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22 Foods You Can Store in Root Cellars

Use these root-cellar storage guidelines to keep your garden produce fresh for many months.

By Debbie Moors


Carrots can last four to six months in a root cellar depending on the variety and conditions. Photo courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock (HobbyFarms.com)
Courtesy iStockphoto/Thinkstock

By paying close attention to the crop varieties you choose, your timing for harvest and the best storage conditions for each type of fruit or vegetable, you’ll be able to enjoy the taste of summer well into winter with the help of a root cellar. Generally, you’ll have produce that stores well in a cold, damp environment, and produce that needs slightly warmer, drier conditions. In the following list, produce is sorted by temperature preference, with information on harvesting and storage guidelines and varieties that keep well.

To tailor your root-cellar plans to your region, contact your county cooperative extension office. They can advise you on specific storage varieties for your region, as well as explain challenges you might face with your climate.

Cold and Damp
Store these varieties at 32 to 40 degrees F with 90- to 95-percent humidity.

Apples
While everyone may have different opinions on the best keeper, Walt Rosenber, of Masonville Orchards in Colorado, says it’s generally accepted that antique and heirloom apple varieties don’t keep as well as some of the newer varieties (Winter Banana, along with some others, being the exceptions), and tart apples keep better than sweet. Store only mature, unblemished apples, and wrap each individually in newspaper. Keep wrapped apples in cardboard boxes or wooden apple crates.

Varieties to consider: Arkansas Black, Cameo, Criterion, Fuji, HoneyCrisp, Newtown Pippin, Northern Spy, Pink Lady, Rome Beauty, Winter Banana and Yates

Shelf life: 2 to 7 months depending on variety

Beets
Harvest after a few days of dry weather, when roots are about 2 inches in diameter. Dig up, cut off greens about 1 to 2 inches from top of root (leave root tip intact), brush off loose soil, and layer in damp sand, sawdust or peat moss. Use a plastic container with a tight lid to keep sand moist, or store in a wooden box. Allowing beets to touch one another will increase spoilage. 

Varieties to consider: Boltardy, Long Season and Lutz Green Leaf

Shelf life: 3 to 5 months

Broccoli
Broccoli isn’t a long keeper, but it will keep best at 32 degrees F (carefully regulated) with very high moisture. Trim and bag in perforated plastic. Don’t store near fruit or vegetables, such as apples, that give off ethylene gas—it will significantly shorten storage life.

Varieties to consider: Greenbelt, Green Comet, Legacy, Marathon and Waltham 29

Shelf life: 1 to 2 weeks

Brussels Sprouts
For best flavor, harvest Brussels sprouts after several frosts. If you have room, dig up the plant and repot it, placing it in your cellar and continuing to harvest from it, or hang it upside down from the roots. If space is limited, pick the sprouts and store them in a perforated plastic bag.

Varieties to consider: Jade Cross and Long Island Improved

Shelf life: 3 to 5 weeks

Cabbage
Choose firm, solid cabbage heads. Red cabbages store better than green varieties, and late varieties are usually better keepers than early varieties. Harvest after the first frost by pulling the plant out of the ground, then trim off leaves. Store in outdoor storage pits or garbage cans because the cabbage’s odor will permeate the cellar or house if stored inside and can impact the flavor of celery, apples and pears. You can also wrap each cabbage individually and place on shelves, leaving a couple of inches between each head.

Varieties to consider: Brunswick, Danish Ballhead, Late Flat Dutch, Red Acre, Red Drumhead and Storage No. 4

Shelf life: 3 to 4 months or longer depending on variety

Carrots
Like many root crops, carrots can be stored where grown in the garden, if you don’t have problems with rodents and can mulch deeply with 1 to 2 feet of hay or straw. To store inside, dig up at the end of the season, before the ground has frozen. Cut off the tops close to the carrots, or snap off by hand—the fronds deplete the carrot of moisture and nutrients if left in place, shortening the carrot’s storage life. Layer in a box with moist sand, peat or moss.

Varieties to consider: Chantenay, Danvers, Bolero, Carson, Kingston, Kurota Chantenay, Nigel, Red Core Chantenay, Royal Chantenay and St. Valery

Shelf life: 4 to 6 months or longer, depending on variety and conditions

Jerusalem Artichokes
These tubers don’t store as well in a root cellar as they do in the ground—they’ll last all winter in the garden if the ground doesn’t freeze. Although Jerusalem artichokes are hardy to zone 3, take precautions to avoid freezing: Over time, exposure to near-freezing or freezing temperatures causes their starches to break down, changing their color, texture and flavor. Diseased, bruised or skinned tubers will increase spoilage.

Varieties to consider: Fuseau is the most commonly seen; a less-common heirloom variety that overwinters well is Corlis Bolton Haynes.

Shelf life: in the root cellar, 1 to 2 months layered in damp sand; if left in ground, keeps until spring (cover with a light layer of mulch to protect from freezing), depending on conditions

Leeks
Mulch in the garden until a hard frost, then dig up, keeping intact. (Some gardeners find they can leave leeks in the garden, heavily mulched.) Using a deep bucket, store upright in damp sand or soil.

Varieties to consider: Arena, Elephant, Giant Musselburgh, Nebraska and Zermatt

Shelf life: 3 to 4 months

Parsnips
As with carrots, parsnips can be left in the garden under a heavy layer of mulch, though parsnips don’t like alternating freeze and thaw cycles. To store inside, cut off tops, and layer in a box with damp sand, peat or sphagnum moss.

Varieties to consider: All-America, Hollow Crown and Offenham

Shelf life: 1 to 2 months

Pears
Store only unblemished, unbruised fruits. Pears are very sensitive to temperature and are ideally stored at 29 to 31 degrees F. Wrap each pear in newspaper, and store in cardboard or wooden boxes lined with perforated plastic. According to information from Colorado State University Extension, "If pears are stored too long or at too high a temperature (above 85 degrees F for most varieties, but as low as 70 to 75 degrees F for Keiffers), they will break down without ripening, often becoming brown inside, while the outside looks sound.”

Varieties to consider: Bosc, Comice and D’Anjou

Shelf life: 2 to 3 months

Potatoes
Once plants have died back, dig up potatoes and cure in a dark place at 45 to 60 degrees F for 10 to 14 days. Once cured, potatoes should be stored at 40 to 45 degrees F—colder temperatures can make potatoes overly sweet, while warmer temps can lead to sprouting. Don’t store with ethylene-releasing crops.

Varieties to consider: All Blue, Katahdin, Kennebec, Red Pontiac, Sangre, Sebago and Yukon Gold

Shelf life: 4 to 6 months

Rutabagas
Layer in a box with moist sand and keep moist. Store outdoors to avoid odors.

Varieties to consider: American Purple Top and Laurentain

Shelf life: 2 to 4 months

Turnips
Store the same as you would carrots, but keep moist. Store outdoors to avoid odors.

Varieties to consider: Navet des Vertus Marteau and Purple Top White Globe

Shelf life: 4 to 6 months

Winter Radishes
Layer in a box with moist sand. Keep moist. Store outdoors to avoid odors.

Varieties to consider: Black Spanish, Chinese White and Violet de Gournay

Shelf life: 2 to 3 months

Cool and Dry
Store these varieties at 50 to 60 degrees F with 60- to 70-percent humidity.

Beans (dried)
Allow beans to mature on the plant until the beans rattle. Pull up the entire plant and place it in a protected, shady spot to dry for an additional 1 to 2 weeks. If your thumbnail makes an indention in the pods, dry longer. Shell the beans by hand, or beat plants against a hard surface. Blow away chaff with a hair dryer or air compressor, then store in an airtight container. Some gardeners freeze dry beans for several weeks in order to kill weevils. Store in an airtight container.

Varieties to consider: Adzuki, Black Coco, Brown Dutch, Jacob’s Cattle, Speckled Cranberry, Steuben, Tiger’s Eye (Repokeb) and Yin Yang

Shelf life: best used within 1 year but can last several years

Garlic
When about half the garlic leaves are yellow to brown and dying off, but top leaves are still green, dig up one or two bulbs to evaluate. If the heads are still tight, leave the rest a little longer. When the heads are a nice size but before bulbs begin to split, it’s time to harvest. Dig up your garlic, brush off loose soil and handle gently. Cure for about 10 to 14 days in a well-ventilated location where bulbs won’t get wet or sunburned. Once cured, braid tops together and hang, or cut off tops and keep bulbs in mesh bags. Dry conditions are crucial for storage life; otherwise, they start to sprout. 

Varieties to consider: Chilean Silver, Marbled Purple Stripe, Mother Of Pearl, Porcelain and Tipatilla (Softneck varieties tend to store better than hardneck varieties.)

Shelf Life: 5 to 8 months

Onions
Place harvested onions on newspaper, screen or hardware cloth, out of sunlight in a dry, well-ventilated place and cure for 10 to 14 days, or until skins are papery and roots are dry. Cut off tops about 1 inch above the onion, and store in ventilated containers. You can use net bags, paper grocery sacks, or even pantyhose for this pupose. Avoid using plastic bags or plastic storage containers that aren’t breathable. Dry conditions are crucial for storage life; otherwise, they start to sprout. 

Varieties to consider: Australian Brown, Brunswick, Bronze d’Amposta, Copra, Newburg, Norstar, Red Burgundy, Red Creole, Red Weathersfield, Rossa Di Milano, Stuttgarter, Yellow Globe and Yellow of Parma (Sweet Spanish types don’t store well.)

Shelf life: 5 to 8 months

Pumpkins
Harvest pumpkins before frost, leaving 1 inch or more of the stem intact—pumpkins without stems are susceptible to spoilage. Cure at 80 to 85 degrees F for about 10 days.

Varieties to consider: Howden and Winter Luxury

Shelf life: 5 to 6 months

Squash
Store squash the same as you would pumpkins; acorn squash doesn’t need to cure.

Varieties to consider: Crown Prince, Delicata, Golden Delicious Hubbard, Hubbard True Green Improved and Uchiki Kuri, Waltham Butternut

Shelf life: 4 to 6 months
 
Sweet Potatoes
Dig up sweet potatoes in late fall as soon as the vines die, choosing undamaged tubers to cure for storage. Brush away dry soil, then cure in warm temperatures (80 to 85 degrees F) and high humidity (about 90 percent) for five to 10 days. Once cured, move to a cool, dry storage area (55 to 60 degrees F). You can wrap potatoes individually in paper and store in ventilated boxes or baskets.

Varieties to consider: Allgold, Centennial and Jewell

Shelf life: 4 to 6 months

Tomatillos
Verde is ripe when green; the variety Purple turns purple after husk is removed. Harvest after the papery husk has turned from green to tan or has split. Store in a dry, ventilated area in a netted bag, basket or paper bag. Tomatillos store best in their husks, but at any sign of mold on the husks, peel and wash them, then refrigerate.

Varieties to consider: Many seed retailers suggest that Purple tomatillos keep better than Verde.

Shelf life: 1 to 2 months

Tomatoes
Tomatoes can be picked before ripe and allowed to ripen in storage, or you can choose longer-keeping varieties of tomatoes that will store better than other ripe tomato varieties if conditions are good. There are several methods for storing tomatoes. If you have green tomatoes still on the vine (and plenty of space), you can pull the entire tomato vine out of the garden and hang it upside down. Or pick green tomatoes, wrap individually in newspaper, and maintain a temp of about 55 degrees F (no lower) to slowly ripen them for use later; green tomatoes will ripen in about 10 to 14 days at room temperature.

Varieties to consider: Eva Purple Ball, Fried Green Hybrid, Green Thumb, Reverend Morrow’s Long Keeper, Old Fashioned Garden Peach, Red October, Red Siberian, Ruby Treasure and Winter Keeper

Shelf life: 1 to 2 months for green; as long as 4 to 6 months for varieties intended for winter storage

About the Author: Colorado freelancer Debbie Moors channels her inner squirrel each fall, relishing the sight of her well-stocked root cellar.

This article was excerpted from "Root of the Matter,” which appeared in the September/October 2012 issue of Hobby Farm Home.

 

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22 Foods You Can Store in Root Cellars

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Reader Comments
Great article!
Randy, Van Buren, AR
Posted: 12/6/2013 3:58:58 AM
Interesting! I hope that everyone's weekend was both great and safe,enjoyed the recent holiday that we've had,having a good week and has another good weekend.
Mike, Columbia, TN
Posted: 9/13/2013 7:20:04 AM
INteresting
Lorna, Poplarfield, MB
Posted: 8/20/2013 8:25:29 PM
Good to know
Annie, Houston, TX
Posted: 8/4/2013 7:02:07 AM
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