Beets are one of those crops that you don’t just grow for eating seasonally. They’re supposed to last you for a while and get you through the winter months. But how exactly can you store them, when your garden is full to the brim with root vegetables, summer crops and all kinds of goodies?
The truth is, even for a hobby gardener, no freezer will ever be spacious enough to fit all the food that a small garden can provide. So we learn to preserve, can, freeze, and the easiest of all – store fresh for winter. In this article, you’ll learn how to store your beets so that they never shrivel and taste just as good as day one.
To store fresh beets for winter, you need to cut their tops and arrange them in containers layered with moist sand, sawdust or woodchips. Like all root vegetables, beets need a cool, dark and humid space that’s above freezing to store well. Processed correctly, beets can last for 6 months or more.
Let’s dive into the details of storing beets – from sowing to harvest!
When is it best to harvest beets for storage?
There are two ways I like to grow beets in my garden every year: a spring-sown crop for summer harvest and a summer-sown crop for fall harvest. Both times, I multi sow them and grow them in clumps of 3-4 (some years more successfully than others).
Multi sown beets swell and push each other apart, so you get medium-sized beets that are perfect for storage, as well as the ideal size in the kitchen.
Beets mature in about 60 days, so it’s easy to grow them in succession or plant two main crops as I mentioned above.
Spring-sown beets start their life indoors in modules, under grow lights, and the transplants go in the ground around mid-April. By mid-June to early July, they’re ready for harvest. With multi sown beets, you’ll notice that the beets may mature at different times inside the clump. You can harvest them gradually and carefully twist out the biggest beets inside the clump, without pulling the others from the ground and allowing them to continue to grow.
Summer-sown beets also start their life indoors, because in summer I like to protect my seedling from the excessive heat. By late July, early August, these beet seedlings go in the ground, and they’ll be ready for harvest in late September, early October.
An important note on summer-sown beets is that you have to be careful to water them enough. Depending on your climate and rainy seasons, spring-sown beets may grow better than summer-sown beets and vice versa. It’s up to you to test and see which timing you like best.
Step by step guide for harvesting and processing fresh beets for storage
By harvesting my spring-sown beets and placing them into storage, I’m freeing up precious garden space for a fall crop that will benefit from that raised bed. I’m also protecting my root crops from bolting, and enjoying them all summer long, as my second batch of beets starts to mature.
But regardless of the time of harvest, the method stays the same. Here’s how to process beets so that they stay firm and fresh:
- Pull all your beets from the ground and sort the smallest ones from the largest ones – the larger ones tend to store the longest and taste even better than small ones.
- Separate blemished, damaged beets and set them aside.
- Don’t wash or scrub the dirt off – it can harm the beet’s delicate skins.
- There’s no need for curing beets, you can place them in storage immediately.
- Cut the tops off beets, leaving 2 inches of stem. This will cause the stems to bleed, so wear gloves if you don’t want your hands to get all red. Don’t get rid of all the tops – you can freeze some and enjoy them in stir-fries and soups – they taste just like swiss chard.
- Use any plastic bins that have lids – containers, buckets, whatever is convenient. Make sure you can still lift and carrry them – they’ll be heavy with all the contents inside.
- Line your plastic bins with the mulch of your choice: sawdust, woodchips or sand. All three options retain moisture and are key to keeping your beets fresh long term.
- Place the processed beets inside the bins without touching each other and without touching the edges of the bins. Cover each layer of beets with a layer of mulch.
- Water the sawdust/woodchips/sand or make sure that the mixture is damp before you use it.
- Place the lid on top and store them in a cool, dark place of your choosing.
Where can you best store beets long term?
Ideally, every gardener should have a root cellar. In wintertime, it’s like your own personal supermarket. I love to go in there with a basket and come back with pounds of fresh vegetables. Root cellars are ideally well ventilated and dry, constantly keeping the temperature cool and above freezing, regardless of the season.
While it’s best to own a dry root cellar, moisture is a crucial part of keeping your beets firm (aside from cool temperatures), and the way we accomplish that is through the use of wet mulch.
But if you don’t have a root cellar, don’t fret. It’s more of a luxury that modern times tend to overlook. You can still convert some of your home space into a storage area:
- a cold balcony
- a crawl space
- a garden shed
- your basement
- your garage
- your attic
As a last resort, and if your climate allows it, you can leave your fall beets in the ground for winter. Be sure to cover them with a thick layer of mulch – wood chips or leaves work best – and harvest them before spring comes. If anything, the winter frosts will make beets taste much sweeter.
How long do fresh beets last in storage?
If beets are stored in a cool, dark place surrounded by sufficient moisture, they can last for a minimum of 6 months, if not more. I’ve never had a beet go bad, or even soft – we always ate them all by spring, so I really can’t say if they have an expiration date, but I’m willing to try to keep a few and see how long they last.
If anything, beets will lose some of their sweetness and flavour the longer they stay in storage.
Stored beets are sprouting – can you still eat them?
One thing you’ll notice with all root vegetables that are stored fresh – whether that’s carrots, turnips, celeriac, parsnips or beets – they’ll all start to sprout at some point.
Because they don’t have access to light, the sprouts coming out of the tops of your beets will be light pink, spindly and long. Don’t mind them, just snap them off and eat the beets. While I haven’t tried eating the sprouts, I can assure you that the beets will still taste good.
Aside from storing them fresh, I love to keep canned roasted beets inside my pantry, and at times, a jar of marinated beet salad inside my fridge. I use beets from storage to make these goodies, as well as enjoy them roasted or as an excellent addition to Ukrainian borscht.
Beets have a strong earthy flavour and turn sweet when you roast them. They’re one of those vegetables that you either hate or love with passion. As you’ve already guessed, I belong to the second category. So here’s to growing and storing beets you can’t beat!