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How To Store Winter Vegetables

Posted by: on Sep 25, 2012

It is time to fill the cellar. Or the “cellar” as is the case for many folks. (The “cellar” is whatever somewhat appropriate environs you can carve out of your small apartment living space 🙂
We have many vegetables for bulk order that need nothing more than a cool dark place to keep well through the long cold nights of winter. If you are interested in stocking up, we recommend ordering unwashed vegetables since these will keep better (and it saves us time too!).

Here is just a little bit of basic information about how to store vegetables during the winter…

STORE THINGS DIRTY: the process of cleaning things causes tiny scratches and damage that may shorten the storage life of the produce, so store things dirty and wash right before use.

STORE ONLY THE HEALTHY: When you put away produce into storage, check for disease and damage, and set aside damaged produce for early use. It is indeed true that one bad apple can ruin the barrel.

CHECK PERIODICALLY: Go through your stored produce and remove for use or compost anything that’s starting to decay.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to have it exactly perfect to be successful in storing months worth of local produce.

True Root Vegetables – these include Carrots, Parsnips, Beets, Turnips, Rutabaga, Storage Radishes and Celeriac. Kohlrabi also stores well under the same conditions. Store all of these vegetables in the refrigerator. They need high humidity in order to stay crisp, so put into a plastic bag first with a few drops of water. I find that it is best to leave a tiny bit of air circulation though, so don’t use a twist tie on the plastic bag, just leave the top open, folded over. These crops easily can keep until May under these conditions.
Ideal conditions for storing them in a root cellar are 32-40 degrees with 90-95% humidity. You can create humid storage containers by packing the roots in damp sand, sawdust, leaves or other packing material.

Sweet Potatoes – Keep at room temperature (above 55 F is important – cooler temperatures will result in chilling injury to this tropical root.) Keep dry in paper bags or baskets out of direct sunlight.

Butternut Squash, Pumpkins, and other Winter Squash – Keep cool and dry. Traditionally squashes were kept under beds in the upstairs of farm houses where there was always above freezing temp, but not super hot either. Optimal conditions are from 50-55 degrees with relative humidity of 50-70 percent. Most homes are a little drier than that, which may cause a little drying of the squash, but that is not a huge concern. Temperatures below 50 degrees will cause chilling injury to squash. Butternuts are one of the longest storing winter squash varieties and might keep until around February at the best.

Onions and Garlic – Keep at room temperature in the kitchen for medium storage. They like it dry, and on the cooler side (32-50 F ideally, though kitchens work well for medium length keeping). Don’t put in plastic bags as humidity encourages sprouting. You can also keep small quantities in the kitchen and bulk amounts of garlic or onions in a cooler spot in mesh bags or containers that allow lots of airflow.

Onions eventually start to sprout, but you can then give them some light from a window and use the leaves that grow from the center as scallions in late winter sprout salads! Garlic will also keep well at room temp. in a dry area.

Potatoes – For shorter term storage, just keep roots in the 40- 60 F range and they can keep for weeks until they begin to sprout. Keep potatoes in the dark in opaque containers like paper bags, as light will turn them green and cause them to sprout sooner. More humid conditions will keep them from shriveling.

For longest term storage, keep under refrigeration, or similar conditions. However, if you refrigerate, take out and leave at room temperature for a week before eating. This allows the starches to convert back to normal inside the potato. Potato starches turn to sugars in the cold. You can also eat them directly out of the fridge, though they may be sweeter and have a slightly different texture.

Cabbage – 32-40 degrees, 80-90% humidity. They do well in humid refrigeration. Even if outer leaves get gross and moldy you can peel them away to find a good head underneath.

SPACES TO CONSIDER when you don’t have refrigerator space:
Spaces that are cold but don’t freeze or may only freeze if very cold outside (on these nights take your containers inside) are good options for root vegetables and other produce where refrigeration is recommended. You would need to set things up to have higher humidity in some way. Here are a few types of locations that people have used for storage.

  • Entryways
  • Stairwells & Bulkheads
  • Attached Garages
  • Four season porches
  • Drafty closet that you don’t open often

Visit these Cornell Storage Guidelines for more details on length of storage time by crop and more ideas for how to pack produce or set up a root cellar.

Happy storing and winter cooking! Please post comments about ways you’ve found that work well to store produce, especially if it might help out other folks with limited space or resources.