How to Store Vegetables Without a Root Cellar
By Gaye Levy
Anyone who loves to garden, especially those who wish to be able to provide wholesome foods for themselves and their families and live independently enough to survive economic or natural disasters will need to know what to do with all of the surplus from the summer. It’s great to be able to eat vegetables right out of the ground, but it is just as important to have good food all winter long. There are many methods of preservation.
The way you store each vegetable will depend on its needs and its hardiness. Here are ways to keep all of your produce, and especially the root vegetables, in great shape for the long winter months.
Keeping “The Roots” in Good Shape For Storage
Root vegetables are a great resource because they can be stored easily and last a long time without extensive preparation. Here are some great ways to keep those delicious roots and other hardy vegetables in tip-top shape long after the garden has been harvested for the winter.
Put Them to Bed in Their Bed
One great way to store root vegetables like carrots, beets, potatoes and radishes is to leave them right where they are in the garden. Cover them well with a hefty bed of straw or wood shavings, or use a garden blanket that can be found in many hardware or garden stores to keep them tucked in nicely for whenever you need them.
Toss it in a Trash Can
If you have a garden, make use of it during the winter by digging a hole and burying a garbage can up to the lip in the ground. Then layer root vegetables inside, covering each layer with a generous topping of sawdust or straw, and sealing it with the cover. Open up the instant root cellar whenever you need to go “shopping” and pull out what you need from the top layer, then recover. It’s easiest to have a separate can for each type of vegetable being stored in this manner so that you can easily have access to what you need on the top layer of each particular can.
No Ground? No Problem
Even if you live in an apartment or city home with little or no outdoor space you can stock up on root vegetables when they are their most affordable, and have them all year long. All you have to do is build a quick and easy storage for them. A small plastic bin with a cover will do the job nicely. Even a plastic lined box will do well as long as it can be covered up.
Place the vegetables in layers, alternating each with sawdust, straw or a thick layer of newspaper and cover. Remove vegetables as needed all winter long. When kept inside the home, try to place the storage containers in a cool room that can be closed off from heat. Close vents and do not insulate windows in the room.
Know Each Individual Root’s Needs
Some vegetables like it dry and some like it damp. For those that like the atmosphere a little moist, storage in basements, attics, unheated garages, sheds, porches or covered decks are good spots. In homes without those areas, storing on an exterior wall, preferably with a north wall is the best choice. If the storage is in one of the outdoor locations or unheated garages or attics, the temperatures should always stay below 60 degrees, but not go below freezing.
The cold and damp root vegetables include:
Those that prefer it cold and dry include:
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squashes
Most tubers love darkness. They are best stored in some type of box with a lid indoor, although you can also line a drawer or laundry basket and cover the roots with newspaper for insulation and to keep the light off of them.
Some, like potatoes, do not like it too cold. Allowing them to drop too much below 50 degrees will release the starches in them. Onions need much more air circulation than many of the root veggies. Storing them in a netting in a dark place or in a wire basket or laundry basket where air can circulate freely will keep them lasting all through the winter. They should not be covered at all, but they still need to be out of direct light.
Keep Them Growing for a Little Extra Bonus
Want some extra salad greens for soups and salads all winter long? Plant some beets, turnip or radish bulbs in a pot of soil and place it in a sunny location in your home. They will sprout delicious tops that can be cut continuously all winter for an added treat.
Be Aware of Shelf Life
Even the most well-preserved vegetable will have a shelf life. More tender roots such as beets, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, rutabagas, and turnips will only last 1 to 5 months in dry storage. Hardier roots like carrots, parsnips and potatoes can be stored for between 4 and 6 months. Powerhouses such as horseradish can last as long as a year in storage, but tender kohlrabi will only be good for a few weeks no matter how well you prepare the space.
Prepare Roots for Dry Storage
The better you handle the preparation for storing your root vegetables, the better chance they have for lasting. Make sure you harvest in cool, dry weather and let them dry out on the surface of the soil for 8 to 10 hours to toughen them up a little bit. Cut the foliage down to the crown, and make sure to only store clean, undamaged vegetables. Use up any that have any signs of damage or blemishes immediately.
Other Vegetable Preservation Methods
Preserving Fragile Vegetables
Certain vegetables require careful handling to last beyond their normal fresh shelf-life. These include watery vegetables such as zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Many other vegetables can be canned, or as you will see, are also storable in other ways.
Freeze What You Can
Freezing is a fantastic, easy and quick way to store almost anything from the garden. It is especially good for those vegetables you will be consuming within a three-month period. Use only strong freezer bags and squeeze as much air out of them as possible when sealing the vegetables in. While this is a great way to store vegetables, it does take up a lot of valuable freezer space, even for homes with large stand-alone freezers. For that reason, it is probably best to limit how many root vegetables are stored in this manner in favor of other methods. Root vegetables are amongst the hardiest of the garden crops, and are relatively easy to store without processes such as canning, or even freezing.
Canning for Long-Term Dry Storage
Canning is a time-honored traditional way to store many of the types of vegetables that can’t keep on a shelf or root cellar. The drawback to canning is that it takes a lot of time, some special equipment, practice and the vegetables may contain more preservatives than frozen or naturally stored vegetables do. In spite of the drawbacks, canning is an important resource for some of the more fragile vegetables that can’t be stored in other ways, such as tomatoes.
Additional Reading: How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning
Dry Them Out
The water in the fragile vegetable group is what makes them harder to store. To preserve them for long periods of time without bulky jars or taking up precious freezer space, consider drying them. Use a dehydrator to remove all of the water, and store the shrunken vegetables in mason jars or sealed bags. They can be rehydrated for use in soups and cooking, or eaten dried for a great treat.
Dehydration works for all vegetables, even those that can be kept in storage for long periods of time. The best choices for dehydration are fruits like apples, bananas, peaches, and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes or squash.
The Final Word
It takes a little work to preserve your produce for long storage, but it’s worth it. You spent a lot of time planting, growing and protecting them in the garden. Remember that you do not have to pick just one storage method. Incorporate several types of preservation to maximize your space and get the most out of your garden produce.
By selecting the type of preservation or storage that suits the particular type of vegetable, and your own space you can enjoy the bounty of your garden even when the temperatures dip below freezing. It’s a great way to keep your family well-fed and happy regardless of what is going on in the outside world.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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