Washing Root Vegetables

It's fun to harvest vegetables from your garden! That's the whole point of growing a vegetable garden, right? 

Once you harvest them, there's more work to be done - namely cleaning the harvest. It can be tedious and messy, but it's necessary. 

If you're going to eat your newly-harvested root vegetables right away, you can clean them right after harvest. This also applies if you're going to put your harvest in the refrigerator to eat or process relatively quickly, within a few weeks or month or two. 

If you're planning to keep them in long-term storage (for example, in a root cellar) they shouldn't be cleaned right away. Sometimes the cleaning process can cause a little damage that can lead to rot. 

This article does not cover food storage in a root cellar, but here's a good beginners article from The Old Farmer's Almanac website:

When you're ready to eat them, follow these steps:

Beets, Turnips, Carrots, and Radishes

if you're going to eat them fresh, hose them down outside right after harvest. 

A colander or sieve helps with this process - spray the water gently on your harvest, repositioning them a few times to rinse off as much soil as you can. The water and mud flows right through. This will get the large clumps of soil off so they'll be easier to clean at home. 

Trim off the greens.

When you're ready to eat your root cellar vegetables, or when you get your fresh-eating harvest inside, wash them in a sink filled with cold water. It may take 2 or 3 washes to get them clean. You can scrub them with a soft vegetable scrubber if you like, or save that task for right before you cook them up. Again, a colander or sieve makes the cleaning process a bit easier. 

Green Onions

Bunching onions stay small and don't form a bulb. They are easy to clean since they are only partially underground. Rinse the onion in cool or cold water, and you may want to remove an outer layer, if it's dried or mushy. 

Trim the roots so they are short. At this point, you can rinse the roots more thoroughly and use a soft brush to dislodge any remaining dirt. 

Onions

If you're going to eat your onions fresh, you can wash them much like the beets, carrots, and turnips. 

Most people cure (dry out) their onions for storage, to be used for months after the harvest. Do not wash them before curing but you can gently knock off some of the soil if you like.

It's important not to damage the outer layers of the onion while they are fresh and somewhat more delicate. A nick can cause the onion to rot.

After curing, the outer layers are dry and more durable. You can peel off the outermost layer as long as there's another dried layer below it. Peeling will remove most of the dirt still clinging to the onion. Trim the roots and the tops. Brush off any remaining dirt with a soft brush, like a soft toothbrush or similar. Once again, be careful not to damage the onion to avoid rot. 

For more information on curing onions see our article from spring 2022: How to Grow Onions. 

Potatoes

Potatoes should be dug a few weeks after the tops die back, which allows the skins to dry and toughen up a bit more. The harvested potatoes will store better. 

Potatoes should not be washed until they are to be used. Since they are harvested when dry, the soil generally can be brushed off. Use a soft brush or your hands. 


Cleaning is necessary of course; nobody likes to eat dirt! Yuk. Having to clean your vegetables is one disadvantage of growing your own vegetables - store bought vegetables are usually pretty clean straight from the store.

For me, the tradeoff of having highly nutritious, flavorful home grown vegetables is worth the extra step. 

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