150 Tips: Root Cellars and Other Food Storage Ideas

“I believe more fruit and vegetables are lost every year through improper storage than through any other cause,” wrote F.B.McLeran of Wrenshall in 1907. To last a long time, vegetables need uniform temperature (about 40 degrees), darkness and proper humidity. For McLeran, root cellars were the answer. At the time, most storage areas were underground with dirt or wood sides. He believed that cement was the way of the future, and today many who store food over long periods use  garages or other cement lined structures.

About 30 years later, A.E. Hutchins offered more tips on home storage of vegetables.

Store only the best. Without processing, some vegetables will only last a short time (think tomatoes or peppers) while others can last months. Vegetables that do well in storage include dry beans, beets, carrots, cabbage, onions, winter squash and potatoes. When choosing vegetables to store, pick the best of the ones you grow. This is not the place for damaged or diseased vegetables.

squash ripening

Not quite ripe squash can be ripened by sitting in the sun indoors, but to store them in a root cellar they should be fully ripe on the vine.

Regulate temperature and humidity. Underground root cellars worked because the temperature below ground does not fluctuate much. Even in the depths of winter, it’s about 40 degrees, which is the ideal temperature for storing most vegetables. Some vegetables, carrots for example, require very high humidity while others—popcorn, dry beans—do best with lower humidity. Research the individual needs of each vegetable you plan to store.

Lengthen the tomato harvest by hanging vines. If a sudden frost is coming and you have many unripe tomatoes, you can hang the plants upside down in a cool storage area and picking them as they ripen, Hutchins suggests. I tried a variation on this idea in 2012, hanging the tomatoes outside because temperatures were still moderate, and was able to harvest a few more ripe tomatoes.

Plan for the root cellar. In her 2019 article on a modern root cellar, Meg Cowden points out that root cellaring starts with planting and harvesting at the right time. While some vegetables take a full season to grow (squash, Brussels sprouts), others should be sown later in the season so they are absolutely fresh when they go into the cellar. For instance, she sows carrots for her root cellar in late June through mid-July.

What kind of storage methods do you use?

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  1. Camille on October 25, 2022 at 9:55 am

    Sounds amazing, thanks for sharing:)

    • MSHS on October 25, 2022 at 3:39 pm

      Sure, glad you enjoyed this, Camille!

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