University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
GARDEN “KEEPER” CROPS
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension
University of Vermont
carrots, and potatoes are some of the garden crops that keep for
in storage. Now is the time to plan for such
“keeper” crops in this season’s garden, and to sow several, in order
enjoying them right through to this time next year.
planning what to sow and grow, you need to plan if you have the
conditions. Ideally you would need three
types of storage environments for longest storage, although you can
often get by
for shorter periods with less than ideal.
Even if you don’t have the right storage to keep crops for long
you can always enjoy them fresh and freeze, or otherwise preserve
others. A range of storage months is given, as best
storage will vary with conditions and the fruit quality, and might
longer if you get it just right, or with just some loss of quality.
vegetables that store longest in “warm” (55 to 60 degrees F), dry,
include sweet potato (4 to 6 months), winter squash (2 to 6 months),
pumpkins (2 to 3 months). You might find
such conditions in hallway closets or basements, perhaps in a
group prefers “cool” (35 to 45 degrees F), dry and dark. These
include garlic, onions, and shallots
and all store generally for 6 to 8 months.
Look for these conditions in an unheated garage or basements in
homes, or outdoor storage buildings. I
have one of the latter, with minimal heat from a space heater to
conditions just right. Of course you
could build an outdoor storage structure during this growing season,
one being a buried container which you cover with a foot or more of
during the winter.
keeper vegetables prefer cool (35 to 45 degrees F), humid, and
dark. Best is on the lower end of the range, except
for potatoes which prefer 40 to 45 degrees.
Good keepers in cool and moist include beets (3 to 5 months), late
cabbage (3 to 4 months), carrots (4 to 5 months), celeriac (3 to 4
parsnips (2 to 6 months), potatoes (4 to 9 months), winter radishes
(2 to 4
months), and rutabaga (2 to 4 months).
can keep the humidity up around roots crops by burying in moist sand
(if loose and lightweight or sandy) in open baskets or similar. Some
sawdust, but it can absorb moisture away from the vegetables, drying
out. Plastic-lined boxes work, as long
as left open for air circulation and the medium isn’t too wet. A
plastic bag with a few 1/4-inch holes for
air exchange, in a spare refrigerator, works for small quantities.
also should consider your space for growing crops to keep for
storage. For small gardens, consider crops that don’t
take up much room like beets, carrots, celeriac, garlic, parsnips,
shallots. If you have plenty of room,
consider cabbage (a bit difficult for novice growers), onions,
pumpkins, rutabagas, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash.
Or, in a small space you can grow just a few
of these as with a small raised bed of onions, a grow-bag of
potatoes, or bush
forms of sweet potatoes.
you figure what you like to eat, have room for in your garden, and
properly, figure how many you want and when to start them. You’ll
find instructions on seed packets if
sowing your own, or in catalogs. Those
to sow indoors in containers in April for planting out after the
include celeriac, onions and shallots.
Those to sow indoors in May include winter squash, pumpkins, and
cabbage. Or you can sow the squash and pumpkins
directly in the garden one week after the last frost date.
to two weeks before the date of usual last spring frost plant potato
(small plant parts you buy just for growing) and those of onions and
shallots. Sow seeds then of rutabaga and
parsnips. Although you sow carrots, beets, and turnips
in spring for summer harvest, for storing, mark your calendar to sow
these 10 to
12 weeks before the first fall frost date.
After this date in October is when most plant garlic sets, to
the following summer.
you’re not familiar with spring and fall frost dates for your area,
contact your local weather service office or independent garden
store. Of course you can find them online from the
National Climatic Data Center, along with all kinds of other weather
data. Go to their website (www.ncdc.noaa.gov) and
search for “frost dates” or “climate normals”.
Keep in mind that these are only “averages” and will vary from year
year, and are often affected by microclimates.
Low pockets in yards and valleys often stay colder in spring, while
areas near bodies of water often warm up sooner.
it’s hard to think about next winter now, just as this one is
ending, you’ll be
glad you did when it arrives and you have months of vegetable crops
to keep in
storage. It’s special to cook these for
yourself or guests, knowing such food came right from your own
garden. You’ll eat healthy, and save on grocery