When it comes to preserving root vegetables, there are several options you can choose from! And while I’ve frozen, dehydrated, pressure canned and fermented (some of) my root vegetables, I find nothing is so simple or satisfactory as preserving them in cold storage. In this tutorial, I’ll teach you how to store root vegetables over winter using cold room storage.
If you want to learn how to overwinter root vegetables without a root cellar, this is how you do it!
Which Root Vegetables Are Suitable for Overwintering?
Most root vegetables will keep well over the winter months, provided they have cool temperatures and enough moisture. Common traditional options include the following.
- Potatoes (they’re technically a tuber, not a root!)
- Winter radishes (such as daikon)
If you want to grow root vegetables for winter storage, be sure to grow varieties that are known for their keeping qualities. Because not all root vegetables varieties will store well, long term. Particularly when it comes to beets, potatoes and radishes!
With these three in particular, try to find varieties that are known for their keeping qualities. In seed catalogs, they’re often identified as “winter keepers” or “storage” varieties.
4 Things You Need to Overwinter Root Vegetables
To keep your root vegetables over the winter months, you’ll need 4 things.
- A cold room or space for storage
- Access to cold winter air
- Bins or boxes for holding your vegetables (I like to use these rubbermaid totes)
- Moist soil for packing root vegetables into bins
Let me walk you through each one, step by step!
Item 1: A Cold Room or Storage Space
You might be wondering exactly what qualifies as a cold room? In short, you need a space that stays cool all winter long. Many cold rooms have winter air piped into the space to keep it in the proper temperature range.
But you don’t have to have a custom-made cold room for storing root vegetables over winter! While a cold room designed for food storage is ideal, you can made due with just about anything.
Before my man and I built our own home with it’s north-facing cold room, we had a cold room in the basement of our rental home. And I personally know individuals who have used a spare bedroom, the crawl space under their house or even a pump house or an outbuilding that stayed cool all winter long.
As long as the space stays cool and as long as it doesn’t get more than a few degrees below freezing, it will make an excellent place for storing vegetables!
Item 2: Access to Cold Winter Air
As mentioned above, most cold room or cold storage spaces rely on outside temperatures for natural refrigeration. Whether you have an unheated room in your basement, an actual cold room or use an outdoor shed, your temperatures would ideally fall in the 45-32F (7-0C) range.
This may mean piping the cold winter air into your storage room. Or putting in a window where you can adjust the airflow into the space (that’s how my cold room in the rental home worked).
If you live in a very cold climate, this may mean putting in an electric space heater to keep things from freezing up! Do whatever you must do to make your storage space fall in the proper temperature range.
Item 3: Bins or Boxes for Holding Root Vegetables
In order to store root vegetables over winter, you need boxes or bins for holding both roots and packing soil. You can use just about anything, as long as it’s sturdy.
No, don’t try using cardboard! The weight of the root vegetables and soil will cause the bottoms to break through when you move them into cold storage.
Wooden boxes, bins or totes work well. In our cold room, we like to use these rubber-like totes for storage. They are pliable and hold up to the weight, wear and tear of the process!
Item 4: Moist Soil for Packing Root Vegetables into Bins
Last but not least, you’ll need soil for storing your root vegetables! Some people like to use sand. Others use peat moss. But I prefer to just use my garden soil. It’s cheap, holds moisture well and is readily available in the amounts I need!
How to Store Root Vegetables Without a Root Cellar
While most root vegetables can be 1) blanched and preserved in the freezer, 2) diced and dehydrated, 3) fermented in a brine or 4) preserved in the canner, I think they keep best in cold storage. Here’s how you can store root vegetables over winter without a root cellar!
Step 1: Harvest Root Vegetables at the Proper Time
Knowing when to harvest your root vegetables is important, particularly if you live in a colder climate! While carrots and parsnips can handle frosts and will even grow sweeter because of it, root vegetables that grow above ground (beets, turnips) are more susceptible and need to harvested just before or just after your few first frosts of the year.
I know. You’re wondering about potatoes! Provided they’re well covered by soil, potatoes can also withstand light frosts. But to maximize your crop, you want to get them out of the ground before things really freeze up. You’ll also want to cure your potatoes so they keep longer in storage and sometimes, this is easier when done earlier in the year.
How do you cure potatoes? Just click here and I’ll show you how to do it properly!
And you want to know how we store potatoes? In gunny sacks! No, we don’t layer potatoes in soil, simply because there’s no need. Instead we fill woven plastic gunny sacks with potatoes, tie them off and plunk them on the floor in our cold room.
They’ll keep until spring in this manner.
Step 2: Prepare Root Vegetables for Storage
For the best storage life, you need to properly prepare your root vegetables for winter storage. It’s simple.
Pull (or dig up) your vegetables and trim the greens within an inch of the root’s top. It’s important that you remove both foliage and the long, moist stems! If too much is left behind, tops will decay in storage and can cause vegetables to rot prematurely.
That being said, you don’t want to cut into your root vegetable either. Cutting into the root’s top itself will also cause decay to set in faster as well. Aim to leave 1/2-1 inch of the top attached to the root and you’ll be just fine.
Something like this.
Step 3: Sort and Set Aside Imperfect Root Vegetables
Whether you sort through your vegetables before you trim the tops, as you trim the tops or afterwards, they need to be looked over. Any blemished or imperfect vegetables need to be set aside and should go directly to the kitchen.
- Root vegetables you cut with a shovel
- Vegetables that have been eaten by pests
- Root vegetables that have cracks, scab or rot
- Vegetables that have worms or larvae
Placing blemished vegetables in cold storage will cause your entire bin/box to decay much faster. So take a moment to quickly sort through the roots and pull out those that are obviously not suitable for winter keeping!
Step 4: Source Moist Soil for Packing Root Vegetables
The best way to store root vegetables (potatoes are the exception) is to layer them in bins or boxes with moist soil. Putting down a layer of soil, then a layer of veg, another layer of soil and so on, will help lock in moisture and preserve your vegetables.
When it comes to your packing soil, avoid extremes. If your dirt is dry, your root vegetables will go limp and rubbery in storage. And if it’s too wet, vegetables may rot between the layers of soil.
Think about what your garden is like in springtime when you plant. You want your soil to be dark, soft and moist.
If you live in a dry climate, this means you may have to add water to the soil to attain the proper levels of moisture. And if you live a wet climate, you may have to dig soil and set it aside under shelter until the water evaporates.
Either way, your soil should hold it’s form when you squeeze it in your hand. If it doesn’t, it’s too dry. And if it won’t break apart when you poke it up with your finger, things are too wet.
Step 5: How to Pack Vegetables in Soil
Packing vegetables in soil has to be the easiest method of food preservation ever! Here’s how you do it!
- Place 1-2 inches of soil in the bottom of your storage container.
- Place your vegetables on top of the dirt.
- If you want longest storage life possible, leave a space between each vegetable as you put them down.
- Add soil until root vegetables are covered by about an inch of soil (the larger the root, the more soil you’ll need!).
- Alternate layers of soil and vegetable until the bin is about 2/3 full.
- Finish off with a 3-4 inch layer of soil on top to hold in moisture.
A few things to be aware of?
Your bins or boxes are going to be very heavy. For this reason, be careful about using deep containers. Personally I prefer to use bins that are no more than 8-9 inches deep, but my man likes using totes that are 16 inches in depth.
The other thing I would warn you against is overfilling your containers. You’ll have to dig down to access your root vegetables and if you fill your containers too full, you’ll spill dirt everywhere when you root around!
Remember you still have to move the bins into your cold storage! Make certain you can manage them…without putting your back out.
Step 6: Place Root Vegetables in a Cold Room
Once the job is complete, take your filled containers to the cold room or wherever you place to store them. We put our bins directly under the cold intake (a sliding window), as our winters primarily sit around freezing or just below. Vegetables are dug out and used at our leisure.
They normally keep into May and sometimes, even into June!
Store Your Root Vegetables in Cold Storage
As a gardener living in a northern climate, cold room storage is the most energy efficient form of food preservation I have available to me. It’s extremely rewarding to pull out juicy carrots in the dead of winter. To grate fresh beets into a salad. Or roast fresh, home grown parsnips in the oven with a bit of cinnamon and honey.
The satisfaction is real folks. And that’s why I want you to learn how to store root vegetables over winter!