Root Cellar Storage: How to Store Vegetables Over the Winter – Mother Earth News

Root Cellar Storage: How to Store Vegetables Over the Winter – Mother Earth News

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PHOTO: FOTOLIA / BILL

Sweet potatoes should be hardened in a warm, moist place to harden their skins and whole scratches, then individually wrapped in newsprint and stored in a cool room.

Many of the most reliable winter storage vegetables are biennials (plants that bloom and set seeds in their second growing season), which means they are naturally programmed for long storage.When we try to keep beets, cabbage and turnips, for example to eat in the cold months, we do not break the rules of nature, but rather cooperate with what can be called the intentions of the vegetables – to live to see another spring so they can multiply.

In addition to the robust root and cabbage vegetables that are obvious candidates for the root cellar, you can also store celery, leeks, Brussels sprouts, peppers, grapes, escarole and citrus fruits in your cold room for periods of two to eight weeks, depending on the vegetable type and conditions. Onions, garlic, squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and green tomatoes last for spring if you keep them dry and cool. Instead of These food is in an unheated bedroom or a cool closet instead of in a humid, cold place where apples and root vegetables hold up best.

Rules for storage of winter vegetables

No matter what production you store in your storage room, there are several rules of thumb that will help your food stay healthy and sound until you are ready to eat it.

Treat all winter-hardy vegetables gently at all stages of harvesting, preparation and storage. Suggested products spoil faster.
2. Save only your best fruits and vegetables. Carved, crushed or diseased vegetables not only spoil faster, but also encourage spoilage in neighboring foods.
3. Pick products at maturity – neither immature nor overripe.
4. Harvest fruits and vegetables during a dry period if possible.
5. Leave vegetables in the garden as long as possible, but keep an eye out for the cooler autumn weather and save them before the black frost hits. Beets, for example, can stay out well after the first light frost, but they should be dug before night temperatures drop to 24 ° F, unless their bare shoulders are well protected by bark chips. Low temperatures in the fall encourage vegetables to store more sugar and starch and less water, making them better at holding.
6. Choose varieties of vegetables that are well-suited for storage: Long Season beets, Penn State Ballhead cabbage and Kennebec potatoes, for example.
7. After digging root vegetables, cool them as soon as possible. Do not leave them out in the sun.

Preparing vegetables for root cellar storage

To prepare root vegetables for winter storage, simply trim the green tops and leave a 1-inch stump (if not trimmed, the top growth will decay and encourage deterioration of adjacent roots. Be careful not to cut the root flesh, nor let ” cut off the root tips – any skin fracture invites spoilage.

After doing all this digging, picking and trimming, you will be happy to hear that you do not have to wash vegetables before packing them away; in fact, it’s better does not to clean them. Carefully brush off any large lumps of soil that may stick to them.

Some root cellar owners simply stack their apples and root vegetables in boxes or baskets. Others prefer to wrap the products in leaves, hay, sawdust or moss to prevent drying out, especially if using a basement room that may not be as humid as an outdoor basement. When we stored turnips, rutabagas, carrots and beets in a cold cellar with soil floor in the old house on our farm, we always packed them in dry leaves or sawdust. Sand can also be used for winter vegetable bedding, but it is not as easy to wash off as sawdust.

Preservation of winter vegetables for storage

Certain vegetables need to be cured to stay well. After cutting off their tops – leaving a one-inch stump – expose garlic and onions to the sun for a week, then spread them loosely in shallow boxes or hang them in mesh bags or old tights.

Hard pumpkin and squash (except acorn squash) in the sun for two weeks after picking them so they get a hard crust. Always let the stems sit.

Freshly harvested sweet potatoes should be hardened in a warm, humid place – sieve after 80-85 ° F and 90% humidity – to make their skins harder and promote healing of small scratches. We cure our candy in boxes near the stove with a damp newspaper spread over the top of each box. Then, after seven to days of hardening, we individually wrap the potatoes in newsprint, sort them by size, pack them in cartons, and store them in a cool room.

It is not as important to harden white potatoes as it is with sweet potatoes, but it is a good idea to spread the tips out in a protected place – around 60 ° -75 ° F – in a two-week skin-hardening program before stacking. . into boxes in the root cellar. However, be sure to keep them in the shade; the sun will make potatoes green and poisonous.

Some leafy vegetables can be replanted in buckets of sand, soil or moss in the root cellar. We have had good luck with Chinese cabbage, escarole and leeks. Celery is also a good candidate for this treatment. Chinese cabbage has held for us until February – the crisp fresh inner leaves tucked inside an outer layer of withered, paper-dry wrapping leaves.


Editor’s note: The Bubels’ 297-page hardcover book, Root Cellaring: The simple way to store fruits and vegetables without processing (Rodale Press), is no longer in print, but copies may still be available through used bookstores or gardening.

Published September 1, 1990

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