Storing root vegetables

Temperature is key to preventing stored root vegetables from rotting.

Root crops include vegetables such as carrots, rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, etc. Root crops can be preserved by traditional methods such as freezing, canning and dehydrating. But if you have a root cellar or other type of cool, dry storage you may be able to keep these vegetables edible without canning or freezing them.

The first step is to harvest your vegetables and clean them by removing the soil from the vegetables. Use cold running water to clean the vegetables. Then dry them well to prevent rotting. You can let the water evaporate off of the vegetables outside in the sun. Cut the top of root vegetables off by about a half-inch from the crown of the vegetables. It is not recommended to wax rutabagas or other root vegetables for storing them.

Finding a good place to store your root vegetables can be the most difficult part of the process. The temperature is a vital part of successful storage and should be between 32 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. It should also be moderately dry. It is possible to make a storage room in your basement. The National Center for Home Food Preservation has plans for building a vegetable storage room. A vegetable storage room can also be used to store canned foods.

Root vegetables will shrivel unless they are stored in a moist environment. To prevent shriveling, one technique is to bed the roots in sphagnum moss which is kept slightly moist or by placing them in plastic bags with several holes in them to prevent them from accumulating too much moisture.

Pumpkins and squash should be cured before storing. Leave a part of the stem on each pumpkin or squash. To cure, place them in a warm, well ventilated location for 10 days before placing them in storage. They should be stored dry (no moss or plastic bags).

Onions should be pulled when the tops fall over and begin to dry. After pulling them from the ground, allow the tops to completely dry and then cut the tops off, one inch from the bulb. Onions also need to be cured; place them in a dry, well-ventilated location before placing in storage when they are also stored dry in mesh bags or slatted crates.

Potatoes need to be kept out of any light to prevent them from turning green. Store them in covered bins, boxes, or other containers with a few openings for ventilation.

If you plan to can or freeze your root vegetables, check the Michigan State University Extension website for instructions. There is also an online home food preservation course available that you can complete from the comfort of your own home.

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