Storing Raw Produce

Health conscious homesteaders, farmers, townfolk and urban dwellers all share a common bond: the contents of the refrigerator! We love raw fruits and vegetables. We eat ’em year ’round. And we enjoy it!


At times I wonder why, in the proper climate, are so few homes being built with cool rooms or root cellars, seeing how we all love fresh produce?

As a child, I remember having a ‘cool cupboard’ in the corner of the kitchen. It had a screen-covered opening to the outside air! In winter, any goods stored in that cupboard were thoroughly chilled! I may also add it was the coolest part of the kitchen. Hmm. Perhaps they went out of style for a reason!

I’m fascinated with my cool room! What little we put up last fall convinced us to quadruple the supply for this winter! The garden is planted in hopes of an amazing root vegetable crop. We hope to spend less $ this winter and have nutrition-packed food all throughout. I’m a big fan of spinach salad with grated root vegetables and homemade salad dressing!


If looking to store produce in the cool room, I recommend (if possible) that you grow the food yourself. If there’s a farmer who will sell carrots or beets in bulk, go for it! But before you jump in, read on!


Choose Produce Suitable for Storage

The first thing to know about storing your own produce is this: not all fruits and vegetables are suitable for overwintering. There are particulars known for their hardiness, including squash, alliums, root vegetables, cabbages, kohlrabi and ‘some’ types of fruit.

The second thing? Within each type of produce, there are particular varieties known for their good storage qualities. Some apple go bad within weeks of picking, while others are hardy and come ripe at the perfect time (and temperatures) for storing. And some varieties of root vegetables were ‘created’ for quick harvest and processing.


If planting a garden with the intent of using cool room storage…read the seed information and package labels before buying! If vegetables are suitable for overwintering, it’ll say so. If not, assume its a summer specialty, the pick-and-eat-or-process-now type! These varieties may keep for a while, but for longest shelf life, heirloom vegetables are usually the best winter keepers for obvious reasons! If buying from a local farmer, inquire if produce type is suitable for winter storage.

The third thing is…don’t attempt to store blemished goods long term!  If possible, harvest yourself. Rough handling of produce (bruising) will shorten shelf life, particularly with fruits, alliums and squash.

I saw this when living in the north: my friend tried to store winter onions in the root cellar after a storm swept through the prairies. Bruised by the pounding of the hail, she placed them in her basement cellar (dry environment, low humidity). The outcome? Mold. I saw it; tall, white fuzzy mold throughout the soil and onions. Not only did she have to deal with the onions, but she also had to clean out her entire room to kill the fungus.

I have a dilemma this year: long story shortened, my turnips have worms due to the cabbage butterfly and I’m afraid the rutabagas will too (they’re also in the cabbage family). If this is the case they will not be suitable for winter storage! Decay would set in quickly. Sadly, it just isn’t worthwhile. We eat ’em fresh, sauteed or use in ferments after we’ve cut out the bad parts!

I’m going to try a fall planting in hopes that the butterflies will be gone by late summer!


Plant at the Right Time for Proper Maturation

It’s possible to plant particular vegetables too early in the year. Depending on your zone, you may need a late planting of carrots or other vegetables. When left in the ground too long, roots turn woody and for the longest lifespan, vegetables ought to be left in the ground until the cool temperatures are on their way! Plant wisely.

The best method for learning about a 2nd or late planting in your climate and zone? Talk to a local gardener! Remember? Take opportunities to live it together!



Dry Vs Humid Environment

Some produce needs a dry environment to successfully over-winter, while others won’t survive without high humidity. Vegetables that need dry storage include:

  • members of the allium family (garlic, onions, shallots)
  • winter squash (including pumpkins)

Almost all other produce needs high humidity to keep it from wilting. They include:

  • cabbages & kohlrabi
  • fruits: apples, citrus, grapes, pears
  • root vegetables: beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas, turnips


Preparing Produce for Storage

Yes, some vegetables are best when prepared or ‘cured’ for winter storage

Preparing Dry Storage Vegetables -the necessary steps for a successful storage!

Preparing Humid Storage Produce-the necessary steps for a successful storage!


Cool Room Preserving Methods

There are several ways to preserve vegetables in the cool room, even methods that allow for mixing both dry and humidity-loving produce! However, there are particulars to be aware of when mixing the two. See below.

Storing Fruits– very few store long term, but here they are!

Storing Vegetables: Dirt Pack Method -when using this method for overwintering vegetables, remember to put dry storage vegetables elsewhere, or the humidity will claim your alliums and squash, every time!

Mixing Dry & Humid Vegetables -one way to store both dry and humid lovin’ vegetables in the same room!