These plants need to be pulled from the ground in the fall and replanted in the spring OR, if they would survive in the ground, heavily mulched and over wintered. Make sure the plants are mature and healthy, do not save seed from plants which bolt and produce seed the first year.
When preparing roots for storage, dig them on a dry day, brush away loose soil and cut the green growth back to one inch, set them In the sun to dry for a few hours, or indoors for a day. Turn the roots once so they dry evenly. Store them in a cool dark location. You can plant them outside again in the spring when you would normally plant onion sets.
When replanting carrots or parsnips, you can slice off the crown and then plant only the crown. Be aware that plants in their second year especially beets and carrots, will be substantially larger than in the first year. I have regularly seen carrots reach over 6 feet.
If you live somewhere where you can overwinter in the ground that is usually the best option. We overwinter in the ground, but every few years we get a year that is a bad freeze thaw year and we lose a lot of plants. Mulch deep, at least 6 inches and you should be fine. Let's look at individual plants.
Beets, like corn, are wind pollinated and will cross pollinate with other varieties. You should only attempt to save seeds from one variety per year. Beets are also prolific producers, you should be easily able to produce enough enough seed for even a moderately large garden with less than five plants.
If you choose to lift the beets, prepare them as if you were going to store them for eating; brush off loose dirt, trim greens to about an inch from the crown and allow to air dry for a day. Stored beets do well when stored in a box of damp sawdust and kept between five and ten degrees C°
Leeks will produce beautiful flower heads atop five foot stalks in the second year. They are very hardy and will generally do well if overwintered under mulch in the garden. Leeks are insect pollinated, usually by bees, and will cross pollinate with onions, so if you wish to save seed from both try alternating years or a large physical space between the two.
Onions also tend to do well if left in the ground. When deciding which to harvest and which to leave for seed, harvest all the double bulb ones and any with really thick necks. The biggest of the bulbs left will produce the most seed. If you chose to lift your seed stock for spring replanting, prepare them as you would the rest of the crop for storage, taking care not to bruise the flesh and making sure the greens are well dried back. Store in a dry, cool and well ventilated space.
Carrots and parsnip will readily cross pollinate with each other, so plan accordingly. Carrots will also cross pollinate with their wild cousins, familiar to many as queen Anne's lace, so trim the seed head any of these wild plants growing near the garden. Both of these plants will overwinter quite well in most gardens with a good cover of mulch, in fact we always leave our parsnips in the ground until after Christmas as this tends to make them sweeter. You do have to be aware of pests problems. While keeping these crops in the garden makes them sweeter for eating, mice will find this out too. Both can suffer heavy predation during the winter.
If you want to store these for spring planting, be careful not to damage the roots during harvest, trim the green back to one inch above crowns and store in damp sawdust around zero degrees C°. You can cut the crowns off next spring and simply replant these.
The final plant I'll look at in this category is Swiss chard. This plant is very hardy and does not usually require lifting. Beets and Swiss chard will cross pollinate with each other so gain it is best to alternate years with these crops.
As I said this category is the trickiest of all and while it will require some extra planning, it is worth it to plan your garden to allow for the harvesting of these seed stocks.
The final group to look at is cloning. These plants either don't produce seed, or the seed they do produce is not viable or is generally not true to the parent plant. The most commonly grown plants in this category are rhubarb, potatoes and garlic.
Potatoes plants will occasionally produce need but it does not generally run true. Choose only the best, unblemished potatoes for seed. Drying them in the sun will toughen the skin. Store in dry sand for spring planting.
Everyone who has rhubarb is familiar with the large seed heads produced by this favourite perennial. Rhubarb is infamous for it's seeds not being true to type. For best results split your current plants and replant to increase your stocks.
Garlic; every gardeners knows that with garlic, you plant what you eat. Choose large cloves of garlic to plant as these will give you the biggest bulbs. For more information, see my post on planting garlic.
To be truly self sufficient, you need to be able to save seed from your garden. Start small, experiment with different plants and see how it goes, once you start I guarantee you'll be hooked.
Tomorrow I'm going to try and convince you that you should be growing comfrey even if making herbal remedies is the last thing you ever intend to do! Have a great day everyone