Harvest Time: Cold Storage Ideas & Root Cellars

Growing your own food can be very rewarding, especially during the summer months when veggies can be washed, cooked and on the table the very same day they’re picked (nothing fresher than that!).

BasketsIf you plan ahead and produce more than your family and friends can consume during the growing season, you can still enjoy your bumper crop over the long, cold winter months.

First up, how much to store? Here’s a general guideline for a family of 4…(Source: mofga.org)

Apples: 5 bushels
Carrots: 40 to 60 pounds
Cabbage: green, 20 heads; red, 10 heads
Beets: 20 pounds
Celeriac: (celery root, use instead of celery) 10 to 20 heads
Leeks: 40 plants
Potatoes: 100 pounds or more
Jerusalem artichoke: 10 pounds
Onions: 40 pounds
Garlic: 10 to 20 pounds
Winter radish: 10
Parsnip: 20 pounds
Squash: 40 ‘Delicata’ and 30 pounds butternut
Pumpkin: 5 to 10
Turnip and rutabaga: 10 or more

Next are several projects and tips for both indoor and outdoor storage. I’ve also added a vintage article instructing how to prepare outdoor pits for burying produce and at the bottom of the page you’ll find a few resources that offer some great advice.

No matter how little room you have, there’s surely something worthwhile here for you. Lots to check out and I’ll be adding more goodies as I find them so you may want to bookmark this page for future reference. Enjoy!

Trash Can Version: Here’s a step-by-step tutorial for digging in a trash can (just deep enough so the rim sits on top of the dirt), cover with straw and a tarp.

Buried Freezer Chest: Now this is a clever way to utilize a broken down freezer. You’ll find more tips at joyfulhome.wordpress.com.

Metal Trash Can: Recommends putting down a layer of gravel first for drainage.

Basement: Made by walling off a basement corner and adding vents, preferably a location that has a window.

Bread Racks: These plastic trays have great ventilation and can stack one on top of each other. Ideal for potatoes and other vegetables.

Cardboard Boxes: The principle is simple: Cover them with something that will stay damp (not wet), and make them feel like they are in the ground.

Wood Shelf Rack: Includes free plans, a cut list and general instructions. Each level/drawer is well ventilated making this project ideal for long term storage.

Onions: Tie them up in lengths of pantyhose then hang.



Home storing of the less perishable vegetables for winter use has almost become a lost art.

Cabbage, turnips, radishes, beets, carrots, Brussels sprouts, celery, potatoes and apples may be stored in cool and moist surroundings. Onions require a cool and dry atmosphere; and pumpkins, squash and sweet potatoes need a dry place where it is relatively warm.

If you do not have a basement cold room, or an outdoor cellar, the alternative is to store the cold-requiring vegetables in pits or mounds outdoors. Root crops for storage, including potatoes, should be planted late so the crop will not mature too early.


IllustrationLeave an inch of tops on such vegetables as beets, carrots and turnips. Pack them in boxes between layers of loose soil or sand; dig a trench in a well-drained part of the garden–make it deep enough to leave the tops of the boxes a foot below ground level, and large enough to hold all the boxes; place the boxes in the trench.

Lay boards across the top of the trench, stand a piece of drain pipe or tile up to carry off the air and after a few days when the vegetables have cooled, throw in enough earth to close the space between the roots and the boards.

When it gets very cold, heap on enough dry leaves or straw to keep the frost from the soil under the boards. Keep the leaves or straw dry by covering with old canvas or boards. Being dry, the leaves will be easy to handle and resistant to frost, and will be easier to remove when you want to get at your vegetables.

Potatoes may be stored in this way if plenty of straw is used so air circulates around them.

Perhaps you will want to make several storage pits with a box of vegetables in each, so you can remove them one at a time without disturbing them all. If so, put a variety of vegetables in each box.

For cabbage, a simple method is to dig a trench 8 inches deep and wide enough for three heads. Pull the heads up by the roots, remove the largest outer leaves, and place the heads top down in the trench. Cover with straw or hay, then soil, and add more soil as the weather becomes colder. Stand a bunch of straw up like a chimney every few feet along the trench to give ventilation.

Brussels sprouts may be kept a short time this way if packed loosely in straw, then covered with earth. However, this vegetable is quite hardy and the sprouts will be usable from the garden until late fall.

For celery, dig a trench as deep as the celery is high and as narrow as possible so the stalks can be packed tightly in an upright position, roots on the soil. Leave uncovered until freezing weather sets in, then cover with straw and 6 or 8 inches of soil. For early use, blanch the celery in the garden, but for mid-winter use, put it in the trench green and blanch it there.

Apples can be kept in barrels laid in shallow pits. Select the best fruit, pack carefully in barrel and nail a burlap sack over the end. Try to have the apples cool when you pack them. Cover the barrel with a foot and a half of straw, then 6 inches of soil. As the cold strengthens, add another layer of straw and soil. Storing apples in barrels instead of open ground keeps them from absorbing a ground flavor.

Onions need cold, dry air. After being pulled, they should be cured by spreading them in the sun several days. Remove tops after curing, cutting them three or four inches above the bulb. Place on slatted racks or trays and store in a cool, dry place where there will be circulation of air. A frost-proof attic is ideal.

Pumpkins and squash should be gathered before frost, and left with stems on. They should be fully mature, and many gardeners leave them in the sun a few days after they are cut, to harden the rind. Store them on shelves in a dry room where the temperature will be about 50 degrees. If warmer they will lose weight; if moist they will rot. Handle carefully to prevent bruising.

Sweet potatoes need the same conditions as pumpkins and squash.

Green tomatoes left on the vines can be saved by pulling the plant and hanging it in a dry, frost-proof place. The fruit will ripen for some time. Peppers can be kept for as long as three weeks if the plants are pulled up and hung upside down in a damp, cool corner of the basement.

Source: WorkBasket Magazine, 1952


  • Simple Tricks: Treat veggies with honey to help protect them with anti-decay properties. Also suggests dipping them in melted paraffin wax to help seal them.
  • Squash: Advises that squash should be cured in a warm, dry place for a few days to toughen the rind before putting them up. You can also rub them lightly with olive or coconut oil to help them keep better.
  • Storing 50 Types of Fruits and Vegetables: Download a six page pdf loaded with tips such as optimal storage conditions, shelf life and even growing mushrooms in your cellar.
  • Guide For Success (Assorted Veggies): Covers carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onions, squash & pumpkins, beets, radishes, rutabagas/turnips, celeriac, parsnips and apples.
  • Bushel Baskets (for indoors): Instructions for packing (can also use 5-gallon plastic buckets, Rubbermaid tubs, etc.) with materials such as sawdust, straw/hay, peat moss, good soil, sand. Also has tips for outdoors by storing in sacks (burlap, canvas, cotton duck) with packing material and burying them in soil below the frost line.

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