Is Root Cellaring For You? (and how to store veggies)


Keeping veggies long term is pretty simple. On a home-scale, you are trying to create an environment with the right temperature and humidity for the crops you want to keep. Assuming there isn’t space in the fridge, there are other options. (A second fridge placed in an unheated space like a basement or garage is an excellent way to store veggies) Outside of building a formal root cellar, veggie storage can be a corner of the basement/crawl space or a insulated, buried container.

The easy crops. . . sweet potatoes, onions, winter squash/pumpkins, garlic can all be held at 55-60 degrees (typical basement) and low humidity. Garlic will hold until February. Winter squash and onions (our white and red types) can hold until May.

A bit trickier. . . carrots, parsnips, cabbage, potatoes, beet roots, among others require lower temperatures and higher humidity. 34-40 degrees is optimal. 80-95% humidty is ideal. Many times the temperature is harder to maintain than the humidity. In an enclosed container most veggies will maintain their own moisture levels (like a rubbermaid tote). During the winter of 14-15 we put potatoes in old feed sacks and tossed them into an insulated crawl space under our back porch (45-50 degrees). They kept just fine, however not quite as long as you would expect at 34 degrees. Carrots would not hold up with the same warm temps in our crawl space. This requires creativity. Here are some plans for a re purposed refrigerator. Burying an old, decommissioned (coolant removed) freezer or fridge is easy, quick, and can go a long way to providing a winter’s worth of stored veggies. There is also pit and barrel storage solutions that are quick to install and easy to use (unless there’s a 3′ snow drift on top of it). Here are a few images for inspiration! 

This is all an informative way of *suggesting* you take advantage of what we have, while we have it (not that YOU haven’t). On the farm, we hope to buy only avocados, bananas, and cilantro from the produce section through the winter. Given uncertain economic/political/social times and the dissociation of eating from production, we all have some responsibility for taking ownership of the quality and density of our food lives.

(But then, we value self-reliance, are a fair bit more DIY (do it yourself) than average, and are crazy enough to think that we can make a living farming.)

Further Resources:

Root Cellaring, Mike & Nancy Bubel – Mother Earth News Article

Root Cellars 101

Pinterest Root Cellar Ideas

Viable Storage Life @ Ideal Conditions

 Vegetable Temperature Relative Humidity % Approximate Storage Life
Beet, Topped 32 98-100 4 mos
Cabbage 32 95-100 5-6 mos
Cabbage, Chinese 32 95-100 2-3 mos
Carrot, Topped 32 98-100 6-8 mos
Diakon/Fall Radish 32-34 95-100 4 mos
Garlic (softneck stores longer) 32 65-70 6-7 mos
Leek 32 95-100 2 mos
Onion, Dry 32 65-70 8 mos
Parsnip 32 98-100 4-6 mos
Potato 40-54 95-98 5-10 mos
Shallot 32-36 65-70 6 mos
Squash, Winter 54-59 50-70 2-3 mos 
Sweet Potato 55-59 85-95 4-7 mos