moist
‘Purple Top White Globe’ turnip can be held for up to 4–5 months under cold, moist conditions.
- Harvest turnips when the roots have reached the desired size.
- A light frost can enhance flavor.
- May be waxed, but this is not necessary.
- Store at 32°F/0°C and 90–100% humidity.
Tip: ‘Purple Top White Globe’ can be kept up to 4–5 months under the above conditions.