Saturday, February 20, 2010

Preserving: Storing Root Crops for Winter Use

My floating garden is relatively small, consisting of four 3X10' beds raised above the lake surface on a cedar log foundation. I use Companion Planting and Intensive Cultivation (Rodale Press, 1989) and grow an amazing amount of vegetables in the limited space. But I still haven't figured out how much to plant, especially for root crops. I always end up with a row or two left at the end of fall.

A really helpful book on preserving crops is Stocking Up: How to Preserve the Foods You Grow, Naturally by the Editors of Organic Gardening and Farming. It's a great reference for harvesting, storing, drying, freezing and canning fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products, and nuts, seeds and grains. It gave me directions for leave my root crops in the ground through the winter. Now that I have my carrots and beets out of the soil, I'm going to use their directions for storage (well, sort of).

First I pulled all of my remaining crop and discarded any damaged ones. I removed and composted all the carrots tops. But for the beets, I tore the tops off leaving about three inches of stem. To help prevent them from "bleeding" red beet juice, the book recommends not using a knife for this part of the process. Because the soils was so wet, I arranged the unwashed veggies on newspaper to dry a bit. After about thirty minutes I gave them a flip to dry the other side. Then finally, I rubbed off the excess dirt with a dry paper towel.

The next step was to arrange the cleaned (not washed) carrots and beets in plastic trays I purchased at the Dollar Store. The open sides allow air to circulate. This helps reduce mold or rot as time goes by. I started with a damp paper towel on the bottom covered by a folded sheet of dry newspaper. The damp towel helps increase atmospheric moisture which helps keep the root crops crisper while being stored out of the ground. After one layer of veggies I folded a sheet of newspaper and then added a second layer to each basket.

The final step was to cover the top layer of veggies with folded newspaper, a layer of moist paper towel and finally another folded newspaper. To store the baskets, I place them under the bed in my downstairs guest bedroom. It is the coolest room in my house.

This improvised "root cellar" lets me keep my carrots and beets for several more months of enjoyment in salads, soups, stews and simple pickled beets. -- Margy


  1. Wow! Fantastic!! We should put you on the Edible Garden Tour this summer... if only you weren't so far away and not so easy to get to (by car).

  2. You never cease to amaze me! This has made me think that dollar store baskets could be good storage for bulbs like dahlias etc. hmmmmm....

  3. What a great post. I love your ideas for storing vegetables for the winter. Very ingenious.

  4. So Very interesting Margy. What an amazing lifestyle you have.
    You got a great crop of veggies too. I can't wait to see what you are up to next.

  5. Thanks for all the comments. David, I would love to participate in the garden tour, but you are right, mine would be a bit too difficult to reach for the average visitor. I'll need to come this year to see how it works. I think my friend Margaret in Wildwood had her garden as a part of the tour last year. She is such an inspiration to me. - Margy

  6. Great looking veggies, I find your garden so interesting

  7. Just found your blog for the first time through a comment on the Dwell site. I'm amazed...a floating garden?!

  8. Your level of energy just astounds me. Thanks for taking us thru the process. The floating veggie garden looks so very cool.
    How wonderful. In Tuzla, Bosnia where I grew up, we'd buy a whole lot of apples in the fall, mostly yellow delicious, and we'd store them in our apartment on top of the clothes cupboard in the 'little room' where I slept but which was not heated in the winter. They lasted most of the winter, and I'd eat at least one a day, but they did lose their crispness after a while.

  9. Yes Tash, my beets and carrots can get a bit rubbery after a few months, but by then my new ones are usually starting to come in. As for the potatoes, if they get soft with eyes I just save them to plant the following year. I always buy some new seed potatoes to go along with them just in case they don't produce as well, but as they say, waste not, want not. - Margy


We welcome your comments and questions. - Wayne and Margy