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Root Cellars

Sources:  USDA Bulletin, 1978; Virginia Extension Service, 1982; Michigan State Univ. Online Database, 1996; Root Cellaring, Mike and Nancy Bubel.  Gardening listservs or chat groups are a good source of information, too.

Studies by USDA Nutrition Research Centers have shown that fresh fruits and vegetables do a better job than nutrient supplements (vitamin pills, powders, extracts) in maintaining your immunity system, especially as you age.

Sources seem to differ as to temperature and humidity requirements.  The experts agree that most basements are too warm for food storage.  They could be right, because our basement registers 60 everywhere, even though we keep our two above-ground windows open in the winter.  (Paints and other volatile solvents are stored in our basement.  It also houses an interior fuel oil tank for our baseboard heating system.)  We have successfully stored dahlia tubers in the basement, packing them in peat moss or packing material, mouseproofing them with tape, and occasionally spraying them with a mister. 

Some basements, mud rooms, or porches could be used to store some vegetables well into February, if you do not have a root cellar.  A locally-grown apple, 'New Hampshire Storage,' was harvested in late fall and remained crispy in our mudroom at around 32 until an arctic front, bringing low temperatures of between -5 and 10 outside and low-20's in the mudroom, froze them.

Storage period:    4-12 months

Dry

Moist

60

pumpkin
squash
sweet potato
dry chili peppers

32

onions
garlic

 

40-50

potatoes

32

fruit (apples, pears, oranges)
root crops (carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips)
late cabbage
celery

Some cultivars are more rot-resistant (e.g., 'Pontiac' potato v. 'Yukon Gold'). Late cabbages can keep for up to 4 months, and Chinese cabbage, 2 months, but they need to be stored separately from other veggies because, like apples, they emit ethylene gas.

Storing Root Crops, Michigan State University Extension , Home Horticulture, 01/01/96


Root crops may be stored in the garden or the root cellar. If left in the garden, they should be covered with 1 1/2 - 2 inches of insulating material. Parsnips, salsify and horseradish are particularly sensitive to alternate freezing and thawing so keep them covered until outside temperatures are consistently low, then remove the mulch to permit thorough freezing. After they have frozen, mulch them deep enough to keep them frozen.

Before storing root crops in the cellar, wait until the storage area is cool. The plants may be left in the garden until then (late fall). Dig the root when the soil is dry so less soil will cling to the roots. Cut off the root crop tops about 1/2 inch above the root. They may be washed but should be allowed to dry before being stored. Temperature of the storage area should be between 32 and 40 degrees and very humid. Temperatures above 45 degrees will encourage woodiness and sprouting. Pack the root crops in bins or crates between layers of moist sand, sawdust, sphagnum or peat moss. Containers should be lined with a perforated plastic sheet.

If the humidity is not high enough in the storage area, place the roots in plastic bags in which at least  4, 1/4 inch holes have been cut. Store only healthy root crops. If storage conditions are right, the root crops should keep 3 to 5 months, except for kohlrabi, which keeps for only a few weeks.