Although most houses these days are not equipped with root cellars, you can probably modify some space in your cellar or garage for storing vegetables.
Canning and freezing both have merits as means of putting your garden vegetables aside for winter and spring consumption, but it's always nice to have some crops on hand that haven't been processed. Here are storage tips:
- All vegetables need a dry, dark place for winter storage. The room should be well ventilated, and any storage containers should be kept off the floor or ground on blocks or pallets.
- Within this space, however, the optimum storage condition for each crop varies somewhat. Root crops such as beets, carrots, and rutabagas should be packed in sand or sawdust and keep best at around 35° Fahrenheit. Potatoes like it a little warmer -- about 45°.
- You can achieve various temperature requirements by using various elevations and wall surfaces.
- At a depth of five feet, the natural temperature of the ground is 50°, which means that most cellars will require a source of colder air.
As much as you want to enjoy them at the time of harvest, your very finest, healthiest crops are the ones you should set aside for storage.
- First of all, be sure to harvest them when the weather is dry.
- In most cases, you should not wash the vegetables before storage, although if root crops are caked with moist soil, they can be hosed down and left outside to dry for a day or two.
- Do not rub the dirt off, as this will bruise the skin, and leave the stems intact.
- Dig up root crops after they've been in the ground through a cold spell, (this will fill the cells with sugar and starches instead of water) but not through a hard frost (except parsnips, which can be left in the ground through the winter and harvested in the spring) and leave them outside in the sun for a day or two to cure.
- Onions should cure for several days, and squash and pumpkins should be given weeks, if possible, for their skins to toughen.
Not all of your storage crops make the best of neighbors.
- Apples give off a gas that causes potatoes to sprout and promotes the ripening of tomatoes -- neither of which is desirable while in storage.
- Turnips and cabbage give off a strong smell, which can eventually flavor surrounding vegetables as well.
- Seeds and pods are not candidates for the cellar. They need to be thoroughly dried in a dark, moisture-free location (try the attic) and may then be stored in jars in the pantry or kitchen.
- Check your root cellar regularly for temperature, moisture, rot, and animal infestation.
A well-kept storage place in the garage or cellar can add a lot of cheer to winter meals!
Note: If you are interested in building or using true root cellars, see our "Related Articles" above.