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How to Store Root Vegetables in Boxes in a Cellar: Illustrated Guide

Butterfly has been gardening and preserving food of all kinds for many years, and she thrives on the creativity involved in these processes.

Turnips and Radishes Included

Here is the first turnip I got out of my garden this summer. One week, nothing . . . the next, I had a bunch pushing their shoulders through the soil, and begging to be pulled.

Here is the first turnip I got out of my garden this summer. One week, nothing . . . the next, I had a bunch pushing their shoulders through the soil, and begging to be pulled.

Stockpiles of Vegetables in Straw and Cellars

Keeping root vegetables in a cellar or in piles of straw has once again become a homesteader's way of looking ahead and providing fresh produce for one's family throughout the winter. This practice is simple, and I'll show you how to keep various kinds of vegetables and tubers fresh for several weeks or months.

How to Store Root Vegetables in a Cellar or Basement

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 or grown. This requires only a few things:

  • A cellar, or cool basement
  • Cardboard boxes of any appropriate size for the vegetables you have on hand
  • 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 filled with plain water

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.

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. In the end, 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.

Preparing Potatoes for Storage

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Can you use cedar shavings to pack carrots and beets for storage in a cellar, or is it toxic?

Answer: I've used pine shavings without any noticeable problems, but this may not be the same difference. I'd play it safe and use something else if you can.

Question: My cucumbers have a lot of all-female flowers, but only one in 15 provided fruit. Do you know why?

Answer: I imagine the flowers were poorly pollinated. Also, cucumbers can be temperamental, with one variety going crazy and another doing virtually nothing, a few feet apart. Sometimes there doesn't seem to be a good explanation. I've had excellent luck with Marketmore 76, and variable luck with many other varieties, but this could be incredibly subjective. If I think of anything else, I'll let you know.

Question: Can I use a pop crate lined with paper, then a layer of pine shavings, then the potatoes, then more pine shavings to cover, along with alternate stacking?

Answer: This method is probably okay to do, as long as your storage area is not very dry. Otherwise your produce may get dried out too quickly.

© 2009 Joilene Rasmussen


Joilene Rasmussen (author) from Ovid on October 17, 2013:

Mostly pine, with possibly a bit of oak here and there.

marie on October 14, 2013:

This is a great article. I am wondering what kind of wood you use from your planer. We plane pine, spruce, ash, birch and cedar.

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from Ovid on February 13, 2013:

Momiostar, this would certainly work if the mice are only coming in in a few known locations. Herbs like peppermint and rosemary also typically work well, but must be replaced periodically.

momiostar on February 09, 2013:

deter mice from coming in with moth balls. They don't like the smell, and will avoid the area. Place near door opening or where ever they come in.

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from Ovid on November 29, 2012:

Not for storing vegetables in...not enough air circulation. These boxes would have a tendency to rot the vegetables.

Denise on September 20, 2012:

couldn't dark colored plastic totes be used to keep out the mice?

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from Ovid on April 23, 2011:

This is BW's builder friend -

Not exactly sure what too cold or too hot means.

I would suggest to cut down on the ventilation, (just enough to keep the moisture down, (your pulling in to much out side temps via vents),for the earth to keep up with,

second, question is how far down does your foam insulation on the side of the cellar walls go? I would only go down to frost line, as your trying to use the earth heat/cooling to keep the cellar at working temps, if you have the insulation all the way to the bottom of the wall, all you have is the floor to use the earth heat/cool,

On my cellar I have no insulation, and only earth back fill, on a 4" foot block wall, and the roof is 12 foot Diameter. 1/4 thick steel tank cut in half, and I do have a 6" vent in and a 4" with a wind powered ventilator on it, and have not had it freeze or get past about 55 in the summer (maybe 60 in the very hot of the summer, (above 100 temps), about 16" of dirt on the top at the most, more of course on the sides of the curved roof,

mine is 12' by about 20',

getting back to temperatures Mine ranges from just above freezing from below zero out side air temps to 60 maybe 60+ on days that are over 100+ out side temps,

on the cold side a little heater could be thermostatic controlled to turn on in the cold of winter, if the vents were adjusted down some most likely would not cost much, and if all else fails a small AC, for the hot of summer with the insulation you have it should not take much,

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from Ovid on March 25, 2011:

Timothy, I am not really a builder, but I may pass the question on to the man who made the cellar used in the photos.

I actually have a similar cellar to yours, and it stays too warm during most of the year for some of the uses I had planned, but it works well for many aging cheeses (a hobby), and excellent for winter squashes, so I hesitate to modify it much.

timothy seeley on March 25, 2011:

i have a home made root cellar on the side of the house gets to colsd in winter and to hot in summer block laid 10 by 12 6 inches foam insulation in ceiling outside backfulled 6inch vent in and out any suggestions thjanks tim

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from Ovid on October 14, 2010:

EK, you're right, a description of how to deal with mice and other critters is missing. This is because I have never had any particular trouble with them in this cellar. However, I am now using a second one in which I am experiencing difficulties. I have had fairly large quantities of summer squash, set on a shelf, be quietly nibbled away.

I have read in root cellaring literature how to rodent-proof your cellar with a tight-sealing door, etc., but sufficient preventive measures are not always possible. If you don't wish to share with the mice, you'd better set out a table just for them. That is, invest in some Blue Death or a similar mouse poison, and sprinkle it generously where they will be sure to find and sample it. In this way, I have been able to save most of the produce for us, and have also cut down on the messes the little beasties leave, as they weren't content just to go for things in the open, but insisted on eating paper labels, knocking empty jars off the shelves, and generally creating havoc.

Good luck, and if you find another satisfactory method of dealing with unwanted guests, please share it here.

Joilene Rasmussen (author) from Ovid on October 14, 2010:

Michele, you're welcome, and happy root cellaring! I have had good success with both turnips and carrots, for up to six or seven months.

I hope your potato crop of next year is spectacular! :)

EK on October 14, 2010:

I liked the article and photos a lot. One thing that seemed missing is a description of how to deal with other things that might want to eat the veggies and/or nest in the boxes. I am pretty sure that any cardboard box I fill with nice nesting material and lovely food will be attractive to mice. What are good ways to address this?

Michele in NH on October 10, 2010:

Thanks for the information and including pictures. My dad always layers his vegetables too. I just couldn't remember what he put in sand and what he layered with newspapers. I will be storing turnip and carrots. Next year I an adding potatoes to the mix. Thanks so much!

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