By Charlie Nardozzi
If you planted a fall crop of root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and parsnips, you can teach your kids about storing them in the ground.
While most school and home vegetable gardens are finished for the season or nearly so, if you planted a fall crop of root vegetables such as carrots, beets, and parsnips, you can teach your kids about storing them in the ground. As long as you can prevent the soil from freezing solid and thawing, these roots store well in the soil and can be dug out in winter for a sweet-tasting snack.
Introduce this idea to your kids by talking about what vegetables need to stay crisp and fresh. Ask them about the temperature at which they find vegetables in the grocery store. Explain that different vegetables last longer in storage than others. For example, leafy greens can only be stored for a few days, while winter squash can be stored for months. Talk about the proper storage conditions for each type of vegetable.
Ask kids about the best places around their home to store vegetables. While most will think of the refrigerator or basement, introduce the idea of storing some vegetables in the ground. One of the best is root crops. Talk about keeping the soil well drained and not letting it freeze, to prevent roots from rotting. Ask why they think the freezing and thawing cycle in winter may hurt root crops.
Show how to cover the roots for winter by placing a 6- to 8-inch-thick layer of hay or straw over the roots now. If you wait until December to do this, the mice and voles will have already found other lodging for winter. They will thus be less likely to overwinter in your hay pile, eating the roots all winter. The ground is cold, but probably not frozen, so you’ll be holding the cool temperatures without freezing up your roots. Ask kids about what happens if it snows. Remind them that snow is an excellent insulator and will help keep the ground thawed. During the winter, dig through the snow and hay and pull carrots, beets, and parsnips as needed. The kids will be amazed at how sweet they taste and how crunchy the texture stays. Harvest everything before spring. Once the vegetables start growing again, the flavor will quickly turn bitter.