It’s that time of year in the Texas Hill Country; time to start digging up the sweet potatoes, carrots and beets to preserve them for the winter season. These delicious veggies are categorized as storage crops, meaning they can be kept in cool, dry places and used over the course of several months. Storage crops are a staple commodity in many areas of the world where year-round grow seasons are not possible, and they’ve made an impact on keeping cold climate communities well-fed since early agriculture was developed.
Some of these food staples include root, bulbs, tubers, rhizomes, and some above ground vegetables, with each season bringing a new collection of crop rotation. Each has a different shelf life, all requiring proper storage for maintaining nutritional integrity. As autumn approaches, we harvest summer crops that can be stored or covered, use all the stored crops from spring, and plant new crops we intend to cover with snow or protective fabric for the winter season.
Here are some tips from Farmer Kim on harvesting root vegetables for the cold season:
Above ground storage crops are foods that have a long shelf life without needing to be “processed” for preservation such as cabbage, kohlrabi, winter squash, and celery. Depending on the plant, you can store the stem, bud, flower, fruit or seed. Although these foods grow above ground, they can be stored for long periods of time if kept in cold storage space.
A root crop is categorized by the underground growth of the actual food you eat and can be grown in the spring, fall, and winter, and then stored for months at a time in cool, dry, shaded storage space. Root crops grown on the Travaasa Farm include beets, turnips, and carrots. To preserve these foods, it is best to keep them in a container filled with sand or dirt and literally bury them until the desired time for consumption. Carrots grown in the winter season always taste better because of the frost factor. The sugars, in an effort to protect the plant, all retreat into the root during a frost. For this reason, it is always nice to plant carrots in the fall, let them stay in the ground through the winter and then harvest them in the spring. The carrots will be the sweetest you’ve ever tasted and then you can store them in a cellar for the whole summer.
Bulbs are not considered root crops, but instead a fleshy leaf base. Think onions and garlic. These crops can be harvested in the spring, cured or dried, and then stored by hanging them in a cool, dry, dark place for several weeks for up to 12 months.
Tubers are another crop that come from parts of the plant that grow underground. Tubers are often starchy energy reserves for the underground plant intended to hold nutrients over the duration of winter to be used in the next growing season. Tubers are not usually considered the root of the plant but can be either parts of the root or part of the stem. Tubers grow from a “mother” plant and form multiple offspring as the plant matures. Tuber vegetables include yams, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes.
Rhizomes are considered a stem of a plant that forms in masses underground. The rhizome can be broken up and will form sprouts from the planted pieces. Kim’s favorite harvested rhizomes are ginger and turmeric.