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Storing your Harvest in a Root Cellar

The right setup and conditions for proper storage
Monday, January 19, 2015, 1:51 PM

When it comes to storing your harvest, you have a couple of options. Freezing, dehydrating, canning, and storing fresh in a root cellar. I prefer freezing berries, corn, beans, peppers, peas, tomato based vegetable soup and eggplant. I like to dehydrate my herbs, early season apples and pears. Canning is great for pickles, tomato based soup (which can also be frozen), and beets. The root cellar is a great place to store your late season fruits, root vegetables and pumpkins for the winter. Onions, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, cabbage, pears, and apples do well in a root cellar. Granted these fruits and vegetables don’t all have the same temperature and humidity preferences, but most are similar.

Squash, sweet potatoes, onions, and garlic in the root cellar

What is a root cellar anyway?

A root cellar is simply a place where you store produce that maintains a constant low temperature 35-45 degrees with high humidity 85-95% throughout the winter. Ideally, a root cellar also has ventilation. Your produce will need a fresh air source. You may have a root cellar right now, and not even realize it. Sometimes a well pump room in an old basement might have those conditions, or an unfinished room in a basement with a dirt or gravel floor might be a good candidate. A crawl space or area under a porch can also be good root cellars.

Potatoes packed in damp straw in the root cellar

Partitioned Root Cellar

How do I know if I have a good site for a root cellar?

I would recommend that you purchase a temperature gauge that has a humidistat to determine if you have a good site in or around your home. If you have a site that is the proper temperature, but not the right humidity or vice versa, there are things that can be done to make the site more ideal. My root cellar has good ventilation via high low vents. I also use these vents to regulate the temperature. I broke my root cellar in half by installing a wall and a door. The root cellar closest to the basement is somewhat warmer and drier, while the root cellar on the other side of the wall has a dirt floor, with lots of northerly ventilation, so it's cooler and more humid. This allows me to store certain fruits and vegetables on one side or the other depending on the conditions they prefer. Even on the humid side, it can still be a bit drier than I would like. I overcome this issue by dampening the straw that I keep my potatoes in and the sand that I keep carrots and parsnips in. If you think your site will be too difficult to fix humidity or temperature issues, cheap root cellars can be made with an old freezer buried in the soil and covered with straw with a vent attached.

    

Setting the right conditions for the right crops.

Fruits and Vegetables that like 33-45 degrees with 80-95% Humidity

Leeks, Sunchokes, Carrots, Beets, Parsnips, Horseradish, Turnips, Cabbage, Potatoes, Apples & Pears

Fruits and Vegetables that prefer 50 degrees and 60-70% Humidity

Garlic, onions, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes

~ Phil Williams

Phil Williams is a permaculture consultant and designer and creator of the website foodproduction101.com.  His website provides useful, timely information for the experienced or beginning gardener, landscaper, or permaculturalist. Phil's personal goals are to build soil, restore and regenerate degraded landscapes, grow and raise an abundance of healthy food of great variety, design and install resilient permaculture gardens in the most efficient manner possible, and teach others along the way.

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