Using Up Root Cellar Fruits and Vegetables
March is the time of year that homesteaders need to start cleaning out their root cellars and finishing up the last of their 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 may have started to rot. There are a few varieties of squash and apples that could still be sound if they were stored at the proper temperatures. When planting your crops, check the catalogs for varieties that have long storage virtues if you intend to keep them in a root cellar.
Potatoes, onions, and garlic may still be in good shape if they have been stored under proper conditions. Potatoes like it cold (around 40 F) and somewhat humid, while garlic and onions prefer a warmer (50-55 F), drier storage setting. Before canning food was an option, these long keeping veggies were necessary storage foods for these lean months of the year in northern climes. When the new garden was only in the planning stages, these crops were a Godsend 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.
Self Sufficient Storage
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 a cold winter’s day 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.
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.
I will be the first to admit that our root storage space is less than ideal. We don’t have a 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.
The issue of root cellaring is on my mind today because I just cooked the last of our squashes. It had a few small spots that needed to be pared away before I quartered and baked it. I’m not sure of the exact variety of squash, it looked more like a squat pink pumpkin than a squash. The flavor was still very good, and there was more meat than we can eat before it goes bad in the refrigerator. So most of it will be frozen to use later.
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?