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Getting to the Root of the Issue: Harvesting and Storing Root Crops

It’s time for the most anticipated part of gardening; the harvest! After months of care and tending, the produce you’ve grown is ready to be enjoyed.

Believe it or not, harvesting root crops isn’t as simple as pulling them from the ground. Here are some simple tricks of the trade to optimize your root crop harvest:

  • Water the soil before harvesting so the roots come out more easily.
  • Harvest root crops throughout the summer and fall as you need them. You do not need to wait until the end of the summer to dig all of them up at once.
  • Select the largest roots first. Root crops, such as carrots, beets and turnips, can get woody and bitter if they are allowed to grow too large. By harvesting the largest roots first, the remaining smaller roots are given more room to grow.
  • To find the largest root, look for the darkest greens and the thickest stems.
  • Wiggle the roots back and forth to pull them from the ground. They also can be loosened with a trowel, pitchfork or spade.

At the end of the growing season, you may be left with a surplus harvest that you wish to store. Thankfully, root crops can be stored for many months if done properly.

When harvesting for storage, don’t water the soil first. In fact, you should wait until you have had two to three days of dry weather before digging up the roots. After digging up the root crops, leave them in the sun for a few hours to initiate dormancy. This also will dry out the soil on the roots so they clean off more easily.

Harvest potatoes when the vines die, and harvest onions when the tops tip over. Both are signs that the crops are mature and ready to harvest and store.

Do not wash root crops before storing them. Simply cut the tops off in the garden (leave the tops on onions, leave a 1-inch stem for beets and cut close for other crops). Avoid storing damaged crops; instead, eat them fresh.

Crops that are cut or broken during harvest and/or have insect damage are more likely to rot during storage, which can ruin your entire bunch. Onions should be cured by drying them for two to three weeks in a warm and dry location. They are ready to put into storage when the tops and outside layers are dry and papery.

Store your harvested root crops in a cool (ideal temperature is 34 F), moist and dark location. Onions should be stored in a cool and dry location. Be careful to avoid locations where they can freeze.

You can store your crops in a mesh or plastic garbage bag with holes punched in it or in a cardboard or wooden box lined with insulation such as lightly dampened sawdust, peat moss or sand.

Proper storage of root crops means you get to enjoy home-grown veggies all year. Now’s the time to go enjoy your garden. Happy harvest!


Brooke Thiel, Ph.D.,
NDSU Extension Program Assistant

Filed under: fca newsletter

Sponsored in part by the Sanford Health Foundation.

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