How to Store Winter Squash, Beets and Carrots
Winter squash are fun to grow and easy to store. There are dozens of varieties, from the traditional acorn, Hubbard, butternut and buttercup, to spaghetti, delicata and golden nugget. Pie pumpkins, too! As with other storage crops, some squash varieties store well and some don’t, so choose accordingly.
Squash plants take up a lot of space, but they’re not fussy about where they grow. You can usually plan on harvesting one or two good-sized squash from each plant. The usual recommendation is to put two to three plants (or seeds) in a little group, and space these “hills” about three-feet apart.
After planting and fertilizing them, forget about your squash plants until the first light frost, when the leaves will die back and reveal your crop.
For long storage life, when harvesting winter squash it’s important to leave some of the stem attached to the fruit. The best way to ensure this happens, is to use a stout knife or pruning shears to separate the stem from the vine. After harvesting, let your squash cure in a warm place (75 to 80 degrees F.) for 10 days or so. When ready for storage the outer skin should be very firm.
Store winter squash in a cool (to 60 degrees F) place that’s well ventilated. Humidity should be relatively low: 30-50%. Check your stored squash monthly to identify and use up any fruit that shows sign of decay.
Beets and Carrots
For winter storage, choose beet and carrot varieties known to be good keepers. Vegetables store best when they’re harvested at — not past — maturity. This is especially true for beets and carrots. In most areas, this means that crops intended for winter storage are not sown until late June or July.
To maintain good eating quality, carrots and beets need to be kept at a constant temperature of between 32 and 40 degrees F, and at 90 to 95 percent humidity. There are three ways that home gardeners can provide these ideal storage conditions: in a refrigerator, in moist sand or right in the garden.
To store these crops in a refrigerator or in sand, start by harvesting the roots. Handle them gently to avoid bruising or nicking. Use scissors to cut off all but 1/2″ of the foliage. Rub the roots gently (do not wash them in water) to remove most soil. Don’t cut off the root end because this will invite decay.
For refrigerator storage, lie similar-sized, same-variety vegetables in a single layer in gallon freezer bags. Remove as much air as possible before sealing each bag. Stack bags flat on a shelf or in a drawer in the refrigerator. Check monthly for decay and use those first. Beets will stay hard and sweet for five months or more; carrots should last almost as long. Should there be fine root hairs or a little decay, simply peel this off; the root itself will be fine.
A second technique is to store these crops in moist sand. Prepare the roots as above. Moisten clean sand in a large container or wheelbarrow. Pack the vegetables into a tub, wooden box, 5-gallon bucket, plastic-lined cardboard box, or a Root Storage Bin. Start by placing several inches of moist sand on the bottom of the storage container. Lay vegetables on the sand in a single layer, not touching each other. Cover them completely with sand and continue layering until box or bin is full. Top with a layer of moist sand. Container will be heavy when full, so plan accordingly. Remove the stored vegetables as needed.
A third technique (for cool climates) is to store these crops right in the ground. Before hard frost, cover un-harvested carrots and beets with a 12-18″ layer of straw or leaves. (The shoulders of beets are susceptible to frost damage, so be sure to cover them before heavy frost). Lift back the mulch and harvest as needed. If spring comes before all the roots have been harvested, dig them up then use them up before the soil begins to warm.
How about storing those lesser-known root crops? Rutabagas store well in the refrigerator; prep and store as for beets and carrots. Parsnips may be stored in damp sand or can be left in the ground under mulch. Celeraic can be stored in either the refrigerator or in damp sand.
Let’s Go Garden!