Storing root vegetables in winter
Continue to dead head late summer flowering herbaceous plants
Abelia 'Edward Goucher'
The term root vegetable is a general horticultural term given to plants we eat which grow under the ground or maybe like onions semi buried. Not all root vegetables are actually botanically roots as is the case with the afore mentioned onions which are bulbs and everyones favourite the potato which are tubers. All of these crops will have been quietly growing away during the summer patiently awaiting their moment in the sun, albeit a dwindling one at this time of year.
The greatest quality a root vegetable possesses is its ability to be stored over winter in a dormant state and remain edible. These stoic vegetables put to shame their delicate summer cousins and should be lauded and enjoyed.
Advice is given in some parts that you can leave most root vegetables in the soil as a method of storing and while this is and can be true in some locations our wet winters tend to make this not always ideal. It also leaves crops vunerable to in particular slug attack but also other pests like carrot root fly.
Although cold is rarely an issue in Ireland for these hardy veg crops it may still occur. The flip side can also be an issue with our winters at times being extremely mild and this may enduce crops such as carrots to think that spring has arrived in December and cause them to bolt, start to run up to seed, leaving the root inedible. If storing your vegetables in the ground you are better taking off the foliage top by November to help prevent this.
Obviously leaving your crops in the winter soil and harvesting them when needed is by far the easiest method to keep root vegetables but just beware of the possible problems. Beetroot, carrots, celeriac, parsnip, turnips and swedes can all be soil stored or kept this way over winter. Onions should always be lifted, dried and stored in dry cool place.
Maincrop potatoes are probably the most stored vegetable of all by the home gardener. Once the tops begin to yellow it is possible to begin harvesting. Dig them up on a sunny day and leave them out to dry for a day to toughen their skins. Only store the healthy undamaged tubers. Potatoes are best kept in a hessain sack or other breathable container in dry, dark, cool but frost free location. Garden sheds and garages are the usual spots. With all stored root veg keep a frequent check for rooting.
If you decide to lift and store your root vegetables, as with potatoes, only atempt to store undamaged heatlhy roots. Remove all the foliage and wipe clean with a gloved hand or rag to remove all excess soil.
If kept in the same methods as with potatoes most root vegetables will begin to dryout and shrivel within a few weeks so they need to be covered with moist sand or a light fine compost, peat or soil. This is easiest done in wooden boxes but heavy cardboard should see you through one winter. Put a layer of sand in the box bottom then a layer of roots ideally not touching each other. Repeat the layer of sand and a layer of roots until the box is full and finishing with a layer of sand. Store in a dark frost free shed or garage.
If you have a lot of root vegetables to store or limited indoor space you could implement the traditional old method of creating a clamp. This is done by selecting a dry sheltered outdoor site, usually by a wall. A raised base layer of light soil or sand about one metre square and 150 mm deep is created and covered with straw. You then build a pyramid of root veg using the largest at the bottom working up to as high as a metre.
Cover everything again in 150mm of straw then 150mm of soil or sand and pat to compact. As you harvested from the clamp replace the covering of straw and outer layer of soil or sand to reconstruct the clamp. In our busy mordern world this is probably a step too far for home gardeners and also comes with the caveat of possible rodent problems. Probably enough said.