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How to store vegetables for winter use

Val Bourne / 11 February 2020

Lots of vegetables can be stored, frozen or even left in the ground to enjoy over winter.

Carrots and beetroot
With some careful planning you can be enjoying your home grown vegetables throughout the winter months

It's perfectly possible to grow enough vegetables to either harvest during winter, or store over winter. Some crops can be left in the ground right up until the spring. Others can be left in the ground until Christmas, but then they need to be lifted in order to prevent pests like carrot fly from persisting in the soil.

It's also possible to harvest crops and dry them off and store them somewhere cool, perhaps in a garage or a porch. Some vegetables are also very easy to freeze and store and others, like Borlotti beans, can be dried and stored in jars. It all helps to keep the food miles down, for there's nothing greener than growing your own, and it helps the pocket. Perhaps the main reason is that home-grown vegetables, whether fresh or stored, often taste far better. Cold temperatures improve the flavour of many crops, encouraging starches to turn to sugars.

Vegetables you can leave in the ground

Lots of vegetables store perfectly well in the ground where they were grown. They may carry on growing in autumn, but slow down once winter arrives. They can be harvested whenever needed, if the ground is thawed. It's vital to choose the right variety, because there are carrots that overwinter (for instance) in cold temperatures and some that don’t.

Storing vegetables up until Christmas

Root crops like carrots and beetroots are best lifted in December time. If they are left in the ground for months on end, it can encourage soil-borne pests to thrive such as carrot root fly.

How to store root vegetables

Any sound roots can then be stored in a cool, frost-free place. A polythene bag or plastic carrier bag will suffice and they will keep for several weeks in a cool, but frost-free place. If you want to store crops for longer damp sand works well. You can use wooden trays, deep plastic containers, or you can make a hole in the ground and store crops there. However, if you make a hole in the ground, you have to prevent rodent attack. Wire netting placed around the crops may help. Leave a chimney, to allow excess heat and moisture to escape.

Recommended carrot varieties for winter use

Carrot ‘Autumn King 2’ (Suttons)
This late-cropping, orange-red conical variety stores well when left in the ground. It’s resistant to splitting and it this high-yielding variety has a great flavour.

Carrot ‘Eskimo’ (Kings Seeds)
The most frost-tolerant variety bred so far. On well-drained soils, you can leave some roots in the ground throughout the winter and dig as required. Good disease resistance as well.

Carrot ‘St. Valery’ (Kings Seeds)
A well-known, reliable maincrop carrot producing long, tapering roots with crisp flesh and a small core.

Beetroot varieties for storing

Most spherical varieties will overwinter well, although the sweetness of summer is replaced by an earthier flavour. The varieties with long cylindrical roots are less successful.

Vegetables you can leave until spring

Leeks and winter brassicas can be left in the ground until March or April, but should then be lifted before warmer weather makes them run to seed and makes the crop inedible. It will also prevent plant viruses from spreading via insects. Parsnips are prone to develop virus.

Recommended varieties for winter use

Parsnip F1 ‘Gladiator’
The first F1 parsnip developed by British seed company Tozer Seeds initially for commercial growers. This produces creamy roots of a good size. Silky smooth skin roots, with a good flavour and resistant to canker. Reliable and the benchmark variety. Parsnips need cold temperatures to develop their nutty flavour.

Leek F1 'Oarsman'
A rust-resistant, mid-season variety also developed by Toser Seeds. Good sized leeks and far kinder on the stomach than the old variety ‘Musselburgh’

Cabbage 'Tourmaline'
A recent savoy variety that produces dark-green crinkled foliage. This sweet cabbage cooks quickly.

Cabbage F1 ’Tundra’
A small to medium cabbage, with tidy heads of crisp leaf. This is the most cold-tolerant cabbage because it doesn’t split in really cold weather.

Cabbage F1 ‘Marabel’
High yielding and very long standing January King type cabbage with red-tinted foliage. Matures from November onwards, producing large dense heads.

Kale ‘Dwarf Green Curled’
This is terrifically hardy and the nutritious leaves are delicious in the winter months. This is best harvested in February and March. Black Tuscan kale, ‘Cavolo Nero’, can be harvested in autumn. Growing the two will give you a crop from October until March.

Brussels Sprout F1 'Brodie'
Brodie regularly comes in top for flavour in recent taste panels, according to Kings Seeds, because it has a sweet, non-bitter flavour. Good leaf and button disease resistance and holds well in winter.

Best vegetables to freeze for winter use

The following vegetables freeze really well when harvested in late-summer or autumn. Blanch in boiling water and then cool quickly and bag up when dry.

Sweet corn F1 'Lark'
A tendersweet variety with large cobs, packed with golden, thin-skinned kernels. This variety has the benefit of being able to be grown alongside other varieties and it does well in cooler parts of the country.

Broad bean ‘Imperial Green Longpod’
Slender green-seeded pods which can contain up to 9 beans. This freezes much better than paler seeded ones.

Pea ‘Hurst Greenshaft’
Very sweet wrinkle-seeded peas on a very heavily cropping variety. Said to be the smallholder’s favourite, despite being an old variety.

Best to dry

Borlotti beans (Seeds of Italy)
Every gardener should grow some Borlotti beans because they dry so well for winter use. My favourite is Lamon, because you can eat it fresh from the pod as well as dry it.

Best lifted or picked and stored

Maincrop potatoes store well in thick paper sacks that exclude the light, so it’s a good idea to save any paper carrier bags. No need to chit maincrop varieties, plant them in April and harvest them before the end of September, spacing them 18 inches to 2 feet part.

Potato ‘Cara’ (Maincrop)
This pink-eyed cream variety cooks well, although it’s not as resistant to foliage blight as it used to be. The solid tubers store well.

Potato 'Mozart' (Late Maincrop)
Oval, smooth, red-skinned tubers with pale yellow flesh. This all-rounder can be used mashing, roasting, baking, and delicious chips and wedges.

Storing winter squash

These need space, but one plant can produce more than five winter squashes. Butternut types need warmer conditions, so are best grown in milder areas. The orange and grey-skinned varieties do well anywhere if planted out in June - after the frosts have gone. Harvest in early autumn, when the stems are corky, and turn them upside down so that water doesn’t collect round the stem. Then leave them outside for four weeks to ripen in the sun. They must be stored for at least 6 weeks to develop their chestnut-flavour. Chop into pieces and roast, or make soup, or use it in risotto.

Winter Squash F1 ‘Sunshine’ (Kings Seeds)
Small orange pumpkin-like fruits with a wonderful flavour. My favourite, although the tear-shaped ‘Uchiki-Kuri’ is also excellent.

Winter Squash ‘Crown Prince’
This grey-skinned squash forms larger fruits, about twice the size of ‘Sunshine and ‘Uchiki-Kuri’. It’s thin skinned but stores well in cool, frost-free places.

General rules for storing

Select F1 seed varieties if possible because they are more vigorous.

Check all stored crops regularly and discard any rotting roots.

Brassicas will need netting to prevent pigeon attack.

Root crops can be fleeced in very bad weather.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.