11 Winter Root Vegetables For Fresh Produce All Season
Looking for some root vegetables you can grow in the wintertime? There are quite a few cold-hardy winter veggies that will help your garden provide fresh produce all winter long. In this article, gardening expert Jenna Rich looks at her favorite root vegetables for winter gardens.
When the first frost hits and the garden starts to look like a plant cemetery, my mind goes to winter meals. While there are plenty of vegetables you can grow in the winter, the bulk of what we put up for winter consists of root vegetables. This is mainly because they can remain fresh instead of frozen or pickled.
Root vegetables are great to have on hand in the off-season, especially if you live in a northern region where the growing season is short. But which types of root vegetables should you grow in the wintertime to maximize the production of your vegetable garden?
There are a number of cold-friendly root vegetables you can grow, depending on your hardiness zone. Keep reading to find out why you should incorporate root vegetables into your garden this season and beyond.
About Root Vegetables
Root vegetables are crops that grow beneath the soil surface and are highly nutritious and high in starch. Examples of root vegetables are tubers like potatoes, bulbs like onions, and roots like carrots and parsnips. The storage organ, or the part of the crop that grows below the soil surface, is where all the nutrients are stored, whereas the rest of the plant grows above ground, collecting sun.
Root vegetables date back over 5000 years, and that should tell us something!
Did you know that the tops of most root vegetables can be consumed? They are packed with vitamins, and are quite delicious! Start simple by adding beet or turnip greens to your usual veggie sauté or try coarsely chopping carrot tops and adding them to your pesto or tabbouleh.
Best Root Vegetables For Winter Produce
If you have a root cellar, this is the best option for long-term storage. But don’t worry if you don’t have access to one. I’ve listed plenty of other storage options for each root vegetable.
Keep in mind any damaged or imperfect produce should always be kept fresh for immediate use as it likely won’t store properly or for as long as intact produce. Now let’s get into some root crops you can try next season!
Carrots really take the cake in our household (pun intended, because how good is carrot cake?!). There is really nothing like a fresh, garden-grown carrot. They sweeten up after a good frost which may even satisfy any sweets craving you may have!
The big question is, which varieties of carrots should you choose? There are many different types of carrots you can grow, depending on your hardiness zone.
The good news is that most of them can handle colder weather due to the fact they grow underground.
Pour some clean sand into a bucket and bury carrots, layer by layer, adding more sand until the bucket is full. Take them out as needed and scrub well before eating. Some people suggest dampening the sand a bit.
Another option is to store unwashed, unpeeled carrots in an airtight bag in the crisper section of your refrigerator, tops removed. You can wrap them in a paper towel that you change periodically, which will help soak up any moisture. This will help keep them fresh longer.
Enjoy them in soups, roasted or fresh, or as a snack all winter long.
With so many varieties to try and lots of ways to eat them, beets are a must!
We gravitate toward the classic red beet varieties like ‘Red Ace’ and ‘Boro’ because germination rates are more consistent but if you are feeling adventurous and have the space, golden and Chioggia beets are also amazing!
Beets are hardy plants that can withstand colder weather. Beets are also one of the easiest root crops to grow and can withstand a bit of neglect.
Similarly to carrots, you can store these in an airtight container in the refrigerator unwashed, unpeeled, and greens removed. They should keep for about 2-3 months.
You can also blanch and freeze beets for longer storage. Simply thaw them out and roast or mash them when you are ready to use them.
Another option still is to try pickling them as a fresh condiment for burgers and sandwiches.
Onions are pretty much a kitchen staple in our household. Every good stir-fry, soup, and meatloaf begins with sautéed onions!
Onions are pretty hands-off to grow, so if you have the space in your garden, try popping in a few rows of red, white, or yellow onions. Be sure the soil is well-draining and compost rich. When it comes to water, make sure they receive at least 1 inch of water per week.
Because onions are in the ground for so long, your worst enemy will be weed pressure, so be sure you have a plan to avoid weeds taking over. You can use landscape fabric with holes burned through, mulch, or compostable “plastic” mulch.
Before long-term storage, onions need to be properly cured in a dark, well-ventilated, and dry spot. This can be done in a garage hanging from rafters, on a drying rack in your greenhouse under some shade cloth, or in a dark spot in your home.
Once they are dried for a few weeks, you can trim the tops off, so you’re left with just the bulb and remove any dirt-covered outer layer of skin.
These onions can now be stored in a basket on your counter or in your basement. Don’t be tempted to put them in the refrigerator; it’s too humid in there for them to stay fresh.
*Pro Tip: Store them in an old pair of nylons and hang in a dry area of your basement.
I can’t imagine wintertime without homegrown garlic! It’s one of my favorite things to share with loved ones at Christmas time and to have on hand when the dreaded cold kicks in.
Garlic is a hardy vegetable and is often grown in even the coldest of climates. Garlic is fairly low-maintenance and can be used in a variety of different ways after it’s been harvested. Fall-planted garlic can yield fresh produce well into the winter season.
Garlic needs to be properly cured, similar to onions. We tie bunches of them together and hang them in the rafters of our barn, where it’s dark, breezy, and dry. Once stored, they can be left for about a month before removing the dried tops.
We also remove any outer layers of paper that are dirty, and store them in bushels. Freshly cured garlic can last up to 4-5 months in a cool, dry place.
Leeks are a form of onion, and they are quite frost tolerant. Leeks have many different culinary uses, including stews and soups. The entire plant is edible, but most gardeners will use the lower blanched portion.
Leeks can be planted in a similar fashion to onions, but they can be buried much more deeply. Usually only 1-2 inches of leaves above the soil surface will encourage their growth.
Leeks can benefit from hilling up, which will help encourage you get plenty of white shanks at the bottom. Young seedlings can handle light frosts, but established plants can handle the cold down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leeks can be stored in a basement, or root cellar. The temperature should stay between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit. You’ll want to keep the root bottoms moist, while protecting them from disease. This can be done by wrapping the roots with paper towels, then covered with burlap. You can also store them in sand, just make sure they don’t get too wet.
If your only option is your refrigerator, you can wrap the roots with a paper towel, and use a plastic ziploc bag at the bottom, wrapping them to keep in some of the moisture.
Potatoes are always great to have on hand because they’re very versatile. You can mash them, roast them with carrots and garlic, turn them into fries or dice them up and throw them into soups. Serve them alongside meat and green beans, and you have yourself a classic American “meat and potatoes” dinner.
Growing potatoes can be a little tricky as pests like the flea beetle and Colorado Potato Beetle love to devour their leaves. Insect netting and hand picking eggs and larvae will help combat damage.
Once they are established enough plants, and you have any pest pressure under control, simply hill them up every week or so and watch them flourish. When it’s time to harvest, you’ll be amazed at how many potatoes pull up out of the ground per plant. It feels like magic.
Be sure potatoes are completely dry before storing.
Storing between 45°-50°F in a dark and cool area is best and can get you up to 3 months of storage! Airflow is crucial to long-term storage which could be in a basket, a cardboard box that has holes in the sides or an open paper bag would work. Be sure to check often for any spoilage as it can spread to other potatoes quickly and may attract critters.
*Pro Tip: Store potatoes separately from onions, as they can cause them to go bad quicker.
Sweet potatoes vary in color from red/orange to white to purple, with the darker-pigmented varieties containing higher levels of antioxidants.
They are easy to grow, and they can be grown in containers if you have limited space in your garden. They also store for longer periods of time than other root vegetables on this list.
Storing Sweet Potatoes
Store in a cool, dark, dry place in your home, never in the refrigerator. Ventilation is key so if storing in a paper bag, be sure to keep it open. If storing on your counter, be sure to keep other ripening produce away from them as this may cause a decreased shelf life.
Remove any sprouts and scrub the skins thoroughly before preparing to eat.
*Pro Tip: Store alongside an apple to prevent sprouting!
Turnips are overlooked and underrated, in my opinion. They aren’t the most attractive root vegetable, but they taste fantastic and pack a nutritional punch!
Turnips can germinate in cooler soil and take between 40-55 days to mature. They are considered both a root vegetable and cruciferous crop. Like some other cruciferous crops, turnips have a little bit of a bitter flavor which is due to its containing of sulfuric glucosinolates.
*Pro Tip: Try adding some to mashed potatoes for a new twist and added vitamins, or make a turnip coleslaw.
Remove the greens and brush off any soil. They’ll store best in a cool, dark, and dry place for the longest but if you must store them in the refrigerator, do so in an airtight container or perforated bag for airflow in the crisper section.
Radishes are the perfect thing to have on hand when you feel a snack attack coming on. They offer a great crunch and sprinkled with a pinch of salt, they may just satisfy your potato chip craving. Radishes are also easy to grow, and are one of the fastest growing vegetables, regardless of your local climate.
Radishes are easily direct sown, mature quickly (some just 21 days) and come in a variety of colors. My favorites are the Easter Egger blend and Sora.
Remove the greens and brush off any soil. Store in an airtight bag or container with a damp paper towel in the crisper section of your refrigerator for several months, checking for any spoiled radishes periodically. You can also scrub them clean and store them in a bowl with shallow water to keep them crisp for a little less storage time.
You can also try storing them similarly to carrots in a bucket of amp sand.
Alternatively, radishes are delicious when pickled, and they’ll have an even longer shelf life! You can do a quick pickle method which does not require any boil canning. This keeps them crisp, tangy and ready to use right out of the refrigerator.
They may look like a carrot and be from the same Apiaceae family, but parsnips are quite different in both flavor and nutrition. I would describe parsnips as having a woody texture with almost a spicy sweet flavor, whereas carrots are smoother, crispier and quite sweet both when fresh and roasted.
Parsnips also serve as a great alternative to potatoes for individuals limiting their potato intake. They can be boiled and mashed up just like potatoes.
A great thing about growing parsnips for storage is that they are not ready for harvest until late fall so they should be one of the root vegetables that lasts you almost until spring!
Brush off any soil, remove tops, and wrap in a damp paper towel. Do not peel before storing. Place them in an airtight container or bag and store in the crisper section of your refrigerator. They should keep for 2-4 months.
If you live in a region that allows it, I recommend you try growing ginger. It is one of the most versatile root vegetables, and its popularity is causing prices at markets and grocery stores to spike.
Ginger has a bold, pungent flavor that’s a little sweet and can be a lot spicy. Ginger is popular in Asian-inspired dishes, teas, spice blends and even salves. This root vegetable is easy to grow, and can be grown in containers as well if you have limited growing space.
Pro Tip: Use the green leaves to make a lovely, lightly flavored tea.
Ginger can be stored unpeeled in the refrigerator for several weeks or more in an airtight container. Some people even have success with storage right on the countertop.
However, I find it easiest to store unpeeled ginger in an airtight container in the freezer. This method keeps the ginger fresh for several months!
When a recipe calls for it, simply remove the frozen ginger from the freezer, and using the back of a small spoon, scrape the skin off. Then use a sharp knife to cut off the amount that you peeled and put it back in the freezer.
If you don’t already, I highly encourage you to devote some space in your garden to root vegetables next season. They may take a little longer to mature, but just remember, they are getting more and more nutritious every day they are in the ground, and you and your family will greatly benefit from them in the off-season.
Many root vegetables are high in antioxidants, fiber, and various minerals and vitamins vital for immunity and overall good health. Start selecting your root crop seeds today, and your winter self will thank you!