Harvest and Post-Harvest Handling of Fall Root Crops

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

Radishes are harvested throughout the fall. They are bunched with tops or wrapped/bagged without tops. For bunching, plants are pulled and gathered with rubber bands or twist ties. Shelf life is 10-14 days. Rapid cooling is essential to achieve the full storage potential of both bunched and topped roots. Radish is often top-iced to maintain temperature and contribute moisture for retaining a crisp texture. Under these conditions common red radish may be expected to maintain acceptable quality for 7 to 14 days with tops and 21 to 28 days if topped. Daikon-type radish may last from 3 to 4 months at these same conditions. Store at 32°F and 95-100% relative humidity.

Fall Turnips are harvested through up to a heavy freeze. Turnips are dug mechanically or by hand and either bunched or topped. They are washed and may be hydrocooled, forced air cooled, or room cooled. Topped turnips can be stored over 4-5 months at 32°F and at 95% relative humidity.

For Rutabagas, pull and trim tops in the field. Bruised, damaged, or diseased rutabagas will not store well. Wash rutabagas in clean water, spray-rinse with clean water, then dry as rapidly as possible before waxing or shipping. Rutabagas are commonly room cooled. For short term storage the root does not need to be waxed. Waxed rutabagas can be stored 4-6 months at 32°F and 95-100% relative humidity.

Fall Carrots are harvested from September into early winter. Fresh market carrots should be over 5 inches long and 0.75-1.5 inches in diameter. Fresh market carrots in small plantings are harvested by loosening the soil around the plants with a garden fork and then pulling carrots gently out of the ground by the tops. For larger acreages carrots with intact tops are harvested with a belt pick-up harvester that lifts carrots by their foliage then cuts off the tops. Fresh market carrots are washed, sorted, and packed into 48 1-lb plastic bags, or 24 2-lb plastic bags per carton, or loose in 50-lb mesh or plastic sacks. Mature topped carrots can be stored 7-9 months at 32-34°F (0- 1°C) and 98-100% relative humidity. Air circulation between crates or pallet boxes with carrots is desirable to remove respiratory heat, maintain uniform temperatures, and help prevent condensation. An air velocity of about 14-20 ft/min is adequate at low storage temperatures.

Market Beets are harvested when they reach a size of 1.5-3 inches in diameter. Beets can withstand temperatures as low as 12°F and can be harvested throughout the fall and early winter. For bunching beets, roots are undercut and carefully pulled by the tops. For larger acreages, beets for roots may be topped and machine dug using a modified potato digger. Store topped beets at 32°F (0°C) and 98-100% relative humidity. Like other root crops, beets are well adapted to storage. Topped beets stored at 32°F can keep 4-6 months provided the humidity is kept sufficiently high to prevent dehydration. Before storage, beets should be topped and sorted to remove the ones with disease symptoms or mechanical injuries. Beets should be stored in well-ventilated containers such as ventilated bin boxes or slatted crates to help dissipate respiratory heat. Bunched beets are much more perishable than topped beets, but they can be stored at 32°F for 10-14 days. A relative humidity of at least 95% is desirable to prevent wilting. Satisfactory precooling is accomplished by vacuum cooling or hydrocooling. Crushed ice helps keep the bunched beets cold, especially if refrigeration is not available. Bunched beets are commonly shipped with package and top ice to maintain freshness.