We don't have a root cellar. You don't really need to have one to be successful at cold storage. You can use any unheated space - a closet, back room, attic... - to store veggies. My favorite source for knowledge is Root Cellaring - Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Veggies by Mike and Nancy Bubel. The book is a clearly written, very informative, and practical guide for storing veggies. Whether you want to store only potatoes, or a whole slew of veggies, this is the book for you. It contains information on planting, harvesting, curing, and a bunch of different ideas on how and where to store you veggies. I find myself turning to this book over and over again.
Different veggies store best in different conditions. Many veggies prefer very cold temps for storage - potatoes, apples, carrots, beets,... Some do best in just cool temps - garlic, onions,... But some do well in moderately warm temps like squashes and green tomatoes. There is some overlap and flexibility, so storage systems do not have to be elaborate to keep your veggies for a long period of time. Of course, the more accurate you can be with your temperatures and humidity, the better and longer your veggies will keep. But if your conditions are not exactly right, don't let that stop you! Your produce will keep for a while anyhow. One year, we had so many green tomatoes that we were able to enjoy them for Thanksgiving dinner!! (A rarity here in northeaster Ohio.)
Our storage system contains two parts. One is stored in our back room that typically falls around 60 degrees in the winter months. This is the one I will show you today. The other is in our garage and made of straw bales. When I get around to packing up our potatoes, I will show you that one.
Here it is:
It is made from grape crates that we collected from some relatives who make lots and lots of wine. My brother in law cut the one side in order to make a stackable, but functional bin.
Once they were all cut and cleaned, I stacked them on a utility shelf. I wanted a little extra room to access them from the front, so I staggered them a bit like so:
Yikes!!! The cobwebs!!!! I didn't even realize those were there until I took the picture! Please just ignore them. I can't really imagine life without cobwebs. Maybe some day... The top bins in each stack were left as they came so that I could put things in there that might require better containment. I find them useful for storing other things that we buy in cases, like dog treats or cracker boxes or peanut butter buckets.
Each year, I empty out what is left over from the previous year, vacuum out the bins, and line them with fresh newspaper.
Then!!! What we all have been waiting for... the produce!!!
Our bins are currently holding garlic, red and purple onions, and the last of last years butternuts. While I was away this weekend, (to the crazy but fun Universal parks to visit the new Harry Potter world with my sisters. It's a sister's thing with us. I'll probably make a post about that when I get all the pics from my sisters.) Nick filled up 2 of the other bins with our green tomatoes.
Since this room is a back room with 2 outside walls, 1 inside wall, and 1 unheated garage wall, the temps range in the mid 50's to 60 range most of the winter. I have found squashes, particularly butternuts, keep well until spring, but will last until the following year (see above). They are not exactly pretty, and have dried up a bit by now. But they are still perfectly edible. Kinda nice when you have a spectacular year one year, and then a not so spectacular year the next. Onions and garlic prefer a bit cooler temps, but they store well through the winter here nevertheless. Sweet potatoes will like this storage system as well, if I ever get around to growing any of those. Dreaming is free.
As with anything, there is so much information out there that it can be somewhat overwhelming. The trick is really just to do the best you can with what you've got. Find a place in your home where you can store something - even if it's just a couple of butternuts on the top shelf of an unheated closet. It truly is the easiest way to store your goods over winter. There is no processing involved so the food remains whole. You don't need any complicated or expensive equipment. But you get an awful lot of satisfaction out of it.