It's fall, and we're busy storing away food to sustain body and soul through the winter. Our shelves are lined with pickles and canned Tomatoes. Our freezer is full of Corn, Green Beans and pesto. Onions, Shallots and Garlic are dry and hanging in mesh bags. Now it's time to turn our attention to our root vegetables~ those delicious, nutritious, humble tubers that have been waiting so patiently for us to pull them from the still-warm earth.
We'd be quite happy to eat root vegetables every day of the week, all winter long. Meals that include Potatoes, Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Turnips, Salsify, Rutabagas and Celeriac are healthy and economical, not to mention deliciously satisfying. If you've grown a plentiful supply of root vegetables, these tips will help you make the most of your harvest.
Harvesting and Storing Potatoes
Though Potatoes are not considered true root crops like Carrots or Beets, they are harvested and stored in much the same way. Potatoes may be dug anytime after the plant's foliage has died back and before a hard frost. Dig gently to avoid piercing or bruising the tubers, and move them immediately to a cool (50° to 60°F), dark (so they don't turn green), well-ventilated place. Lay the Potatoes out on newspaper in a single layer and leave them to "cure" for two weeks. This will toughen up their thin skins and extend their storage life. After two weeks or so, rub off any large clumps of dirt (Potatoes should never be washed before storage) and cull any tubers that are blemished or were nicked during harvest (these should be eaten straight away and not stored).
By weight, Potatoes are about 80% water, so they should be stored under humid conditions. Dark-colored, perforated plastic bags will help retain moisture~just make sure there are lots of holes for good air circulation.
For large quantities, nestle your spuds into ventilated plastic bins, bushel baskets or wax-lined cardboard boxes with perforated sides. Completely cover the Potatoes with newspaper or cardboard to eliminate any light. Even a little light will cause Potatoes to turn green, and render them inedible. The ideal storage temperature for Potatoes is a chilly 40°F, though they will usually keep well for several months at 50°F. If winter-long storage is your goal, it's best to grow varieties that are known to be good keepers, such as Bintje Dutch, Yellow Finn, or Red Ruby Potatoes.
Beets, Carrots, Parsnips and More
These cold hardy vegetables will tolerate light frosts, and fall's cool weather helps to keep them in perfect condition. Any plant parts that are above the soil surface can be damaged by heavy frost, so that's a good cutoff time for harvest. Pull or use a garden fork to gently remove the roots from the ground. Remove all but the top ½" of foliage, and rub off all excess soil. Don't cut off the root ends or hairs because this will invite decay. Do not wash until use.
The flavor of Carrots, Beets and Parsnips actually sweetens during storage. Ideal storage conditions are 90% to 95% humidity and a constant temperature of 32° to 40°F. To store Carrots, Beets and Parsnips in a refrigerator, lay similar-sized vegetables in a single layer, in gallon freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible before sealing each bag. Stack the bags flat on a shelf or in a drawer in the refrigerator. Check monthly for signs of decay. Beets will stay hard and sweet for five months or more; Carrots and Parsnips will last almost as long.
Moist sand is another storage option. Prepare the roots as above. Start by placing several inches of moist sand on the bottom of a plastic tub, a 5-gallon bucket or a box that's been lined with a plastic trash bag. Lay vegetables on the sand in a single layer, not touching each other, and cover completely with sand. Continue layering until the box is full and top with moist sand. The container will be very heavy, so plan accordingly.
A third technique for cool climates is to store these crops right in the ground. Before a hard frost, cover beds of Carrots, Beets or Parsnips with a 12" to 18" layer of straw or leaves. Lift back the mulch and harvest as needed. If voles discover your stash, dig up the root vegetables and store them in the refrigerator.
Rutabagas and Celeriac can be prepped just like Beets and Carrots. Both will keep for months in a refrigerator. The damp sand technique described above works perfectly, too. For short-term storage, Rutabagas and Celeriac will keep on a shelf in a cool basement.
Vegetables in the Kitchen
One of our favorite Sunday afternoon activities is to have a big veggie roast. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Cut into similar size pieces a whole slew of washed and dried veggies of your choosing: Potatoes, Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash, Fennel, Rutabagas, Turnips and Red Onions. In your biggest mixing bowl, gently commingle all of the cut vegetables, drizzle good olive oil all around and sprinkle with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt. After another gentle mixing, we lay them out in not-overcrowded single layers in big roasting pans. (If they are overcrowded, they will steam instead of roast.) Roast for 15 minutes. Take them out and turn as many of them over as possible. Roast for another 15 minutes. We enjoy them freshly roasted on Sunday night, then we quickly reheat them for weeknight dinners. So good.
The Growing Season Isn't Over Yet!
There's still plenty of time to grow your own veggies! These crops thrive in the cool temperatures of fall. Direct-sow seeds wherever you've pulled out summer crops that have finished for the season, and before long you'll be harvesting gorgeous salads to go with comforting autumn meals.
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till next time this is Becky Litterer from Becky's Greenhouse, Dougherty Iowa