How to Store Root Vegetables in Boxes in a Cellar
Big Fella, Yes?
The Main Idea
Keeping root vegetables in a cellar or in piles of straw used to be a common way of looking ahead and providing fresh produce for one's family throughout the winter. Though the practice is no longer common, it is simple, and I'll show you how to keep various kinds of vegetables and tubers fresh for several weeks or months.
The principle of the thing is simple: Cover the vegetables with something that will stay damp (not wet), and make them feel like they are resting in the ground, waiting to be used.
This requires only a few things:
- A cellar, or cool basment
- Cardboard boxes of any appropriate size for the vegetables you have
- Root vegetables or potatoes
- Filler. Most things besides potatoes do well with peat moss, sand, or wood chips (be careful, certain types of chips can be toxic, so check first). Potatoes do best with newspaper.
- A spray bottle or squirt bottle with plain water in it
You will want to rub the dirt off potatoes before storing them, but most other things, such as beets or carrots, can be left dirty, and in most cases, should be. I usually pack my vegetables in their boxes straight out of the garden, supposing I'm not using them for dinner that evening. Vegetables should have two or three inches of top left on them, as this keeps them from drying out and deteriorating quickly. If you accidentally remove all but a stub of stalks and leaves, you should eat the vegetable soon, rather than storing it.
Examples From My Cellar
Instructions for Root Vegetables (not Potatoes)
Prepare the boxes by spreading a thin layer of filler in the bottom. Add a layer of vegetables. I lay them in according to their shape: carrots lie prone, turnips stand up. Cover this first layer of vegetables with more filler, then add another layer of vegetables, and so on, to the top of the box. Be sure you have moistened the filler as necessary (think of it like a humidifier, not a bath), then close up the box, and you're done!
You will want to check your vegetables periodically for softening, drying out, or other signs of deterioration. Beets are the most notorious in my cellar for shriveling after a few months, but they can still be used. You can revive them somewhat by putting them in simmering water, skins and all, but they are often too soft to allow the skins to slip properly. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to matter much, and my family has never complained about late-winter beets, provided they have been scrubbed well.
Unless the vegetables were frozen at some point before being put in the cellar, you should not experience problems with outright spoilage.
The box filler(s) can usually be used for many seasons.
Instructions for Potatoes
What Happens to Neglected Cellar Residents
Preparing Potatoes for Storage
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