Joilene has been gardening and preserving food of all kinds for many years, and she thrives on the creativity involved in these processes.
Stockpiles of Vegetables in Straw and Cellars
Keeping root vegetables in a cellar or 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 the 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 and 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.
Instructions for Potatoes
What Happens to Neglected Potatoes
The photo gallery below shows the effects of time on potatoes that have been stored and then neglected.
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