The beauty of root vegetables is that many of them will keep for a long time. This is especially true of veggies like potatoes, onions, and garlic. If you grow your own root crops and want to store the leftovers from your harvest, here are some timely tips on how to successfully do this.
There are three things that are key to storing potatoes for the year: Curing them, storing them at the right temperature, and keeping moisture under control.
When you harvest your potatoes, the first thing you should do is to rub away any dirt. Never wash potatoes that you plan to store because this can introduce too much moisture.
To cure the potatoes, lay them out in a cool, dry, and dark place. Keep temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees, and let the potatoes rest for about two weeks. This curing process will make the skins tougher, which helps the potatoes keep longer.
For long-term storage, place the potatoes in a cool, dry, and dark area where temperatures won’t fall below freezing or rise above 60 degrees. They’ll keep best between temperatures of 35 and 40 degrees. Make sure that your storage container is well ventilated—a crate, a cardboard box with holes punched in it, or any sort of container that will allow for any excess moisture to evaporate. Keep the container covered to keep light out and your spuds won’t spout.
It is important to note that some onions keep better than others. If you want to keep onions over the winter, choose the varieties with a strong, hot flavor rather than sweet onions. Sweet onions tend to only keep for a few weeks.
When the onions are ready to harvest — that is, when the stalks start to fall over in late summer or fall — the first thing you’ll need to do before storage is to cure the onions. You’ll need a dry, warm spot (75 to 85 degrees) to cure them.
If the weather is supposed to be dry for the next two to four weeks, you can simply pull the onions out of the garden and lay them down right where you pulled them. If you are expecting rain, move the onions indoors, onto your porch or into the garage. Lay them out in a single layer and wait until the stalks dry out.
Once dry, you can trim the stalks back to about one inch and then store the onions in a well-ventilated container or mesh bag. As you are trimming stalks, make sure to discard any onions that still have some green in the center of the stalk — these onions won’t keep very long. As with potatoes, your onions can be stored in a cool, dark place. Ideal temperatures for long-term storage are between 35 and 40 degrees.
Curing and storing garlic is very similar to onions, but with a couple of extra steps. As with onions, wait until the garlic stalks fall over at the end of the growing season, then pull the bulbs and lay them out to cure. Once cured, unlike onions, you won’t need to cut off the stalks. Instead, use the stalks to braid heads of garlic together, making a long garlic rope. Once this is finished, you’ll want to choose a cool, dry place to store the garlic, just as you did with the onions.
The advantage of garlic braids is that you can hang them, so you won’t need to worry about choosing a well-ventilated container. If you are worried about your garlic braids sprouting from light exposure or collecting dust all winter long, you can use paper lunch bags to make covers for your garlic braids. Simply cut a hole in the bottom of the bag, then thread the unbraided remainder of the stalks through the hole, and your garlic will stay safe throughout the winter.
The biggest challenge to keeping your root vegetables through the winter is finding a cool place that doesn’t dip below freezing. In milder climates, you can store your crops out on the porch or in an unheated garage. Otherwise, you may need to invest in a fridge that is designed for root crops or store your root veggies in a cool cellar.
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.