Storing the Harvest Without a Root Cellar
Now that you have grown and harvested some beautiful winter-keeping vegetables, how are you going to store them?
In great-grandma’s day most houses had a root cellar or a cold storage room somewhere in the house. Today’s houses pride them selves on having warm, dry, finished basements instead of cold, damp cellars with dirt floors.
Where can you keep your autumn harvest?
- Does any room in your house stay below 60 degrees but above freezing?
- Do you have a closet on an outside wall?
- Can you section off the coolest corner of the cellar or attic?
- Do you have an unheated mudroom or entry?
- How about using picnic coolers or wrapping a clean metal garbage can with insulation for protection against cold if storing items in an unheated garage or shed that may drop below freezing?
- My parents used their bulkhead for cold storage. It had easy access from inside and outside and the wide steps made handy shelves. They could open the bulkhead door occasionally to add fresh air but the warmer cellar air kept things from freezing on extra-cold nights.
How to Store Different Vegetables
Different fruits and vegetables need different temperatures and humidity levels to store successfully. There are 4 basic groups:
Group 1 is cold and damp, 32 to 40 degrees and very moist conditions (90% humidity).
Pick root vegetables before the temperature drops below 25 degrees, brush off loose soil (don’t wash them), clip tops to 1 inch, and leave roots intact. Pack beets, carrots, turnips, radishes, and rutabagas in damp sand, peat moss, or sawdust so they don’t touch each other. Celery keeps best if pulled up by the roots and stored upright with the roots in damp sand.
Group 2 is still cold but drier 32 to 40 degrees and 60 to 70% humidity. Apples, pears, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes can be stored with root vegetables if given extra air circulation to keep them drier.
Cabbage and Brussels can be uprooted and replanted in a bucket or bag of moist soil. Potatoes need darkness and a spot nearer 40 degrees. Isolate the apples in their own container. They give off ethylene gas and also absorb strong flavors like cabbage. Bosc and anjou pears are good keepers. Condition them at 50 to 70 degrees in a dry airy place for a week before storing them at 32 degrees.
Group 3 is cool and dry 32 to 50 degrees and under 60% humidity. Onions, garlic, and shallots keep best in a dry, unheated spare room or closet.
Before storing dry them for about 2 weeks in an airy location before braiding or hanging them in mesh bags. They can also be stored in shallow boxes or baskets no more than 2 layers deep.
Group 4 is warm 50 to 60 degrees and dry. Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash actually need warm conditions to keep their texture. Leave stems intact and cure squash for 2 weeks to dry and harden the skin before storing.
Sweet potatoes need to be cured at a high temperature (80-90 degrees) for 5-10 days before storing and don’t let them drop below 50 degrees in storage.
Be sure to check your stored produce regularly and remove anything that has started to spoil.
About This Blog
Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.