How to Clean Out the Root Cellar

How to Harvest and Store Potatoes

How to Clean Your Root Cellar

In March and April, it’s time to clean out the root cellar and finish up the last of your cold storage veggies. Many root cellar crops have long passed their ‘keeping’ limits by this time of the year. Beets, squash, pumpkins, carrots, cabbages, and apples have been used by now or they probably went bad. Potatoes, onions, and garlic may still be useable but eat them soon or plant them in the garden.

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Use potatoes, onions, and garlic to make a pan of scalloped potatoes so you can get busy cleaning out the root cellar! Here’s how:

  • Remove all food, boxes, and crates
  • Sweep up any debris from floor and shelves
  • Use a spray bottle with a 10% bleach solution to spray down shelves and surfaces (Make sure area is ventilated)
  • Take all reusable crates, cans, or baskets outside and shake out any debris
  • Spray or wash out wish a 10% bleach solution, rinse, and air dry
  • Allow root cellar to air out for several days, run a fan for several hours a day if area smells musty

Once you’ve cleaned the root cellar and aired it out, it’s ready to use again. Did you know that it can be used in the summer? Keep freshly harvested fruits and vegetables cool when you can’t process them right away. A better option may be a refrigerator for many foods, but a clean cellar can extend the shelf life from a few hours to a few days.

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Summer apples can be stored in the cellar to keep longer in summer.

Root Cellar Fruits and Vegetables

When choosing and planting your crops, check the catalogs for varieties that have long storage virtues if you intend to keep them in a root cellar or other cold storage. Here are some great crops to grow for winter storage:

  • Potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Winter Squash
  • Carrots
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Rutabaga
  • Parsnips
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Pumpkins
  • Winter Squash
  • Storage Apples and Pears

For more information about vegetable and fruit storage, check out my posts How to Harvest and Store Pumpkins and Winter Squash and The Best Way to Harvest and Store Root Crops.


Root Cellars Offer Self Sufficient Storage

Before canning food was an option, storage crops were necessary for the lean months in northern climes. When the new garden was only in the planning stages, these crops were important for families struggling to survive on their homesteads. Onions and garlic that started to send up sprouts would provide some greens at a time of year when there were few if any, green vegetables to eat.

A tub trug full of root veggies.

For families interested in becoming more self sufficient, root cellars offer a great way of storing some of your crops through the winter without the use of electricity or other forms of energy. You don’t have to cook, can, blanch, freeze, or dehydrate your vegetables before storing them in a root cellar.

You do need to build the root cellar, provide ventilation, and learn the proper temps and humidity for each crop that you intend to store. If you are interested in learning more about this eco-friendly, low impact form of food storage, I highly recommend the book ‘Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables’ by Mike and Nancy Bubel. I have spent many cold winter days curled up with a cup of tea and this book. I like to keep a notebook and maybe a seed catalog or two in my lap as I read and plan my upcoming garden.

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This book gives lists of the best varieties of each crop to grow for their keeping qualities, the ideal conditions for each crop, preparing each crop for storage, how to design and build a root cellar, other methods for cold storage, and even some wonderful recipes using those stored crops. If you wish to be more self-sufficient and less dependent on electricity for your food storage, this book provides a wealth of information to help you get started.


Our ‘Root Cellar’ Space

Our root storage space is less than ideal. We don’t have a true root cellar, so instead, we store our potatoes, squash, onions, and garlic in the coldest part of our basement. It is cold enough for the garlic and onions, but by now the potatoes have all grown long, pale stems that are searching for light. I’ll save these wrinkled little spuds for planting in the garden later this month if the weather cooperates.


Freezing and canning are the main methods that I use to store food for use over the winter. It allows me to store the vegetables that will not last long enough in cold storage to make it through the winter. I hope that one day we will be able to build our own root cellar, but in the mean time we must use the methods that work best for our homesteading situation. This fall I hope to try using clamping as a method of winter storage for potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beets.

Have you ever stored vegetables in a root cellar? What methods do you use to preserve your food for the winter?

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How to Clean Out the Root Cellar


    • Lisa Lombardo
    • Lisa Lombardo
    • Lisa Lombardo
    • Lisa Lombardo

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