We put so much work and thought into our gardens, and there's nothing like being rewarded with a bountiful harvest of potatoes, carrots, turnips, or radishes. Sometimes, the garden provides much more than we can eat today or even tomorrow. Some crops we grow specifically to store. It is heartbreaking to watch the fruits of our labor shrivel up in the crisper or get soggy and rotten before we can enjoy them.
Food always tastes best when it's freshly harvested, but knowing how to store your root veggies properly can help retain some of that tremendous garden-fresh flavor and prolong the amount of time it will keep. With that in mind, here are the best ways of storing some of the most popular root vegetables.
How to Store Root Vegetables
To store root vegetables properly, they keep the longest at 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 95% humidity. At temperatures above 40 F, they start to sprout and decompose, and when frozen, they begin to lose their flavor. In most all cases, do not wash root vegetables, water can lead to mildew and rotting. Also, keep them away from light, which encourages sprouting.
- Beets: Cut the tops off. Brush off any soil, but don't wash them. Store your beets in an open bowl or another container with a damp towel or paper towel set over the top. Don't refrigerate. They should keep 1 to 3 months.
- Carrots: Cut the tops off and brush off any soil. Store them in a cool place (the refrigerator crisper drawer or lowest shelf) in an open container. They need to be kept moist to stay crisp, so wrap them in a damp towel. They should keep 4 to 6 months.
- Celeriac: Wrap the individual roots in a damp towel and store them in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. It should keep 3 to 4 months.
- Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes): Place them in plastic bags or a container of damp sand in a cold root cellar or basement. They should keep 2 to 5 months.
- Kohlrabi: Place kohlrabi in a perforated plastic bag in the vegetable crisper section. Kohlrabi with the leaves attached will keep in the refrigerator for 2 to 4 weeks and without the leaves for 2 to 3 months.
- Parsnips: Remove the greens and brush off the soil. They are best stored wrapped in a damp towel in the crisper drawer. They should keep 2 to 6 months.
- Potatoes: Harvest and brush off any soil. Let them sit out to dry a bit before storing. Store the potatoes in a cool dark place. They can be stored in baskets, bowls, or even paper bags. Try to avoid storing potatoes too close to onions, as this can make them go bad more quickly. They should keep 5 to 8 months.
- Radishes: Remove the greens, brush or wash off any soil. You can store radishes in the refrigerator in a bowl covered with a damp towel for about one month. For three months, you can also keep them in a root cellar in a wooden crate in slightly moistened sand.
- Rutabagas: Place in buckets or wooden crates with damp (not wet) sawdust, sand, or peat moss. Do not allow the roots to touch. They should keep 2 to 4 months.
- Sweet Potatoes: Harvest, let the sweet potatoes' skin dry before storing. Clean off any soil, and store your sweet potatoes in a cool dark place with good ventilation. They can be stored in bowls or baskets. They should keep 5 to 8 months.
- Turnips: Remove the greens and clean off any soil. Store turnips in a container covered with a damp cloth. Best stored in the refrigerator crisper or lowest shelf. They should keep 4 to 5 months.
What About Bulb Vegetables?
Bulb vegetables like garlic and onions often get grouped with root vegetables since they grow underground and keep longer than other vegetables. They have similar storage needs as root vegetables and will keep for 4 to 6 months when kept at 32 to 45 F.
- Garlic: Remove the foliage and let the garlic sit out in a dry spot for a few days to cure. Brush off any soil, then store your garlic in a cool, dark place. You can store garlic bulbs in bowls or baskets; make sure to check stored garlic regularly for any mushiness or signs of sprouting.
- Onions: Remove the foliage and let the bulbs cure for a few days in a dry spot. Brush off any soil and store in a cool dark place. It's better to avoid placing onions in bowls since they need good air circulation. Store them in old stockings or their mesh produce bag. Hang if at all possible.
Where to Store Root Vegetables
If you lack space in your refrigerator or choose not to use the fridge, you have options. But, you will need a reliable thermometer and hygrometer (humidity gauge) to check that your room temp and humidity is where it needs to be.
Root cellars are perfect since the ideal climate for storing root vegetables is cooler than 40 F but not freezing and high humidity. Before refrigerators, they were built under homes to store root vegetables for the winter. An unfinished basement with no heating and earthen flooring is essentially a root cellar and is perfect for storage. An unfinished basement with flooring and no heating can also work if it stays cool and above freezing.
Basements work best if they have a window allowing you to add more cool air if needed. In case temps rise or it's unseasonably warm, you might need to crack a window open to let in cool air. You can also add humidity by leaving a pan of water to evaporate and add moisture to the air. Your root vegetables release ethylene gas as they ripen, shortening shelf life. Ventilation is necessary for allowing ethylene gases to escape.
If you have a heated basement, you can still portion out a section of your basement to create a cold storage area or root storage closet. Put it away from the heat source and ideally near a window or build it with a vent tube going outside to allow in cooler air and ventilation for off-gassing.
If you do not have a basement, consider using a garage, attic, crawlspace, mudroom, or porch, or dig a pit in the ground, as long as you can control the temperature and humidity. If digging a hole, make sure it goes below the freeze line. The freeze line differs by region. The freeze line can be as deep as two feet in some areas. If using an earthen pit, protect it against rodents by enclosing it entirely in wire mesh.
You can hold the vegetables in insulated containers, crates, shelves, or burlap bags. You can also use coolers, plastic totes, or other air-tight containers, but if you do, leave the lid open and cover the top with peat moss, still allowing the roots to breathe and hindering rot.
Don't Forget the Greens
Several of the root crops listed above also have edible greens. So when you remove the tops from your turnips, radishes, or beets, don't toss them out. Store the greens wrapped in a damp towel or paper towel in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Beet, turnip, and radish greens are delicious when added to soups or stir-fries, and smaller leaves are great added raw to salads.