Root Cellaring

By into the rustic - 12:11 PM

All You Need To Know To Get Started in Saving Your Gardens Produce For Long Term Storage

­­Why Use A Root Cellar?

Root cellaring can mean any type of winter storage for your vegetables and fruits, from storing directly in trenches in your garden, a dug-out hill, or the cool catacombs of your basement. The key factor in all of these is of course insulation. Having a root cellar prolongs the life of your garden's produce, so you can dine on potatoes in March, carrots in February, and apples in December.

Root cellars are cost-efficient, and no major electricity or cooling systems are required. Plus it saves you money by using your garden's excesses to feed yourself with during cold winter months when nothing can grow outside. You can also save yourself the trouble of buying canning equipment or freezing things, by just storing them in a cool spot.

You would be surprised what you can store in your cellar- it’s not just the hardy standbys of potatoes, carrots, and squash. You can house tomatoes, pears, apples, and more!

But the most significant reason to store your harvest is to put your mind at ease. You won’t have to fear economic downturns, power outages in case of severe storms, or any other kind of emergency that could send food prices skyrocketing or eliminate those food items from being available altogether.

Planning Ahead

Plant crops that must be eaten on consumption in your first early planting- Like lettuce, peas, etc. Then using succession planting, plan on planting your 2nd crop with all the foods that you can store for long term. 

Plan on surplus planting so you can consume the early growths before the last harvest of the season, and then the extras before the fall harvest hits, you can store in your cellar.

This successive gardening method is very beneficial to both you getting the most out of your land, and it also enriches your soil. For example, the nitrogen that is left over in the soil from your peas or beans, makes for excellent leafy green growth in your fall planting of cabbage or kale.

Veggies and Their Varietals That Keep the Longest in Your Cellar

(Specific seed sources are noted in brackets, otherwise available almost everywhere)

Beets: Detroit Dark Red, Hybrid Red Cross (Farmer), Long Season, Lutz Green Leaf, Perfected Detroit (Gurney)

Broccoli: Green Comet, Waltham 29

Brussells Sprouts: Green Pearl (Stokes), Jade Cross, Long Island Improved, Silverstar (Cook’s Garden), Valiant (Vesey’s)

Cabbage: April Green (Stokes), Avalon (Stokes), Custodian (Johnny’s), Danish Ballhead, January King (Thompson & Morgan), Krautman (Pinetree), Mammoth Red Rock (Hart), Penn State Ballhead, Premium Flat Dutch, Savoy Langedijker Winterkeeper (William Dam)

Cabbage, Chinese: China King, Summertime (Stokes), Two Seasons Hybrid (Burpee), Wintertime (Stokes)

Carrots: Chantenay, Danvers, Flakkee (Seed Blum) a.k.a. Autumn king, Gold-Pak (Henry Field), Ingot (Johnny’s), Spartan Bonus Hybrid

Cauliflower: Andes (Johnny’s), Veitch Autumn Giant (Abundant Life)

Celery: Fordhook, Giant Pascal, Utah

Collards: All collards and varieties are VERY hardy

Eggplant: Not the hardiest of veggies, but try these varieties-Burpee Hybrid, Imperial Black Beauty, Jersey King

Endive: Salad King (Stokes, Henry Field) Frost resistant!!

Escarole: Batavian Full Heart, Sinco (Shepherd’s)

Kale: Dwarf Blue Curled Vates, Dwarf Siberian, Green Curled Scotch, Westland Winter (Pinetree), Winter Bor (Johnny’s)

Kohlrabi: Grand Duke (Pinetree), White Vienna (Cook’s Garden)

Leeks: American Flag (Pinetree), Carina (Shepherd’s), Elephant, Musselburgh, Nebraska (Johnny’s)

Onions: Burpee Yellow Globe Hybrid, Copra (Stokes, Johnny’s), Ebenezer (Nichols), Golden Cascade (Nichols), Marathon Hybrid (Jung), Norstar (Vesey’s), Rip Van Winkle (Gurney’s), Southport Red Globe (Gurney’s, Jung), Southport Yellow Globe (Farmer), Sweet Sandwich (Burpee, Johnny’s), Yellow Globe Danvers

Parsnips: All-America, Harris’ Model, Hollow Crown, Offenham

Potatoes, Sweet: Allgold, Centennial, Porto Rico, Vardaman

Potatoes, White: Burbank, KAtahdin, Kennebec, Norgold Russet, Red La Soda (Ronniger’s), Sebago, Superior (Jung), Yukon Gold (Ronniger’s, Seed Blum)

Radishes, Winter: China Rose, Chinese White or Celestial, Miyashige (Johnny’s), Round Black Spanish, Sakurajima (Nichols), Shogoin (Nichols), Jokinashi (Pinetree)

Rutabaga: Altasweet (Stokes), Laurentian, Macomber, Purple Top

Squash: Acorn, Blue Hubbard, Buttercup, Butternut, Chestnut (Johnny’s), Delicata or Sweet Potato (Stokes), Gold Nugget, Melon Squash (Thompson and Morgan, Abundant Life, Park, Henry Field), Sweet Meat (Abundant Life), Vegetable Spaghetti, Warted Green Hubbard (Vesey’s, Abundant Life), Wyoming Crookneck (Southern Exposure)

Tomatoes: Burpee’s Long Keeper (Burpee, Pinetree, Southern Exposure), Egg Tomato (Gleckler’s), Moon Glow (Gleckler’s)

Turnips: Des Vertus Marteau (Epicure, Cook’s Garden), Just Right (Harris), Purple Top White Globe

Watermelon: Winter Melon a.k.a Christmas Melon (Southern Exposure)

Good Soil Makes Veggies Last Longer

To ensure your harvest lasts a long time in storage, you must make sure that the quality of the soil that you have planted your crop in is the best it can be. Research has shown that soil rich in Potash, promotes a long storage life for both fruits and veggies. 

Potassium sources for your soil can be found in Manure (Sheep, Horse and Pig are best), Compost, Rock Powders (i.e. Greensand and Rock Potash), Seaweed, Comfrey, Peanut Shells, Citrus Peels, Wood Ashes, Corn Cobs, and Green Manure.

So the practice of good gardening in composting, mulching, and fertilizing, yields more than the immediate results of having a healthy crop. It can guarantee the longest storage time possible so that you get to enjoy garden fresh produce all year round.

Too much Nitrogen in the soil can increase the decomposition or aging rate of your foods. If you supply your garden with an adequate amount of Calcium, it will prevent the Nitrogen levels from spiking. You can add Calcium to your garden by using ground limestone, bonemeal, woodashes, or ground eggshells.

When to Plant Your Fall Crop For Cellar Storage

Beets: June-July
Brussels Sprouts: May-early June
Cabbage: May-early June
Chinese Cabbage: July
Carrots: June-July
Cauliflower: May
Celery: April-May
Endive & Escarole: early July
Kale: May-June
Kohlrabi: July
Leeks: April
Lettuce, Head: July
Onions: April
Parsnips: April, May
Peppers: March
Potatoes, Sweet: May-June
Potatoes, White: early Spring
Pumpkins: May-June
Radishes, Winter: July-August
Rutabagas: June-July
Squash: late May
Swiss Chard: August
Tomatoes: July
Turnips: July-August

How Much Should You Store?

As an example, I will list items that would be suitable to feed a family of four through the winter months.

Beets: 1-2 Bushels Carrots: 2-3 Bushels Cabbage: about 30 heads Chinese Cabbage: 20-30 heads Celery: 10-20 stalks Turnips: 1 Bushel Rutabagas: 1 Bushel Potatoes: 6-14 Bushels Sweet Potatoes: 2 Bushels Endive: 10-20 Plants Squash & Pumpkins: 30-40 Onions: 1-2 Bushels Parsnips: 1-2 Bushels Leeks: 15-40 Plants Kohlrabi: ½ - 1 Bushel Garlic: approx. 8 Lbs.

Storage Temeratures and Humidity for Different Fruits and Veggies:

Cold and Very Moist (32-40 degrees F, 90-95% Relative Humidity) Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Rutabagas, Turnips, Celery, Chinese Cabbage, Winter Radishes, Kohlrabi, Leeks, Collards, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Horseradish, Jerusalem Artichoke

Cold and Moist (32-40 degrees F, 80-90% Rel. Humid.) Potatoes, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Apples, Grapes (closer to 40 degrees F), Oranges, Pears, Endive, Escarole, Grapefruit

Cool and Moist (40-50 degrees F, 85-90% Rel. Humid.) Cucumbers, Sweet Peppers, Cantaloupe, Watermelon, Eggplant (50-60 degrees), Ripe Tomatoes

Cool and Dry (32-50 degrees F, 60-70% Rel. Humid.) Garlic, Onions, Green Soybeans (in pod)

Moderately Warm and Dry (50-60 degrees F, 60-70% Rel. Humid.) Dry Hot Peppers, Pumpkins, Winter Squash, Sweet Potatoes, Green Tomatoes

Harvest Methods For Your Garden Crops

1. Beets: First cut off the tops of each of your beets, leaving about a 1” stub. Don’t cut off the tip of the root. Pack them in sand, sawdust, moss, leaves, or plastic bags. They should last you for about 2 months in your cellar.

2. Broccoli: Cut off the central head, wrap each head in plastic and keep in a very cold spot in your cellar, as close to 32 degrees F as possible. The relative humidity should be pretty high, around 95%. The broccoli should last in storage for about 1-2 weeks.

3. Cabbage: Pick your cabbage when the heads are green, firm, full, and solid. Pull up the plant root and all, and trim off any loose outer leaves. You can store your cabbage in several different ways in your cellar. You can either put them directly on a shelf, or pack them in hay or newspaper, or you can hang them suspended from the ceiling by their roots. They should last you about 1-2 months in storage.

4. Chinese Cabbage: Choose from your garden the most solid heads that have reached their fullest maturity. The outer leaves will wilt in storage but the inner head will remain nice and crisp. You can either pack them in hay or you can pull up the plant roots and all and replant in boxes with soil in your cellar. Make sure you water the roots every now and then to keep them moist. This should last you about 3 months in storage.

5. Carrots: Pull up and trim off the tops of each carrot. Pack in sand or sawdust in crates, or you can replant in boxes of soil. Water the roots occasionally. When harvested in the fall, the carrots should last until May at least.

6. Cauliflower: Pull up the plant roots and all. You can store by either replanting in soil, setting directly on shelves, or hanging by roots from ceiling. This plant should last in storage about 2-4 weeks.

7. Celery: Dig up the plant with its roots intact and replant in boxes of soil or sand. Keep the roots moist but try not to get the stalks or leaves too wet as they could start to rot. Celery needs cold temps close to 32 degrees, and high humidity around 95%. They should keep in storage about 1-2 months.

8. Collards: Keep the leaves stored in perforated plastic bags in a damp area of your cellar. They should last you about 1-2 weeks.

9. Cucumbers: Keep the cukes in perforated plastic bags at about 45-55 degrees F. The humidity should be around 80-90%. They should last about 2-3 weeks in storage.

10. Eggplant: Don’t keep in too cold temps, as this will cause the eggplant to spoil. 50-60 degrees F with 80-90% humidity will keep it the longest possible. It should last you 1-2 weeks in storage.

11. Endive and Escarole: Don’t tie up in bundles, or the leaves will start to rot. Replant these close together in boxes of soil or sand.

12. Garlic: Harvest your garlic before the bulbs burst through their papery outer layers. When you see the leaves of the plant starting to turn yellow, that is when you can check to see if the garlic is ready to harvest. When you see that the leaves have become dry and crumbly, then you can dig them up. Clip off the roots as close to the bulbs as you can, and dry the garlic in a well ventilated space. Trim the tops to about 1” in length, unless you want to make garlic braids to hang up multiple bulbs together. Store the dried garlic in paper bags in a cold and dry place in your cellar. They don’t like moisture, or they will start to rot! Garlic is a long keeper, it should last in storage till well into spring.

13. Jerusalem Artichokes: Store these in damp sand in a cold area of your root cellar. They are thin skinned, so too much air exposure will cause them to shrivel up. Properly stored these will last you about 1-2 months.

14. Kohlrabi: Pack in damp sand or sawdust, keep at temps around 32-40 degrees F, with 90-95% humidity. These will last several months in storage.

15. Leeks: Dig up the plant roots and all and replant in a box of soil or sand at a temperature in your cellar of 32-40 degrees F.

16. Onions: Pull up the onions when you see that their skins are starting to dry up and are poking out of the soil. The day you do this should be nice and sunny and dry so you can start drying them outside right away. Spread them out on newspapers or screens in the sun to cure for about 3-7 days. Cut off the tops of the onions leaving a 1” stub. Continue curing in the sun for about 2-3 weeks. Store in mesh bags or slatted crates in a cool and dry place in your cellar. Ideally they like temps of anywhere between 32-50 degrees F, and 60-70% humidity.

17. Peppers: Pick before the frost hits, leaving the stems on the peppers. Hot peppers must be pulled whole and dried in a warm area, not in the cellar. Once they are thoroughly dried out you can store them at temps of 50 degrees at about 60-65 % humidity. Dried hot peppers will last about 6 months in storage. Normal peppers should be stored in perforated plastic bags in your cellar at temps around 45-55 degrees F. Too cold temperature will cause them to decay. Use the red peppers first in your winter cooking as they will be the first to spoil if left too long in storage.

18. Potatoes, Sweet: Don’t dig these up too early, leave them in the ground until as last as possible as they reach their growing peaks between September and October. As soon as the frost has killed off your vines, get them out of there quick. If left in the ground more than a day after the frost has wiped out the vines, it causes the potatoes to taste off. Be careful when digging them up to not bruise or cut them with you shovel. Lay out some newspaper outside and dry them in the sun to make the dirt easier to brush off. Next you need to cure the sweet potatoes. To do this you need to expose them to warm temperatures 80-85 degrees and high humidity of around 90%. A trick to handle this if you live in a cooler region, is to dry them in front of a campfire or fireplace and drape a damp well wrung out towel over them. The time they need to cure is anywhere from 10-14 days. What the curing does is toughen its delicate skins, and make the starches turn to sugars, and closing up some of the nicks and cuts the potatoes may have. Once the curing is complete, wrap each sweet potato in newspaper and store in crates or baskets in your cellar. Sweet potatoes need a dry storage space, 80-85 % humidity, and temperatures around 50 degrees. A unheated room in your house works fine, if your cellar is too cold. You can also pack the sweet potatoes in sawdust in boxes, making sure they are not touching each other or the sides of the box. These will last all winter long.

19. Potatoes, White: It’s best to only use your 2nd potato crop for cold storage in your cellar, so that the temperatures are cool enough to store them the longest. If you do harvest your first crop during the summer and want to be able to store them, the root cellar has to be at a temperature no higher than 60 degrees F. Warmer temps in storage cause the potatoes to sprout, rot, or dry out. So if you get the temperature right for this early harvest, you can keep them for about 4-6 weeks. For the 2nd or late crop, the temps in the cellar need to be at 36-40 degrees F, with 90% humidity. This will allow you to store your potatoes for use all winter long and into the springtime. Before you store your potatoes away, there are some steps you need to follow first. The potatoes need to be cured in a dry place out of the sun, rain and wind. The temps for curing should be around 60-75 degrees F. Let them cure for about 1-2 weeks until the skins toughen up and the nicks on their skins have healed over. Make sure that when they are put in your cellar that they are in a dark cold area. Light streaming through a basement window could cause them to sprout-so the darker the better. Keep you potatoes in small mounds instead of one giant pile to allow air circulation to get around each potato to prevent condensation and spoilage.

20. Pumpkins: Pumpkins get about the same storage treatment as squash does. But pumpkins have thinner skin so they will need a little more humidity in the air, around 70-75%. Make sure that when you are harvesting the pumpkins that you don’t break the stems off. They keep better with them on. Store in a cool place, tucked under the staircase to the basement or cellar, or on shelves. Be careful piling in crates as the stems could break and bruising could occur.

21. Winter Radishes: Trim off the tops of the radishes as close to the top of the plant as possible. Store them as you would your carrots, either in boxes of soil, or layered in sawdust, sand, or moss. They need to be kept damp and cold, so covering them is absolutely necessary. When stored in the fall these should last up until February.

22. Rutabagas: Keep them moist and stored in damp sand, sawdust or moss. You can also apply beeswax on them to prevent moisture from escaping their skins, causing them to shrivel up. They should last 2-4 months in storage in your cellar.

23. Soybeans: For fresh use, keep the soybeans in their pods and store them in a cool dry place at 35-40 degrees F, with 60-70% humidity. You can also dry your soybeans for storage.

24. Squash: Test your squashes by scratching them with your fingernail. When you can’t leave a mark, that means their skins have hardened enough and they are ready to be picked. Same as for your pumpkins, do not break off the stems, leave on or the squash will not last long in storage. If some happen to snap off by accident, cook those first, or coat the stems spot with beeswax to prevent it from rotting. After you pick the squash you need to cure them. The only exception to the curing process is Acorn Squash. They like low temps and should not be cured at all. The others should be left in the sun or kept near a warm spot like your fireplace, for about 10-14 days. This will cause the squashes to lose more moisture in their skins, toughening them further. Store them in temps around 50-65 degrees and around 60-70% humidity. Store on shelves, or in a single layer on newspaper or hay. Do not put in piles or they will bruise.

25. Tomatoes: Harvest your late tomatoes while they are still green, a dark green shiny color. Keep in storage in your cellar at temps of around 55-60 degrees F. Too cold will halt their ripening process completely. This temp will just stall the ripening for several weeks until you are ready to use them. You can also pull up the vine plants whole with the green tomatoes still on them and hang them in your cellar. There are still nutrients and vitamins in the vines that make the tomatoes last longer and ripen up. Make sure the vines are completely dried or they will rot. At best your late tomato crop brought to ripen indoor slowly should last you about 4-6 weeks.

26. Turnips: Store these the same as carrots and radishes- in damp sand, sawdust or moss. Make sure you cut off their tops as close to the plant as possible.

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