Winter storage for garden vegetables

Winter storage for garden vegetables

One of the joys of summer is walking through the garden in the late afternoon and planning the evening meal around the ingredients that are ready to be picked. With September’s shorter daylight and cooling temperatures, we know that the days of harvesting fresh tomatoes and cucumbers from the vine will not last forever, but with a little planning now, we will still be able to walk, if not into the garden, then into in the garden. basement or storage room where we can select still living food for our winter meals.

Not all vegetables need the same storage conditions. Each crop has its own temperature and humidity requirements. Knowing these needs can mean the difference between top-quality vegetables or shrunken roots and musty squash in December or January.

Traditionally, vegetables for winter storage were kept in one of two places: the root cellar or the attic. Although we live in a house with none of these, they can serve as good examples to think about storage conditions. I also add a third option: protected storage right in the garden.


The easiest way to keep some crops going through November or December is to keep them straight in the garden and add a bit of insulating protection when the weather cools down. Cold-hardy lettuce, spinach, kale, mustard and Asian vegetables can withstand temperatures below freezing to at least 25 degrees, and some to as low as the low teens, depending on the variety. Harvesting should be done when the temperature is above freezing and the plants have thawed.

Insulating covers can be a single or double layer row cover (there are a number of brands, two common ones are Remay and Agribon), a cold frame made of straw bales with an old window or a piece of clear plastic over the top, or even just an old rug or tarpaulin thrown over the patch on cold nights. (If you have a built-in cold frame, open it at least one crack on hot or sunny days to avoid overheating.)

Root crops can also be left in the ground, covered with straw or other insulation and dug as needed, as long as you can prevent the soil from freezing. One caveat with this strategy: Rodents are very good at finding food sources and appreciate vegetables that are easy to dig at least as much as you do!


Root cellars are cold, moist, ideal places for storing root crops such as carrots, turnips, beets, daikon radishes, celeriac, potatoes and parsnips. Cabbage and Napa cabbage also do well under these conditions. To keep these plants fresh, we need to duplicate underground winter conditions with temperatures close to (but very slightly above) the freezing point, darkness, and high humidity. Light or heat will signal that spring is here and it’s time to frolic and blossom; dry conditions will cause the products to shrink.

Root vegetables (with the exception of potatoes) are best stored in layers with moist sand or sawdust in between, so if one spoils it, it does not spread to the neighboring roots. Sawdust is lighter and lighter on sinks and drains. I also know some people who simply store root vegetables in large plastic bags in their basement and say they have not experienced spoilage problems.

No basement? Any location that meets the requirements for “cold, dark and humid” can be used. One method is to use a picnic cooler / ice box: When night temperatures are low enough (below 40 degrees), you can put your vegetables in the cooler and place them in a shady place. Leave the lid open at night to allow cold air in, and close it during the day to keep it cold. A thermometer inside will help you monitor the conditions. As it gets colder, you may need to reverse the process to prevent freezing at night, or move the radiator into a garage or unheated hallway.


The ceiling provides warmer (but not too hot) temperatures, good air circulation and dry conditions. Onions, garlic and winter squash hold best at around 50 degrees. Sweet potatoes keep around 60 degrees.

Most houses have at least one dry space with these temperatures: an entrance hall or garage, a cool bedroom or an unheated basement. Store these crops in shallow containers to allow air circulation; squash should be spread a layer deep and with a little space between the fruits.

All stored products should be checked and sorted regularly, with “use first” vegetables brought to the kitchen. If there are too many of these to eat right away, they can be dehydrated, fermented, canned or frozen for later use.

Kathleen Plunkett-Black is a lifelong gardener and has grown all the vegetables to feed her family year round for many years. She grows and sells vegetable seeds for many of the varieties she relies on to do so. Plum Creek Seeds seed packs can be purchased during the planting season at the Menomonie Market Food Co-op in Menomonie or through her mail order catalog. (To be added to the mailing list, send $ 1 to Plum Creek Seeds, N3528 County Road D, Arkansaw, WI 54721.)

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