Sometimes, the humblest foods are the best option for those who keep a traditional kitchen. Often, these foods are simple to grow and preserve. Like root vegetables. Over the past years, I’ve learned lots about storing root vegetables for winter eating. Putting food by doesn’t get any easier than preserving it raw, in whole form.
This method requires a cold room, near-freezing winters, storage bins, soil and carrots or beets or parsnips. Or other root vegetables. I’m going to give you the lowdown on how we keep ours for year-round eating.
You know it’s time to harvest when winter temperatures have set in: your days have that crisp bite and nights dip into or near the freezing point.
Carrots and parsnips can handle below-freezing temperatures. It actually draws out their starchy sweetness. However, vegetables that grow above ground (beets, turnips, etc) are more susceptible and need to be harvested just before or after a few light frosts.
And just for the record, potatoes are tubers, not root vegetables. You can read about preparing them for cold storage here.
Preparing and Choosing Vegetables
For proper cold storage, vegetables should be pulled (or dug) and their green tops removed. Trim them within an inch of the root itself. Like this. Otherwise, the greens may decay in storage and ruin the bunch.
It’s important to sort through your root vegetables and choose the biggest and best for winter keeping. Smaller ones will dry out quicker. In order to avoid wasting food, we set them aside for immediate use.
If you got shovel happy and cut through a vegetable or two, they should also be set aside. Anything that has been damaged by worms, bugs or critters shouldn’t be put in storage. They’ll decay faster.
Choosing Your Soil
In order to keep vegetables in cold storage, they need to be surrounded by moist earth. The soil should be neither too wet nor too dry. Either extreme leads to less than ideal storage life.
We find the perfect moisture levels by taking a shovel in hand and digging down, until we find what we’re looking for.
To test the soil, take a handful of dirt and gently squeeze it in your fist. Open up, and if the soil maintains it’s shape, you’re golden!
If it crumbles and falls apart, it’s not moist enough. Go deeper! Also, make certain the earth you choose is free of decomposing materials. Just saying!
Between the Layers of Soil
It’s nothing special or fancy, but we store our root vegetables in rubbermaid totes. Though I sometimes wish for something more aesthetically pleasing, they get the job done. And that’s what we’re going for!
Regardless of the type of holding container, we put down about 1 inch of slightly moist soil. One after the other, vegetables are laid across the top, with space between each. We’re going for long term storage, folks! Leaving space between each limits possible decay to that particular vegetable.
Once you’ve put down one layer of roots, gently shovel soil over them until covered by 1 inch. Add another layer of roots. Followed by another layer of soil. And so on and so forth. Always top the last layer of vegetables with about 6 inches of soil to help contain moisture.
When dealing with tapering roots (carrot, parsnips, etc), we’ll store 4 layers per bin. Round, softball size roots require more space and more soil to cover. We limit ourselves to 3 layers per container.
Remember you still have to move the bins into your cold storage! Make certain you can manage them…without putting your back out.
Don’t feel bad about “wasted” container space. It’ll come handy when digging through the soil in search of vegetables. Fill your bins too full and that dirt will appear on the floor. And throughout the rest of your house. Please! Don’t ask me how I know.
Storing Root Vegetables for Winter
Once the job is complete, take your filled containers to the cold room or root cellar. We put our bins directly under the cold intake (a sliding window), as our winters primarily sit around freezing or just below. Vegetables are dug out and used at our leisure. They normally keep into May and sometimes, even into June!
What I Love the Most About My Winter Veggies
This method of preserving is faster than canning or dehydrating and doesn’t require energy to put up or maintain. Plus, naturally raised food supports our health, keeps the grocery bill down and who doesn’t love the sweet crunch of juicy carrot in the dead of winter? Or raw, brilliant beets on a spinach salad? Oven roasted parsnips with honey and spices?
That, my friend, is why we began storing root vegetables for winter keeping! Once you begin, I’d be willing to wager you won’t turn back either!