Growing or Buying Fresh Food For Root Cellaring

Sharon March 12th, 2008

If you are going to use natural cool storage to keep vegetables and fruits in a root cellar, it matters a great deal which varieties you grow or purchase from farmers.  Some varieties simply will not keep, others will last nearly forever.  So as you are planning, make sure that if you intend to root cellar, you are choosing seed varieties (or talking to your local farmer) with keeping qualities in mind.

The definitive (and highly recommended) book on this subject is Mike and Nancy Bubel’s _Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables_ and they list many varieties there.  I’ll list varieties that have done well for me here, but their book is definitely worth owning if you are using natural cold temperatures.  

(BTW, I’m going to try and put together a store section of books on preserving food fairly soon, so you should be able to get most or all of the books I recommend through my site, if you’d like to.)

One note on root cellaring – while you don’t have to keep your food in a cellar (we keep ours in a partly insulated above-ground porch), you do have to keep it in a place that gets fairly cool.  In warm climates, even shallow under-ground spots may not be cool enough  – but if you live in a warm place, you may be able to grow year ’round, and not need a root cellar.  So think about whether your location has the right combination of cool temps, frostlines, and a need for storing fresh food for long periods.

Ok:

Apples - We store *tons* of these, and the best keeping varieties we’ve found are: Roxbury Russet, Northern Spy, Winesap, Lady, Winter Keeper, Smokehouse, Winterbanana, Mutsu, Sheepnose, Cortland. 

Some apples, by the way, turn into mush instantly - Macs and summer apples are the worst, but lots of other varieties don’t store well, so make sure you are storing the right kinds. 

Beets – Lutz Longkeeper is by far the most famous storage variety, but Fedco reports it may have been dropped entirely from the commercial trade – Seed Savers still has it, a good reason to become a member and save your own!  Detroit Dark Red does reasonably well, but our favorite storage variety is Rote Kugel, huge and dense and delicious.  Seed is available from www.abundantlifeseeds.com

Cabbage – January King and Glory of Enkuizen are my best keepers – I got seed for both.  Mammoth Red Rock, a red cabbage, stores almost as well.  I’ve had great luck with older heirlooms, and not bothered with hybrids here.  We’re still eating our own cabbage, and will run out before it spoils.

Carrots – I’ve found that most large carrots store fairly well. “Oxheart” stores very well for us in buckets of moist sand, but any thick variety will do well. 

Garlic – All my garlic lasts just fine – no issues there.

Potatoes – The big issue with potatoes is that you want to store late-crop potatoes, for the most part, because they haven’t been sitting around. Katahdin, Green Mountain, Carola, Yukon Gold, German Butterball, Purple Peruvian – all store well for us.

Pears – Bosc, Anjou, Bartlett and Kieffer all store a couple of months

Quince – I’ve only grown one variety – it seems to keep several months. 

Rutabagas – Laurentian keeps very well in sand.

Turnips – Purple Top White does the very best keeping for us, but Golden Ball is a close second and tastier.

Daikons – all seem to keep a couple of months

Onions – Of the OP Onions, New York Early does very well for me.  Stuttgarter, the common set hybrid also does very well.  For sweet onions, Candy will keep a month or two.   New York early came to me through Fedco, listed below.

Sweet Potatoes and Squash like the same winter temps we have – 50s and 60s houses.  So don’t store them in the root cellar, bring them into the house and keep them in  closet, under your bed, or in a convenient corner.  I’ve not noticed any difference between the sweet potato varieties we grow (Georgia Jet, Porto Rico). Johnny’s sells northern adapted sweet potato varities as does Pinetree

 Squash varies a great deal - there are lots of excellent keepers out there, but some of our favorites are - Marina de Chioggia, Butternut, Green Hubbard (the big ones keep much better than the little hubbards), Pink Banana, Futsu, Hopi Orange, Thelma Sanders – I get most of mine either from seed savers or Fedco.    

I hope this helps someone!

 Sharon

17 Responses to “Growing or Buying Fresh Food For Root Cellaring”

  1. Rosa says:

    Thanks for the variety recommendations, Sharon. We get our apples for free and I have no idea what varieties they are, but I may buy some storage apples this year, because I just can’t work full time and can and dry all the apples we eat (we have one quart of dried apples left now, only because I have them hidden for this long trip we’re taking next week).

    How damp is the damp sand you store parsnips & carrots in? I think this is the year we finally try that, and I’m a little nervous. Also, do you store/use celeriac at all? We’ve been buying it this winter (they don’t even have local kale at the coop anymore, but they do have celeriac) and it turns out we eat it OK – I’ve read that it stores in damp sand also.

    Do you store the beets dry?

    Last fall I often brought a packed lunch of plain roasted beets (or beets, carrots & onions) knowing that I could trade part of it for something yummy from the Ukrainian and Russian women in my office – and I ended up getting several native-born Americans to taste beets forthe first time ever. If we could store beets, I would be very happy.

  2. Emily says:

    My garlic always goes spongy – the cloves shrivel up in their husks. What temp/humidity do they like? What kind of container? I’ve been keeping them around 45-50 degrees and pretty low humidity, loose in a basket.

  3. Greenpa says:

    just so ya know. heh heh.

    I have about 20 or so standard Roxbury Russet trees, 25 years old. smug smug.
    :-)

  4. Kristianna says:

    What variety of garlic do you grow? I am in the Northeast, too. Thx.

  5. Re: onions – we’ve found that the Italian Coin Onions keep really, really well for us. We grew some from seed a couple of years ago and they kept in our storage room in a large basket for about 9 months with hardly any sprouts. We’re growing them again this year, and trying a couple of new red varieties to see if we like them as much as we did the golden coin onions.

    Shallots also can be wonderful keepers – I found some in a basket this spring that had been overlooked when planting last year, and some of the bulbs were still in edible condition. That means they kept for about *18 months.*

    Evergreen Bunching onions don’t generally bulb up, but divide at the base like huge chives. They are also very hardy – our patch on the side survived -10 temps this winter uncovered. So a patch of those started this year should keep most folks in green onions for salads without having to worry about storing them or starting them over from seed every year. (Which is good, because onion seed generally doesn’t keep very well.)

    Re: beets – Lutz Winter Keeper beet seeds are still available from many catalogs. Ed Hume Seeds carries it, as well as Burpee and Southern Exposure. I think I found it in a couple of other lesser known catalogs as well. Sometimes they are called Lutz Green Leaf, so don’t let the somewhat different name throw you. It’s the same beet. I got a couple or three packages just this year from different places, and even found them on the seed rack at a local garden center (probably Burpee’s label.)

  6. Greenpa says:

    One thing to keep in mind; the fact that “X” is a beautiful keeper for “Y” – does not necessarily mean it will be for you.

    It’s a darn good place to start; but don’t be too surprised, or disappointed, if something others are crazy about just doesn’t work for you. Happens all the time. Could be microclimates; could be tiny local mineral differences; or – a dozen other things.

    Try this; try that; keep trying; you’ll get there.

    Any MY garlic always goes spongy, too.

  7. Sharon says:

    Garlic – My main garlic crop is a variety called “Howe’s” because a local family from a town with that name near me grew it. I also grow “Music,” “Polish White” and a couple of others (embarassingly, I’ve forgotten what they are – I’ve been saving them for a while.” I have had some go spongy, but most of it keeps. I throw it out on the porch, where temperatures are generally fairly cool, but can range up towards 50 on a really sunny, warm day, and down near freezing when the outside temps are more than -12.

    I’m glad to hear that Lutz Winter Keeper/Greenleaf is still around – it is a nice beet. And good point about the shallots – potato onions are also good keepers for me.

    Greenpa, right about the variations, and boy am I jealous about your trees! We’ve got two Roxbury Russets, neither bearing yet. They are a favorite of mine.

    Rosa, re: damp sand – well, it usually starts out medium damp and dries out a couple of times during the course of the season, so it varies ;-) . I store the beets dry, and the celery root, and they last until we eat them all in January or early February (I never manage to grow enough ;-) – and I don’t store parsnips inside much at all – I do a few, but they keep so much better in the garden, and taste better there that I don’t bring them in in any quantity.

    I love beets – Eric only tolerates them so I’m not allowed to have them quite as often as i’d like, but I do eat a lot of them, and I love to convert others ;-) .

    Sharon

  8. Deb G says:

    With garlic, make sure you’re growing soft neck varieties for storage (the ones with loose stems that can be braided). These will keep much better. In the Pacific Northwest I grow Nootka Rose and Inchilium Red. I keep mine in the kitchen, it’s about 50-60 degrees usually.

    I agree with Idaho Locavore about shallots. They have been super keepers for me. I store them the same as the garlic.

  9. Shane says:

    Things are a bit different here in the subtropics. The pressure of storing food for long periods isnt quite as high since we can grow something at any time of the year. But bulk root crops have an optimum time to grow, so it is better to coordinate them for that reason. Basically it works that from frost into spring is for potatos, since the beetles damage them more at other times, sweet potato over the heat of summer, then parsnips and other temperate roots heading into the cooler part of the year. Even still we have to be able to store a few hundred kilograms of each. Sweet potatos are the worst for going spongy and sprouting here when it is warm, so we tend to harvest them as we go. Parnips tend to be gradually thinned out as well. Only potatos come out all at once, and thankfully they seem to store fairly well here. The only down side is that our diet may be more seasonal than in colder climates as items regularly disappear from the menu for over six months at a time, but the upside is we can grow lots of tropical crops as well so the total variety is higher.
    For growing dry storage crops (grains and pulses) there is sometimes problems with having rain and humidity at the wrong time, but I guess that happens to everyone. Our large verandahs come in handy for bringing in crops for drying out (an advantage of smaler scale agriculture there). One trick I have started using with bulk bought grain is to keep it in an air tight bucket but to place a candle inside and close the lid to drop the oxygen levels. If it is full a plastic disposable container can be sunk to make a gap. Often the stuff you buy is infested with a few moths or beetles when you buy it, so doing this regularly is a great way of stopping them multiplying. An upside of growing and using the smaller grains (millet, quinoa, amaranth) seems to be that they are less prone to bug infestation so they are easier to store. The flocks of parrots seem to leave them alone too- they have a nibble but it is too much work picking at all the tiny grains.

  10. Cath says:

    I stored a bunch of squash, onions and apples the coldest part of our basement (and here in Ontario, it’s been cold, cold, cold this winter!) but the onions sprouted surprisingly early, and a number of squash (that weren’t touching each other) went moldy. Now granted, I wasn’t checking them often (the basement’s a bit treacherous for my 18-month old) but I’m wondering if it just wasn’t cold enough, or if I did something wrong? An admittedly novice question from an unquestionably novice (but enthusiastic!) reader.

  11. Sharon says:

    Hi Cath – The squash probably went moldy because they don’t like it too cold – they can’t tolerate temperatures much below 50 degrees for long periods. As for the onions – that I don’t know – maybe too much moisture? I know my basement is fairly wet. It may also be that the onions weren’t cured long enough, and thought they were still supposed to be growing (they need to dry out before storage a bit).

    Shane, thanks for the report of how it works in your climate!

    Sharon

  12. joe says:

    built an underground concrete storage cellar.
    small, 3x3x4 ft with thick insulated light tight door. white potatoes stored well but the sweet potatoes all went soft after December.

  13. Charlotte says:

    I have only lived here a year(n/e oz), and have only half my(400m2) garden planted as yet, but I have planted it mainly with perrenials, as I am lazy with maintenance. I also know a fair few ‘bush foods’, and plan on planting random perrenials around my neighbourhood. Apart from that, the only other way I think I could go is with a community( like several people on acreage together) to reduce the workload. :)

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