Root Cellars: Handle Your Harvest With Care

Sandy Newton
Fresh Carrots

If you’re planning to store produce in a root cellar, here are tips to ensure to ensure that your fruits and vegetables survive storage.

  • Stock your cellar as late in the season as you can. If possible, chill the produce in the fridge before putting it in the cellar.
  • A few vegetables—such as potatoes, winter squashes, and onions—need to be “cured” for a few days in warm temperatures before going into cold storage.
  • Shake off loose dirt rather than washing it off. Many root–cellar vegetables store better this way.
  • Always handle your vegetables with care; even slightly rough treatment can cause invisible bruising, which starts the produce on the road to decomposition.
  • Store cabbages and turnips in a detached root cellar so their odor, which can be unpleasant, will not permeate the house.
  • Think about where you place produce: The driest, warmest air is near the ceiling, more-humid air is lower as well as farthest from the door.
  • Most fruit “breathes,” and some—particularly apples and pears—should be wrapped in paper to retard the release of ethylene gas.
  • Making a root cellar in a garage or using pressure-treated wood is not recommended.
  • Vegetables piled together generate heat, which can lead to spoilage. Put on shelves close to the floor and rotate.
  • Check your vegetables regularly, and immediately remove any with signs of rot. From the lessons of the cold cellar comes the saying, “One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.”

Try these techniques whether you harvest your own or buy your produce at a farmer’s market!


The 2003 Old Farmer's Almanac Canadian Edition

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I live in a trailer that is 2

I live in a trailer that is 2 1/2 feet off the ground. Vinyl skirting runs from ground to bottom of trailer. it is dry under and never floods. could i lay down a bed of hay and use as cold storage as is? I live on southern tip of lake michigan. thanks for any help/ advice.

No, we would say this

No, we would say this probably wouldn't work as it would probably freeze. Root storage is best in a basement or ground area that stays between 32 and 40 degrees during the winter.

To Garlic Girl: If you are

To Garlic Girl: If you are regularly getting standing water in the basement, damage may be occurring to your foundation. Sump pumps are a great after the problem fix, but if there is any way to prevent it in the first place you will be much better off. Also, moisture in a closed space equals mold, and that is not healthy for people as well as bad for food storage. Hope I didn't depress you, but if you can you should find a way to keep the water out.

Good Luck

We are buying a house and it

We are buying a house and it has a place at the back of the basement where someone was starting to build a cellar, its under ground and no window for a vent, what can i do for a vent. We also have a living space in the basement

Ideally a root cellar should

Ideally a root cellar should have an inlet and an exhaust vent. 4-inch PVC pipes work well. Put the exhaust pipe close to the ceiling and the intake pipe at floor level in the opposite corner. Type "root cellar vent" into your browser to find specifics on how to install vents.

I have a similar concern as

I have a similar concern as that of the previous writer. We have a root cellar in our 110 year old house that is very clean but I'm afraid to use to store food because it seems a sure thing that that will attract mice, etc. We have stored packaged food in other parts of the basement and have only seen one family of mice in three years but that's more than enough for me. How can root cellar be kept "critter-free"?

If you have pests such as

If you have pests such as mice, figure out how they are entering your root cellar. Fill every crack with steel wool. Set live traps or use battery-powered sonic repellers to prevent them from eating your food. If you can, get a mousetrap on legs -- a cat!

I have a built in root cellar

I have a built in root cellar in my basement, it has not been used for many years the mice have had the run of the place, should I treat the dirt in the cellar? it is in good shape just hasn't been used, planting a large garden and want to keep potatos and onions in it...(and other stuff)

A fair concern. To start out,

A fair concern. To start out, clean the root cellar. Use water and bleach to clean out any mold. If you're storing potatoes and other roots, just keep in crates (not paper). You'll see quickly if something is biting them. Otherwise, you may have lots of jars if you are preserving. Use natural wood shelves that you can clean with bleach. For mice, set out live traps. Don't use poison around food. The best prevention is to keep them coming into your cellar in the first place. Check for any rot. Add a sheet of metal along the bottom edge of your door. Insulate with spray foam around door edges, vents, lights. Screen vents and add weatherstripping around doors. Never leave food debris on floor; never leave door open; regularly check your food stock.

In the winter under our house

In the winter under our house is a lot of water which we sump pump out regularly when temps are above freezing. Is there a way to build a root cellar in those conditions?

No, You need a "cool dry

No, You need a "cool dry place for a Root Cellar."