Getting ready to feast on root vegetable crops such as beets and carrots over the winter months requires the knowledge of the germination and maturity dates of these cold season varieties prior to the first frost date in your zone. In early August, we usually succession plant these vegetables along with some leeks and kale. These varieties are what we look forward to harvesting throughout the winter months, prior to spring planting. Carrots are more hearty than beets. Temperatures below freezing will harm beets so after harvesting move them to a cold root cellar storage unit with temperatures slightly above freezing and about 90 – 95% humidity. Beets will become soft because of the loss of moisture but will still maintain nutritional value. Beets have high sources of antioxidants and the best way to preserve beets is to steam them to maintain nutrients and colour.
However, a poly-tunnel will extend these young succession plants and you can enjoy tender beet greens until they become wet and mushy from the colder temperature fluctuations prior to harvesting in late fall or early winter.
Carrots, on the other hand will withstand colder temperatures. When they mature in late fall, after a succession planting in late July or early August (eight weeks prior to the first frost) we usually will cover with straw and dig them up as needed when they become mature. We will introduce a polytunnel row cover for extra protection and will chop the green tops to help preserve their flavour and nutrition value. Carrots in the winter, will have a sweeter flavour because the starch will turn to sugar, giving these cold season hearty vegetables a candy flavour, with the crop lasting from November to late February. Yellow, orange and purple heirloom varieties are very flavourful and are high in beta carotene. Our bodies use beta carotene to establish Vitamin A that helps us sustain good health.
There is nothing better than foraging your food in the middle of winter, clearing the snow and rewarding yourself by harvesting a healthy variety of these cold season crops!
- Paul Smith