How to Harvest and Store Root Crops

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How To Harvest & Store Root Crops

 

How to Harvest and Store Root Crops

Knowing how to harvest and store root crops properly can save money and increase your self reliance over the winter. Root crops are vegetables that store energy in their roots (or a modified stem, as in kohlrabi) for the winter. In spring the plant uses its stored energy to produce the next generation. Gardeners have raised root vegetables as a winter food source since early in agricultural history.

 

For the longest storage and best vegetable quality you’ll want to keep your root crops at the ideal temperature and humidity for each crop. So let’s take a look at the basics for digging and storing those tasty roots.

This post contains affiliate links.

 

digging potatoes

The Basics

Most root vegetables should be dug (rather than pulled) to harvest them in one piece. Place your shovel or garden fork out away from the row a bit and dig under the vegetables to prevent damage. Lift up to loosen the soil and expose the roots.

Remove any vegetables with cuts and scrapes to use quickly instead of storing for later. They are more likely to rot and this can spread to the sound veggies next to them.

Brush the soil off the roots and allow them to dry out a little before storing them. Some vegetables require a curing stage to toughen their skin.

Many root crops keep best with cold, moist conditions, but there are exceptions.

It is best to store fruits, such as apples, pears, and pumpkins, in a separate area from your roots. Fruits release ethylene gas in storage and this causes vegetables to rot more quickly.

 

basket of onions

Best Storage Conditions For Root Crops

A root cellar is a great place to store your extra veggies for the winter. If the frost line in your area tends to be shallow, you may be able to cover rows of root crops with a deep layer of straw or leaves, then dig them over the winter. Clamping is another method that works well if your winters are not severe.

You may have a cold space in a 3 season porch, entryway, garage, barn, or unheated room in your home that will work well also. A digital hygrometer and thermometer that tracks the coldest and warmest temperatures and high and low humidity levels of the day comes in handy for keeping track of conditions in your storage space.


The following vegetables are some of the most common roots grown and stored for winter. Each chart lists the best harvesting, curing, and storage conditions for each crop, as well as the best varieties for storage.

 

beets

 

Beets

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest before first frost, or mulch heavily and harvest
before ground freezes.

Long Season Lutz Beets
(may be planted in spring)
Detroit Dark Red Beet
(Plant in summer)
Cut leaves off, leaving 1-2" of stem, do not cut roots off.

Pack beets in damp sand or sawdust.
32 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95% 2 - 5 months

 

 

carrots

Carrots

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest before ground freezes, or mulch and harvest before bitter cold sets in.

Chantenay Red Cored Carrot
Danvers Half Long Carrot
Cut leaves off, leaving small stubs of stem.

Pack carrots in damp sand or sawdust
32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%Up to 7 months

 

 

celeriac

 

Celariac

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest before ground freezes, or mulch heavily and harvest before bitter cold sets in.
Best when grown in late summer.

Prague Celeriac
Cut leaves back to 1", trim fine root hairs.

Pack in damp sand or sawdust.
32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%2 - 5 months

 

 

garlic

 

Garlic

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest garlic once leaves begin to yellow, but before tops fall over. Brush off soil and spread out in single layer to cure for 1 - 2 weeks in dry, airy spot.

Softneck Garlic
Trim roots off. Cut stems back to 1", unless braiding or hanging in small bunches.32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit50 - 60%
Softneck garlic -
up to 9 months

Hardneck garlic -
up to 6 months

 

Horseradish

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest horseradish after a light frost, but before ground freezes.
'Bohemian' is noted for disease resistance
Store large roots and replant smaller roots for next year. Trim leaves to 1 or 2".

Pack in damp sand or sawdust.
32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%3 - 5 months

 

 

kohlrabi

 

Kohlrabi

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest kohlrabi from summer planting (spring planted kohlrabi will be woody), before first frost.

'Grand Duke' (F1 hybrid)
Early White Vienna
Cut leaves and roots off.

Pack in damp sand or sawdust.
32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%2 - 4 months

 

 

leeks

 

Leeks

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Leeks may be harvested and stored in the root cellar or hilled up with soil and a thick layer of straw or leaves to dig over winter.

American Flag
Giant Musselburgh
Replant leeks in a container of damp sand and store in root cellar. 32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit90- 95%4 - 6 months

 

 

onions

 

Onions

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
When half of onion tops are bent over it is time to force the rest to dry out. Use a rake to knock down the rest of the onion tops. Allow to dry out for 1 week, then harvest.

Lay onions on a screen in the sun for several days to 1 week to cure.

White Ebenezer
Copra
Southport Red Globe
Cut tops off or use to braid onions.
Store in mesh bags or slatted crates.
32 - 50 degrees Fahrenheit60 - 70%4 - 6 months

 

 

parsnips

 

Parsnips

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest parsnips after several light frosts for sweetest flavor. Be sure to dig deep enough to harvest entire root.

Parsnips may be stored in root cellar or covered with a thick layer of straw or leaves and dig up as needed through the winter.

Harris Model
All American
Hollow Crown
Trim leaves.

Pack in damp sand or sawdust.

You may also dip in wax to retain moisture and keep longer.
32 - 35 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%4 - 6 months

 

 

potatoes

 

Potatoes

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest late season potatoes for storage after tops have died down and soil is fairly dry.
Store potatoes that are not damaged.
After digging, allow to dry for an hour, then brush off soil and begin curing process.

To cure potatoes, Spread out in dry, dark spot with temps around 60 - 75 degrees Fahrenheit and leave for 1 - 2 weeks. This will toughen the skin and heal small nicks.

Burbank Russet
Katahdin
Kennebec
Red La Soda
Yukon Gold
Place potatoes in shallow layers in slatted boxes or well ventilated containers. 36 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit90%4 - 6 months

 

 

Sunchoke

 

Sunchokes (Jerusalem Artichokes)

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Sunchokes store best when left in the ground, covered with 2 or 3" of soil and a thick layer of straw or leaves. However, they may be harvested after a frost, but before the ground freezes. They will keep for a month or two when stored properly in the root cellar.

Pack sunchokes in damp sand or sawdust.32 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%1 - 3 months

 

 

sweet potatoes

 

 

Sweet Potatoes

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest sweet potatoes after the first hard frost has killed the vines.
Dig carefully to avoid damaging skin. Allow to air dry for several hours then gently brush soil from tubers. Skin damages easily.


Cure sweet potatoes for 2 weeks in 85 - 90% humidity to toughen skins, convert some of the starch to sugar, and heal small nicks.
Use small and damaged sweet potatoes up, do not store.

Centennial
Japanese Purple
Wrap sweet potatoes in newspaper or layer in dry sawdust in a box, basket, or clean garbage can.

Keep dry in storage or they will rot quickly.

45 - 60 degrees Fahrenheit80 - 85% 4 - 6 months

 

 

black winter radish

 

Radish – Winter

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Winter radishes store well, but summer radishes do not. Harvest once temperatures cool down, but before a hard frost.

Black Spanish Round
China Rose
Chinese White
Trim leaves.

Pack in damp sand or sawdust.
32 - 35 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%3 - 5 months

 

 

rutabaga

 

Rutabaga

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Rutabagas are sweeter after cold sets in, but harvest before a heavy frost.

American Purple Top
Laurentian
Trim leaves off close to root.

Pack in damp sand or sawdust .

You may also dip in wax to retain moisture and keep longer.
32 - 35 degrees 90 - 95%2 - 3 months

 

 

 

Salsify (Vegetable Oyster)

 

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest salsify after a few light frosts for best flavor. Be careful to dig entire root.

Mammoth Sandwich Island
Trim leaves.

Pack in damp sand or sawdust.

Salsify dries out rather quickly.
32 - 35 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%1 - 2 months

 

 

turnips

 

Turnips

Harvest Instructions
& Best Varieties
How to PrepareIdeal TemperatureIdeal HumidityStorage Length
Harvest summer planted turnips (not spring crop) after a light frost, but before a hard freeze.

Purple Top White Globe
Vertus Marteau
White Egg
Trim leaves to 1"

Pack in damp sand or sawdust.
32- 35 degrees Fahrenheit90 - 95%2 - 4 months

 

What If My Storage Space Isn’t Ideal?

Although you’ll get the longest storage life out of your root crops with the listed conditions, you may be able to keep them in less than perfect temperatures and humidity. Check them often and use up the ones that are getting wrinkled or have bad spots. Some of these vegetables may be dehydrated, pickled, or canned to perserve them for a much longer period. If it seems that you will lose an entire box of beets, for example, why not make a batch of pickled beets or use a pressure canner to preserve them. Then concentrate on using up the rest of your garden goodies before they go bad!

 

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