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How to Store Vegetables Without a Root Cellar

Avatar for Gaye Levy Gaye Levy  |  Updated: November 24, 2020
How to Store Vegetables Without a Root Cellar

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Anyone who loves to garden, especially those who wish to be able to provide wholesome foods for themselves and their families and live independently enough to survive economic or natural disasters will need to know what to do with all of the surplus from the summer. It’s great to be able to eat vegetables right out of the ground, but it is just as important to have good food all winter long. There are many methods of preservation.

The way you store each vegetable will depend on its needs and its hardiness. Here are ways to keep all of your produce, and especially the root vegetables, in great shape for the long winter months.

How to Store Vegetables Without a Root Cellar | Backdoor Survival

Keeping “The Roots” in Good Shape For Storage

Root vegetables are a great resource because they can be stored easily and last a long time without extensive preparation. Plus, root vegetables are amongst the hardiest of the garden crops, and are relatively easy to store without processes such as canning, or even freezing. Here are some great ways to keep those delicious roots and other hardy vegetables in tip-top shape long after the garden has been harvested for the winter.

Put Them to Bed in Their Bed

One great way to store root vegetables like carrots, beets, potatoes and radishes is to leave them right where they are in the garden. Cover them well with a hefty bed of straw or wood shavings, or use a garden blanket that can be found in many hardware or garden stores to keep them tucked in nicely for whenever you need them.

Toss it in a Trash Can

If you have a garden, make use of it during the winter by digging a hole and burying a garbage can up to the lip in the ground. Then layer root vegetables inside, covering each layer with a generous topping of sawdust or straw, and sealing it with the cover. Open up the instant root cellar whenever you need to go “shopping” and pull out what you need from the top layer, then recover. It’s easiest to have a separate can for each type of vegetable being stored in this manner so that you can easily have access to what you need on the top layer of each particular can.

No Ground? No Problem

Even if you live in an apartment or city home with little or no outdoor space you can stock up on root vegetables when they are their most affordable, and have them all year long. All you have to do is build a quick and easy storage for them. A small plastic bin with a cover will do the job nicely. Even a plastic lined box will do well as long as it can be covered up.

Place the vegetables in layers, alternating each with sawdust, straw or a thick layer of newspaper and cover. Remove vegetables as needed all winter long. When kept inside the home, try to place the storage containers in a cool room that can be closed off from heat. Close vents and do not insulate windows in the room.

Know Each Individual Root’s Needs

Some vegetables like it dry and some like it damp. For those that like the atmosphere a little moist, storage in basements, attics, unheated garages, sheds, porches or covered decks are good spots. In homes without those areas, storing on an exterior wall, preferably with a north wall is the best choice. If the storage is in one of the outdoor locations or unheated garages or attics, the temperatures should always stay below 60 degrees, but not go below freezing.

The cold and damp root vegetables include:

  • Beets
  • Carrots
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Potatoes

Those that prefer it cold and dry include:

  • Onions
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Winter squashes

Most tubers love darkness. They are best stored in some type of box with a lid indoor, although you can also line a drawer or laundry basket and cover the roots with newspaper for insulation and to keep the light off of them.

Some, like potatoes, do not like it too cold. Allowing them to drop too much below 50 degrees will release the starches in them. Onions need much more air circulation than many of the root veggies. Storing them in a netting in a dark place or in a wire basket or laundry basket where air can circulate freely will keep them lasting all through the winter. They should not be covered at all, but they still need to be out of direct light.

Keep Them Growing for a Little Extra Bonus

Want some extra salad greens for soups and salads all winter long? Plant some beets, turnip or radish bulbs in a pot of soil and place it in a sunny location in your home. They will sprout delicious tops that can be cut continuously all winter for an added treat.

Be Aware of Shelf Life

Even the most well-preserved vegetable will have a shelf life. More tender roots such as beets, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes, rutabagas, and turnips will only last 1 to 5 months in dry storage. Hardier roots like carrots, parsnips and potatoes can be stored for between 4 and 6 months. Powerhouses such as horseradish can last as long as a year in storage, but tender kohlrabi will only be good for a few weeks no matter how well you prepare the space.

Prepare Roots for Dry Storage

The better you handle the preparation for storing your root vegetables, the better chance they have for lasting. Make sure you harvest in cool, dry weather and let them dry out on the surface of the soil for 8 to 10 hours to toughen them up a little bit. Cut the foliage down to the crown, and make sure to only store clean, undamaged vegetables. Use up any that have any signs of damage or blemishes immediately.

Other Vegetable Preservation Methods

Preserving Fragile Vegetables

Certain vegetables require careful handling to last beyond their normal fresh shelf-life. These include watery vegetables such as zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Many other vegetables can be canned, or as you will see, are also storable in other ways.

Freeze What You Can

Freezing is a fantastic, easy and quick way to store almost anything from the garden. It is especially good for those vegetables you will be consuming within a three-month period.

Use only strong freezer bags and squeeze as much air out of them as possible when sealing the vegetables in. While this is a great way to store vegetables, it does take up a lot of valuable freezer space, even for homes with large stand-alone freezers. In addition, you could lose your frozen goods in an extended power outage.

For that reason, it is probably best to limit how many root and other vegetables are stored in this manner in favor of other methods.

Canning for Long-Term Dry Storage

Canning is a time-honored traditional way to store many of the types of vegetables that can’t keep on a shelf or root cellar. The drawback to canning is that it takes a lot of time, some special equipment, practice and the vegetables may contain more preservatives and salt than frozen or naturally stored vegetables do. In spite of the drawbacks, canning is an important resource for some of the more fragile vegetables that can’t be stored in other ways, such as tomatoes.

Additional Reading:  How to Overcome The Fear of Pressure Canning

Dry Them Out

The water in the fragile vegetable group is what makes them harder to store. To preserve them for long periods of time without bulky jars or taking up precious freezer space, consider drying them. Use a dehydrator to remove all of the water, and store the shrunken vegetables in mason jars or sealed bags. They can be rehydrated for use in soups and cooking, or eaten dried for a great treat.

Dehydration works for all vegetables, even those that can be kept in storage for long periods of time. The best choices for dehydration are fruits like apples, bananas, peaches, and vegetables such as carrots, potatoes or squash.

The Final Word

It takes a little work to preserve your produce for long storage, but it’s worth it. You spent a lot of time planting, growing and protecting them in the garden. Remember that you do not have to pick just one storage method. Incorporate several types of preservation to maximize your space and get the most out of your garden produce.

By selecting the type of preservation or storage that suits the particular type of vegetable, and your own space you can enjoy the bounty of your garden even when the temperatures dip below freezing. It’s a great way to keep your family well-fed and happy regardless of what is going on in the outside world.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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 Below you will find  the items related to today’s article on preserving vegetables.

Nesco 600-Watt Food Dehydrator:  This modestly priced dehydrator has over 2,300 reviews and comes up as the most highly rated dehydrator.  This is nicer than the 500W model I own and costs less!

FoodSaver Vacuum Sealer: As long as the unit has an accessory port (and this one does), an in expensive FoodSaver will work just as well as the fancier models. That is my two cents, at least.

FoodSaver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer: Already have a FoodSaver? If so, check out this jar sealer which can be used to vacuum seal your Mason jars. This is a great option for short to mid term storage of items such as beans, rice, sugar and salt. Store your jars in a cool, dark place and you are set with the added advantage of removing a small amount for current use without having to disrupt your large Mylar bag or bucket of food.  There is also a version for regular sized jars. See Fast Track Tip #4: How to Use a FoodSaver for Vacuum Canning.

Mylar bags & Oxygen Absorbers: What I love about Mylar bags and oxygen absorbers is they protect against every single one of the food storage enemies. Prices do vary but for the most part, they are inexpensive and easy to keep on hand. And while you can seal them up with a FoodSaver, some tubing, and a common clothes iron, I find it infinitely easier with a cheap hair straightening iron that you can pick up for very cheap.

A Primer on Pickling: Learn How to Pickle Food in a Single Afternoon!: Want to follow along as I make some pickles? This short how-to by LeAnn Edmondson will get you on the right track.  Do not let it’s brevity deter you.  This gets you where you need to go without a lot of fluff.

Presto 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker:  This is a good option when it comes to pressure canners.   I initially purchased this Presto Canner but it was too tall and did not fit under my range-top hood.  This is definitely something you will want to check.


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7 Responses to “How to Store Vegetables Without a Root Cellar”

  1. Love the article, would never have guessed I could pack carrots and beets for storage and keep them in a cool spot inside. Since the frost line is measured in feet here, leaving them in the ground doesn’t work . As for winter squash, where I live in northern Minn., keeping them in an unheated room will rot them. I have kept them away from the wood stove, but at room temps, all winter, depending on variety . Hard shell like morgold keep till spring while buttercup gets eaten first .

  2. Gaye – This is a fantastic article!! When I’ve grown potatoes & carrots, I didn’t have too much damage by rodents. But if I had, I’d have dug a larger hole when planting and lined it with a metal mesh type of screen made for that purpose – keeping rodents out. Then of course you refill with soil and proceed with planting.

    By the way, I’ve meant to contact you to let you know about my new book Life on a Mountain Farm, & website The book describes my first three years on a country homestead (out of nineteen years!), and how I became an Herbalist. I’d be happy to provide free copies for your giveaway. I’ve loved your site for years!

    • This came about as a result of my own interest in storing potatoes in a “root cellar” without actually having a root cellar. Side note: Now that I have some land, I can finally grow some food!

      One thing not covered was keeping the pets and rodents at bay when veggies are stored in this manner. I need to figure that out by finding someone with some experience to can share.

    • Gaye, I do store some vegies outside in the winter. My garden is fenced to protect from rabbits and deer. However, I do have problems with wire worms, rodents (mice or rats) and an occasional freeze. Wire worms do most harm to my spuds, so I dig them up and store in our garage, which stays about 50 degrees in the winter. This year, rodents got to some of my carrots. So I covered them with about 4 inches of compost about a month ago and have not noticed any problems since. The compost also keeps the carrots from freezing as long as the temperature does not stay below 32 degrees for more than a few days. Keep up the great work you are doing.

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