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How to preserve root vegetables

If you were lucky enough to harvest a bumper crop of root vegetables this year, first of all — well done you. 

Second to that, if you’re looking for ideas about just what to do with that bumper crop so you can enjoy the fruits of your labours a few months from now, you’ve landed in the right spot.

Hannah, known as @gingergrows1 on Instagram (and a wonderfully rising star in Gardening Land), is an allotment gardener in the north of England. She also has a degree in plant sciences and a day job growing micro-greens.

In other words, she knows a bit about plants and growing. In this video and via reels on our Instagram channel, Hannah shares her root veg preservation secrets, to help you with your root veg storage dilemmas (a happy dilemma, to be sure).

Root vegetable preservation methods

In many climates, there’s a lot to be said for just leaving root vegetables in the ground until you’re ready to consume them.

But, for those of us who live in areas where the ground freezes, or where we may lose access to our gardens after a certain time (for example, community and allotment gardens that close over winter), we need to harvest our root vegetables, and then figure out what to do with our bounty.

Hannah takes us through a number of those methods, but for the readers among us, they’re described below, too.

How to preserve root vegetables in sand

If you’ve never heard of storing root vegetables — like carrots — in sand, you’re not alone. A question, occasionally encountered on gardening forums, runs along these lines: “My grandparents used to store carrots in a box of sand. Why did they do that and was/is it a good idea?”

The short answer? They did it because it worked and yes, it is a good idea. There you go.

Here’s the play by play on how to preserve root vegetables like carrots, beetroot, and parsnips in sand (although some gardeners also use a combo of sand and wood shavings, just wood shavings or plain old soil, too):

  • harvest on a dry day and allow your carrots, parsnips, beets (etc.) to bask in the sun or a dry place for a bit to fully dry and to let skin and roots harden
  • don’t wash your root vegetables, but do brush off soil
  • trim off any foliage just above the crown (leave an inch or so)
  • check your harvest for nicks, deep scratches or gouges — these can lead to rot, and rot in one carrot (for example) can lead to rot in all the carrots, and pretty fast, too
  • choose your container —  a wooden box or crate, or even a sturdy cardboard box will do (you can also use a well-ventilated plastic box — leave the lid off or make large vent holes in the sides of the box, above the top layer of sand
  • spread a layer of damp (not wet) sand on the bottom of your container
  • arrange your vegetables on top of the sand, make sure they’re spaced so that they’re not touching each other
  • cover with a layer of damp sand
  • repeat until you’re done, top with a final layer of damp sand
  • store your container in a cool, dark spot, where it won’t freeze (shed, pantry or basement), and where you can be certain rodents won’t get into your precious harvest and eat it before you get the chance
  • consider the humidity level of your storage location: too damp and you’ll risk rot, too dry and your produce will become rubbery and shrivel over time. An optimal humidity level is above 85%, although some gardeners say 60-70% is acceptable

How to preserve potatoes in paper or burlap bags

Need some tips on how to preserve your fantastic harvest of potatoes? Hannah shares her favourite method at about 1:49 of the video — storing potatoes in a paper or hessian (burlap) sack or bag. Here’s that method, step by step:

  • allow your potatoes to dry and cure slightly in a dry, cool spot after removing them from the ground
  • brush off excess dirt
  • check for gouges or nicks — use any damaged potatoes right away and don’t store them with your perfect unblemished potatoes
  • fill your bags with your harvest
  • burlap or paper bags are used to preserve root vegetables because both are breathable materials that don’t let light through (because no one wants green potatoes), and they allow moisture to be released
  • which is why you don’t want to use plastic, as plastic can’t release moisture and potatoes stored in plastic will rot quickly
  • store your bags of potatoes in a cool, dry spot (the perfect temperature range for storing potatoes is between 5˚C and 10˚C) with good air circulation
  • check on your stored potatoes relatively often to see how they’re doing. If you spot any potatoes that are beginning to rot, remove them immediately

Pickling, freezing and making jam from your harvest

Did you know that there’s evidence to suggest that people were pickling foods as far back as 2400 BC? Yup, the ancient Mesopotamians had the right idea for what to do when they encountered a cucumber, more than 4,000 years ago.

And for anyone who has a surplus of carrots, apples and garlic, here are a few more harvest preservation ideas from Hannah.

Pickled Carrots

  • Wash and peel the carrots.
  • Chop the carrots into thick slices and put them into a sterilised jar.
  • In a pan, add water, vinegar, sugar and pickling spices and boil until the sugar has fully dissolved.
  • Pour the liquid into the jar, covering all of the carrots and seal the lid.
  • Store in a cool dry place for up to 6 months.

Carrot and Apple Jam

  • Wash and peel the carrots, then grate them.
  • Thinly slice an apple and add it to the grated carrots and weigh them.
  • Add a zest of a lemon.
  • Add these to a pan, with the same amount of sugar.
  • Heat until ready – two ways to test this it to use a jam thermometer or drip a small amount of liquid onto a plate, run a finger through and if it wrinkles it is ready. If liquid runs back to fill the gap, it is not ready yet.

Crushed Garlic For Freezing

  • Separate and peel garlic cloves.
  • Crush the garlic using a garlic crusher.
  • Add crushed garlic to a freezer bag.
  • Don’t forget to write the date on the bag.
  • Store for up to 12 months!

Congratulations on your harvest. May it be just as bountiful next year.

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