Long term produce storage. How well does it work?

Mudroom-Pantry

 

5 or 6 months ago I  stuck my hands in a patch of dirt and pulled out all of my vegetables.  Today I’m doing the same thing.

Last September I wrote a post on How to store Carrots and Beets so they’d last throughout the winter. The basic idea is you store them in soil, the same way they’re used to being stored their whole lives.  In 2013, I wrote about  How to Store Potatoes.

So today I thought I’d update you on how well these methods work.  Obviously it’s the sort of thing that would immediately interest a vegetable gardener, but the same methods can be used for any vegetables you buy.  Basically unless you only eat mammoth sized turkey legs (a la Fred Flintstone) these methods should be of  interest and use to you.

I’m going to start off talking about how well the beets and carrots have done.

I know I’m not the only one who has thrown a bunch of beets or carrots in the crisper only to pull out a limp mass of wimpy, spongey things that look as though they’ve been beaten down by life only a week or so later.

So this year I stored all of my beets and carrots in slightly damp peat moss in a plastic bin with the lid mostly closed in a cool room. (like I described in my original post)

 

The room they are stored in is pretty much like a garage.  It isn’t insulated and it isn’t heated.  It’s a mud room.  It gets to be around 32f / 0c throughout the winter with the temperature in the mudroom rising when it’s warmer outside and cooler when it’s frigid.  Since the vegetables are tucked into soil it insulates them a bit keeping them closer to around 40 degrees.  When it’s going to be bitterly cold (-15c)  I drag the potatoes into the kitchen for the night so they don’t freeze.

 

 

long-term-storage-beets
Here’s what happened.  Because I didn’t want the beets to bleed, I didn’t cut the top off of the beet before storing it, only the greens. What you see here are all NEW greens (or reds in the case of the Bulls Blood beets).   6 months after pulling them, the beets are exactly the same as the day I picked them.  They’re hard, not at all withered and taste great because they’re in fact, still alive and growing.  Not only that I have a fresh supply of greens to saute or add to salads all the time.

It’s a beet miracle.

This by the way is how you would propagate beets to grow seeds. Beets are biennials which means they grow seeds their second year.  So if I wanted to, in the spring I could take some of my sprouted beets outside, stick them in the ground and they’d grow seed pots from their greens.  I’d then have all the seeds I needed for next year’s plantings.

 

long-term-storage-beets-1

 

All the same things are true for my carrots.  I tried to cut the tops off of all the carrots, including the crown, to prevent them from sprouting, but a lot of them still sprouted. Which is fine.  Because I can now harvest seeds from some of my rarer and favourite carrots like Juane de Daubs and Purple Dragon.

 

carrots-long-term-storage

 

These carrots are stiff and hard. They could do porn these carrots.  They’re just like the day I pulled them.

Let’s talk about the leeks.  Or rather let me tell you about the leeks.

I’d read over and over again that leeks were notoriously difficult to store.  A few suggestions were to simply cut off their roots and store them in a cool room, plant them in a bucket, leaving the roots attached and just the bottom of the leek covered, or freezing them.  The first two methods just plain didn’t work for me and freezing wasn’t an option. I wanted fresh leeks in the middle of February. Not soggy frozen ones.

 

So I decided to apply the same rules to the leeks as I did to the beets and carrots.  I left the roots on, trimmed the tops a bit and then layered them in damp peat moss in an airtight plastic container.

They’ve been stored like that for the past 5 months and they’re perfect. I have to strip the first couple of leaf layers off, because they’re kind of sad and wrinkly looking, but underneath they’re firm, good lookin’ leeks.  Kind of like if you peeled the first 50 layers of skin off of my face.  Underneath would be the fresh face of a baby.  Or blood and bone structure because I have no idea how many layers of skin we have on our faces.

 

leeks2

And again, because the roots are still attached and they’re in soil the leeks are still alive.  I  had no idea they’d keep growing but they did.  They grew so much they pushed the top off of their container.  So this was a storage success.

This is the garlic I have left.  Stored in a cold room in a closed cupboard and most of it is still firm.  The odd head is starting to dry out a bit, but is still useable.

 

garlic-storage-long-term

 

Squash.  My dear, beloved squash.  I use it for so many things.  Soup, ravioli, side dish …  It’s one of my favourites and these are two of my favourite varieties.  Kabocha squash on the left and Delicata on the right.  You can see the Delicata squash is just starting to show signs of “ick”.   It’s still useable but I’d better use it soon.  The Kabocha squash will be good until next fall.  Seriously.  This thick skinned squash is a very dry, sweet variety that stores forever.

You can see my problem though.

There are only 3 squash left.  Three.  That’s not enough.  I need to plant more squash next year.  The problem is they take up a lot of room, but I’m gonna have to suck it up.  As you’ll see in a moment, I could probably scale back the potato patch to increase the squash patch.

 

squash-long-term-storage

 

This is about half of the potatoes I have left.  Now that I think about it, this is probably far less than half.  I have a full crate of potatoes and three slightly smaller baskets.  I grow and hoard potatoes like the threat of scurvy is just around the corner.

The potatoes are stored in the same cold room as all of the other vegetables, but not in soil.  They just need a container with some air flow like a slatted crate or wicker baskets.

 

potatoes-long-term-storage

 

Ditto for sweet potato storage.  This is what’s left of the sweet potato haul. I just discovered roasted sweet potatoes this year.   Normally I fry or mash.  Roasting is the way to go if you ask me (this year).  Next year my answer  might be wildly different so I reserve the right to contradict myself at any time in the future.

 

 

sweet-potatoes-long-term-storage

 

RUTABAGA!   Otherwise known as Swedish turnip, otherwise  known as turnip, even though it isn’t a turnip.  I didn’t grow a ton of these and the ones I did grow didn’t get huge because I planted them a little bit too late but they’ve stored great using my good old damp peat moss method.  No need for waxing them, like you see in the stores.  Just sick ’em in the dirt.

 

rutabaga-long-term-storage

 

Onions get stored in this wicker basket because they like to have air around them.   Onions like it cold, squash like it a bit warmer, but ….

 

For storing anything just try to get as close to  ideal for all of the vegetables as you can. (between 40 f – 50 f)  or (between 0 c – 9 c)

 

onions-long-term-storage

 

The point of all this isn’t to show you how to store your vegetables.  Grow up.  It’s to show off my produce.  We all know that.

But if you learned something that’s great.  If you’re jealous … even better.

 

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67 Comments

  1. Anna says:

    Hello! I’ve just discovered your blog and am loving it. I love reading about doing stuff, it is an almost perfect substitute for actually doing stuff. Cracking up is a bonus.

    I am writing really to ask if you think regular soil would do as well for storage. Peat moss is an environmental disaster (if it’s dug up from the bogs where it should stay, I mean).

    Thank you!

  2. Jan Hekhuis says:

    Ah, a sort of root cellar! They’ve not been traditionally used in this area (flat coastal plain). Sometimes our ground water level might? be too high, but you still see old ones in the piedmont and mountains. But yes I’ve got the room and a tractor/front end loader I can dig holes with AND a dead freezer in the barn! Ut oh. I feel an experiment coming LOL! Like I need another project hahahaha
    Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Well let me know how it goes. I’ve always been curious about this technique but I’ve never had the room to do it myself. ~ karen!

  3. Jan Hekhuis says:

    Down here in the warmish south, root crops do OK on their own in the ground through the winter. Even lettuce will mostly survive with the occasional row cover. What I really really would like to figure out is how to keep some rutabagas, turnips,beets through the summer months! My fridge is just not big enough. Am I gonna have to get another one?

    • Karen says:

      That is a struggle Jan! I don’t know if you have the space, but there are people who dig a hole in the ground (a big hole) and do indeed drop a fridge into it! A broken fridge is the perfect place to keep root crops. Burying it in the ground keeps them cool even in the heat of summer. :) Apparently. I’ve never tried it so who knows if it actually works. Seems plausible though. ~ karen!

  4. Carmen I Ortiz says:

    So glad I found this site. This article is the best I have run into when it comes to storing winter vegetables. I was trying to find out if my storage beets would be ruined by the sprouting leaves and not just did I find out that it will not but information on all those other vegetable I’m storing. I was especially glad in the section on leeks, since this was my first year growing them and there are so many that I won’t get through all before it gets below freezing here in Minnesota. Thanks.

  5. Paula says:

    Karen,
    Where did you find your slatted wooden boxes that you use to store potatoes?
    Thanks,
    Paula

  6. carrie siesser says:

    I love your writing style. We usually have a bumper crop of produce and I can what I can, but this year I have a back injury that is requiring surgery so all I can manage is putting up my peach salsa, peach pandowdy, and jalapeno peach jam. So, yes, I am jealous, but also inspired for next year. Thanks for the giggle and the great tips.

  7. KCV says:

    Thanks for this post. We just bought a house last year in Alexandria, Virginia, and decided to put in a garden. The yard is wooded and is regularly trekked through by deer, a fox or two, our neighbor’s cat Floyd, and other criters. Knowing that, we decided to plant using raised beds (eight boxes, 3’x3’x1′) and build an enclosure along the south border of our property where it would get the most sun. 2 weeks in the ground, we already have plants sprouting – turtle (black) beans, string beans, snow- and snap-peas, 3 types of tomatoes, loads of radishes, beets, and carrots, green and yellow onions, cucumbers, pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, watermelon, and loads of lettucey stuff (spinach, mesclun mix, etc). I was wondering how to store the root veggies over winter. Now I know. I have had the experience of reaching into the plastic bag potatoes come in from the grocery store and get a handful of goo. Seeing all the seedlings coming up has really given my confidence a boost, so next weekend, I’m planting potatoes in bags! We have about 25 reuseable grocery bags, so may as put them to use. Thanks, again.

  8. Tom Hohenadel says:

    Thanks for the great information.
    My onions stored really well in my heated workshop, in onion bags on the top shelf.
    Potatoes did well, stored under the workbench. Nice and dark.
    Carrots were stored in damp sawdust, but the tops continued to grow and many dark spots on the carrots. The last ones were thrown out last week. They were soft and not fit to use. I think the sawdust was too damp, will try a bit drier next year.

    Any advice or comments.

    Thanks

  9. http://storageredbridge.co.uk says:

    Really nice way to store food! Thanks for sharing! Really useful post! Greetings, Storage Raynespark Ltd.

  10. Stephanie says:

    Sorry for this late reply (catching up on my TAODS). I wanted to ask you WHAT do you do with the rutabaga? My teenage children were just asking me about rutabaga last night. I have weird kids who like veggies. Anyway, I’d love to know your favorite way and with what to eat it. Additionally, we too are in love with roast sweet potato. We peel, cube, oil, and roast it (like a home fry) on a tray with cubed cauliflower and a sprinkle of dry garlic and curry. So…How do you rutabaga? Thx!

  11. Shauna says:

    I wish I could store vegetables, but if it got to 40-50 degrees here in Southern California, we’d all be wearing our parkas complaining about the great storm of [insert year here]. Who am I kidding, none of us own a parka. On the bright side, I can almost grow most of these items year round – sort of. I have a tomato plant that is fruiting, but taking a hundred years for the tomatoes to become red, but at least I’m still getting a tomato here and there.
    I have an older home that has a cool little ‘root cellar’ cupboard – it has slats that are basically open to the underneath of the house (covered with mesh of course). Theoretically, it should stay nice and cool in this cupboard allowing for me to be able to store vegetables year-round. I think the problem is that the cupboard is in the house and is used for other things on the remaining shelves so it’s constantly being opened. I don’t know enough about root cellaring, but I think the constant opening into a warm house has to be defeating the purpose somehow.

  12. Carey says:

    If you hear knocking at your door during Armageddon, or the zombie apocalypse, it’s just me, open up!

  13. Sonja says:

    Jealous? Me? Absolutely! Thanks for the great storage tips, which I will be needing next Fall after planting all the seeds I ordered from Cubits, thanks to your post last week. (Never mind that I swore off of seeds years ago because I could never successfully grow anything from them.) You better wish me luck – your reputation is on the line!

  14. BethH says:

    Thank you so much for this follow-up! I was just thinking about the original post when I used up the last of my Fomunda Tomatoes. Last October 1st I stripped my tomato plants of tons (well, not tons, but several pounds) of green tomatoes before our first frost was to hit. I layered them two deep on some trays with newspaper on top, bottom and in between the two layers and slid them under the bed in a cool spare bedroom. I turned each one over about once a week to check for rot and brought them to the kitchen a few at a time as needed. I didn’t lose any tomatoes to rot, and there were no fruit flies or other unwanted guests. We had our last red, ripe tomato this week. When people asked where the fresh tomatoes came from, I said, “Fomunda the bed!” I’m jealous of your beautiful root veggies, and am looking forward to trying more storage this winter.

  15. Judith says:

    Oh, the beauty of those onions. For the life of me, I can’t seem to keep all or even most of my onions from rotting – some even start doing it while they’re still drying right after the harvest! Has that ever happened to you?

    Otherwise, thanks for such a good description of storing different veggies! Saving it away to read again in the fall when I’ll have forgotten it all.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Judith! That does happen to me the odd time. Chances are you might be pulling your onions too early. You have to wait until the tops have flopped over and started to dry/die off on their own. If it’s near the end of the season and they aren’t flopping over, push them over with your hand and wait for them to dry/die off before you pull them. ~ karen!

      • Judith says:

        Ahh. That’s a very real possibility, because I’ve never waited as long as that to pull them. New knowledge, yay! Thanks Karen :)

  16. Jodi T. says:

    Ok, I think I read through all of the comments to see if my question has already been asked – if it was – SORRY.

    I just pulled two potatoes out of a cabinet and threw them out because they had alien eyes (about an inch long). Did they do that because it’s too warm inside or because they aren’t getting enough air circulation?

  17. Ellen says:

    I followed your advice on storing potatoes & carrots from my local farmer’s market, and I am VERY pleased with how they have been holding up. Thank you.
    And if I had to drag potatoes into my kitchen every time it got below -15 they’d live there! but mine are just in a coolish basement & are doing fine.

  18. Dee says:

    You have accomplished both your goals. So good to know how to stretch the season like this and yes, I’m so very jealous! Perfectly timed though for selecting what we can grow for the new year. Thanks.

  19. Nancy Blue Moon says:

    I am definitely jealous..fresh veggies in the middle of Winter..you amaze me lady..now I am hungry for a nice sausage and root veggie soup..

  20. monica says:

    I LOLed at carrot porn.

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