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How to Store Root Vegetables

Published on August 18th 2019
A selection of different coloured carrots tumbled in a heap on a white cloth
The allotment is in full swing and crops are ripening faster then we can eat them. If, like me, you only have so much space in the kitchen to store produce, then what to do with all the extra is a perennial question. So I did some research of other storage methods and thought I'd share my findings for others out there who are struggling with gluts of root vegetables.
A stack of deep red beetroot showing their taproots and leaves in the background.
Frosts can damage beetroot, but if provided with a mulch layer, they can be left in situ all winter.

When to store root vegetables

When to store depends on when the crop is ready to be harvested. Most can be stored from summer onwards and will keep through the winter, ready to use as and when required.
A photo of the tops of white parsnips, all of which have had the green leaves trimmed off.
Parsnips actually taste better after a frost as the cold initiates the process of turning starch into sugars.

Which root vegetables?

The methods listed here won't work with every vegetable but will be suitable for: carrots, parsnips, celeriac, beetroot, winter radishes, swedes or turnips.
A loose pile of Swedes mottled purple, green and white in colour with their top leaf growth neatly chopped off.
Digging Swedes (rutabaga or neeps) out of the frozen ground is easier by covering them with horticultural fleece and straw.

Storing root vegetables in the ground

Storing root vegetables in the ground will work best when the soil is well-drained, as wet, damp soils can cause roots to rot off during the winter. As long as you don't need the space, leaving crops in the ground is ideal, but you will need to provide them with some frost protection.
A 15cm (6") layer of mulch over the bed is recommended, packing it tightly around the foliage. The mulch layer can be straw, leaves, cardboard or bracken, and will need to be held in place with something such as horticultural fleece or netting. Some people also suggest putting a plastic layer over to keep the ground dry, but some vegetables can become desiccated if the soil does not contain some moisture.
Some roots such as salsify and scorzonera are hardy enough not to need a mulch layer, while others such as beetroot need a deeper layer of 30cm (1ft).
If you live in cold regions with heavy deep frosts, then you will need to lift and store vegetables indoors.
If you haven't used all stored vegetable by March, they will have to be lifted and moved into cold storage, as the warming soil will trigger them into re-growing.
A freshly dug up Salsify root vegetable laid out on bare soil.
Salsify (oyster plant) can be used in a variety of dishes and makes a change from traditional winter veg.

Lifting roots for storage

If ground storage isn't an option because of your soil conditions, then it is possible to lift roots and store them in different ways.
Vegetables selected for storage must be in excellent condition - those you've accidentally put the fork through while digging up need to be used straight away.
Pick a dry day to lift your crop. Leave the foliage on, check that the roots haven't been damaged and shake off any loose soil.
A pale green knobbly Celeriac root growing out of the ground in amongst a few weed seedlings.
Celeriac does lose some of its flavour when stored. The variety 'Brilliant' is recommended as the best for retaining flavour when stored.

In boxes:

Some vegetables can be stored in boxes of moist sand to prevent them from drying out. This method works well with carrots, celeriac, swedes and beetroot, making sure to put a layer of sand in between the layers of roots. These boxes need to be kept in a dark, frost-free location. Under a bench in a shed works and I have also seen an old fridge buried on it's back, its door used as a lift up lid to create a mini root cellar. (You would need to remove all the refrigeration elements first if this takes your fancy.) Potatoes can also be stored in boxes and don't require any extra material to be packed around them.
A freshly dug up turnip lying on top of the soil waiting to be collected.
White turnips are best used up before late winter

In clamps:

If like me, your shed is almost permanently full and storing inside is not an option, then the traditional method of clamping may be worth considering. I hope to have a go at this method in the near future.
The idea is to make 1m (3¼ft) high mound encasing a pyramid of stacked roots. You will need to pick a site that is sheltered and well-drained. Near a wall would make a good location, but I'll be limited to my allotment shed.
  • Prepare the roots by removing the foliage and knocking off any loose soil.
  • Dig a trench around the area you've chosen to help moisture drain away.
  • Put a 20cm (8") layer of light sandy soil down to create a base layer. Cover this with a thin layer of straw.
  • Stack the roots on top of this with the largest at the bottom. Create a pyramid shape and cover with a 20cm (8") layer of straw.
  • Then cover with a layer of soil roughly 15cm (6") deep, leaving a small tuft of straw sticking out at the top. The soil acts as frost protection, and the tuff acts as a chimney through which excess moisture/heat can escape through.
  • Smooth the soil surface to aid rainwater runoff.
Tip: Rodent control may be necessary, as they can be attracted to the stored vegetables.
A Black Spanish winter radish being held up in front of leafy greens.
Black Spanish radish, occasionally known as Noir Gros de Paris, grows better in cooler weather.
If all of this seems like too much work, don't throw your excess veg on the compost heap. You could offer it to friends and neighbours! Someone in my village set out a free food table with their excess crop, and it's now being used as a place to swap produce. I dropped off some courgettes yesterday and came home with runner beans!

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