Cleaning Out the Root Cellar

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Apples

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.

 

Turnips

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.

 

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Preparing to cure the potatoes for storage.

 

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.

Cabbage

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.

 

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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?

 


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8 comments on “Cleaning Out the Root Cellar

    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Gretchen,
      I have been thinking of doing something like a hole in the ground with straw over the top…I think they call it a clamp. But that would make it hard to get to the goodies. It is a great book, I really enjoy reading it!

      Reply
  1. Lisa Lynn Post author

    Hi Jenny πŸ™‚
    I have problems with squash vine borers too. I am hoping to use a product from Gardens Alive to spray on the vines this summer….I’m a bit hit or miss with doing things on time. So we’ll see. πŸ˜‰ It’s a clay based powder that you can sprinkle on or mix with water and spray on. Last year I had limited success with piling soil around the stems as the plants grew.

    You cabbages may be bothered by club root…did you notice swollen roots on the plants?

    Best wishes with all of your projects this year! I’m looking forward to reading more!

    Reply
    1. Jenny

      I’ve used Gardens Alive for a few things. We buy their pyola to “help” (ha) with the spider mites. I’ve had reasonable success by wrapping the vine with knee high panty hose to protect it. I don’t know about club root, I’ll have to take a look. I think the biggest problem is that the plants were not hardened off as well as I had thought. This is our first real growing season here, and even though we just moved 40mi north, it is an entirely different ball game. πŸ™

      Reply
      1. Lisa Lynn Post author

        It’s amazing how much difference a few miles will make in growing conditions. I notice different micro-climates around our 1 little acre!

        I hope you have better luck with your cabbages and squash this year!

        Reply
  2. Jenny

    WordPress lost my comment so I am trying again. πŸ™ I have this book on my wishlist. We would love to have a root cellar and have talked about it often. Next would be the harvest to store. Our zone and weather here is very difficult. Beets seem to do fine, but cabbage is a maybe/maybe not sort of thing. I have garlic to harvest for the summer and we just planted potatoes. I envy your squash and pumpkins. We really have the squash borer and bug bad here so it is a challenge to keep them at bay without chemicals. I just started canning this year. We’ve put up meals in a jar and I look forward to canning vegetables this summer.

    Reply
  3. ourlittleacres

    We still have about 15# of potatoes that are still very firm but are sprouting. And 2 butternut squash. This was our 1st winter at our new farm and the root cellar is great! We were in the process of moving mid-summer into fall so I didn’t do much canning and I have some things in the freezer (not my preferred method of storage because of the power issue) but that’s where our pigs and beef went this year. I also have been hesitating to use my canner as I haven’t found a place to get the gauge checked. Hubby tilled some ground yesterday and then it rained so I hope to put in onions and taters soon!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Lynn Post author

      Hi Missy,
      Do you have a Cooperative Extension office nearby? They can check your pressure gauge for you canner. They are a wonderful resource for home makers and gardeners, as well as farmers!

      You are so blessed to have a root cellar and a new farm! So wonderful πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for sharing your comment with us! Enjoy the rest of your potatoes and squash while it’s still cool out!
      Happy gardening!

      Reply

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