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Cold temperatures and shortened daylight hours mean only the toughest plants will survive. So, if you want to find ways to extend your season of eating from the garden, but you don’t want to spend late summer canning and dehydrating everything in sight, consider growing a few crops that store well for many months without requiring a lot of special processing.
Potatoes: From fingerlings to mashers to bakers, potatoes are a crop that almost grows itself. Begin with disease-free seed potato, which confusingly are actually potatoes rather than seeds. Pop them in garden beds, hoe them through the season, and harvest them when the vines begin to wither. Left in the ground – if it isn’t soggy – they’ll last for months. Dug, left unwashed and stored in a cool, dry, ventilated location, they’ll be at the ready all winter long. Come spring, any remaining taters will begin to sprout, but don’t plant them. Potatoes develop numerous diseases, so best to start fresh with certified “seed” each season.
Winter squash: From butternut to pumpkin to acorn and so many more, winter squashes are grown through the summer and harvested once its skin is no longer easy to nick. The edible fruits can withstand a freeze but should be harvested and stored in a cool, dry place soon after. Baked, mashed and made into holiday pies, these carotenoid-rich foods will help keep you healthy all winter long.
Beets: As tasty as the green tops are, best to eat those fresh, early in the season. Unlike beetroots, those nutritious greens just won’t last very long. The tasty, swollen roots will last for months. Either store them like your potatoes or wrap loosely in a refrigerated veggie bin. Come spring, seed them early and often for a long season of harvest.
Garlic: Having a store of garlic throughout the year guarantees your meals will never go without flavor. Planted in fall, harvested in summer and cured for dry storage, this stinking rose is a staple in every chef’s kitchen. Get garlic growing details here.
Carrots & Parsnips: These two winter garden staples are best after getting struck by cold weather. The chill makes them sweeter. Easily left in the ground to dig as you need them, keep in mind that some pests will overwinter in the soil right along with them. Consider digging to store them in the cellar after the first good freeze. Grown from seed, start carrots early in spring and often through the growing season to get several harvests. Hold the parsnip seeding for summer; they really are best harvested in cool weather.
Drying Beans: Dried beans provide a versatile form of inexpensive protein. While as easy to grow as a snap bean, growing enough drying beans to store requires a large garden area. Consider Scarlet Runner beans or Rattlesnake beans, and grow them up other crops like corn and Sunchokes to maximize your space. Harvest the pods once they’re mature, drying them and splitting out the beans. Store fully dried seeds in a glass pantry jar to admire their pretty colors until it’s time to make that warm batch of chili.
Sunchokes (Jerusalem Articokes): Perhaps one of the prettiest and tallest garden edibles, this sunflower cousin provides nutty-flavored tubers at the end of the season. Like carrots and parsnips, these roots taste great after a freeze, but don’t expect the top growth to be lovely that long. Reaching heights as tall as some trees, this native of the US Northeast is a forager’s delight. Kept in a root cellar, they’ll last for months.
If any of your crops have blemishes at harvest time, cut out the imperfection and eat those fresh rather than putting them into storage. As winter progresses, check your stored foods regularly for any spoilage, and remove any damaged or blemished items immediately. Rot spreads rapidly and will ruin your food if left unchecked. And, toward the end of winter, should any of your stored food begin to shrivel, add those to the compost pile as well.
Not everything lasts forever, but done right, a few long storage crops in the pantry will help your family eat fresh from the garden even in the dead of winter.
Easy Roasted Roots
Preheat oven to 375F.
Select a mixture of about 1-2 pounds from your long stored root vegetables. (Red beets should be roasted alone or may stain your other veggies.)
Scrub and wash well; peel if necessary. Chop into one to two-inch, bite-size chunks. Place into glass baking dish in single layer.
Sprinkle with a pinch of salt (if desired) & mix together with a tablespoon olive oil to coat the vegetable chunks.
Roast at 375 for 30-45 minutes or until veggies are fork-tender, slightly caramelized, but not mushy.