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How To Store Your Bumper Crops Safely

When harvesting vegetables, be careful not to break, nick or bruise them. 
The less you handle your vegetables, the longer they will last in storage. Canning or freezing are the best methods of preserving your foods over the winter, but you can store a large, fresh harvest indoors to last, if the conditions are right.

Different vegetables need different storage conditions. Temperature and humidity are the main storage factors to consider. There are three combinations for long-term storage:
Cool and dry (50-60°F and 60% relative humidity)
Cold and dry (32-40°F and 65% relative humidity)
Cold and moist (32-40°F and 95% relative humidity)

Old  School Root Clamps and Root Cellar Alternatives

I will concentrate on the veggies you'd like to keep in storage longer-term, not those few veggies and fruits you would want to store only in your fridge anyway.

Basements are generally cool and dry. If storing vegetables in basements, provide your vegetables with some ventilation. Harvested vegetables are not dead; they still breathe and require oxygen to maintain their high quality. Protect them from rodents.

Refrigerators are generally cold and dry (40°F and 50-60% relative humidity). This is fine for long-term storage of garlic and onions, but not much else. Putting vegetables in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator will provide cold and moist conditions, but only for a moderate amount of time. Unperforated plastic bags often create too much humidity, which leads to condensation and the growth of mold or bacteria. Root cellars provide cold and moist conditions. As with basements, provide ventilation and protection from rodents when storing vegetables in cellars. You can use materials such as straw, hay or wood shavings for insulation. If using such insulation, make sure that it is clean and not contaminated with pesticides.

Some vegetables, like cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, require cool (55°F) and moist storage. These conditions are difficult to maintain in a typical home. Tomatoes and onions should never be refrigerated, so best to dehydrate, freeze or can these. Storage areas need to be well-ventilated, dry and as dark as possible.  Bins need to be made of something that can be easily washed— plastic works the best, as you can use bleach on it and it dries quickly.  Wire basketscause “pressure points” that will bruise, so these need to be well-padded. Make sure you have a lid for the containers if your basement is not sealed against rodents.

Esimated shelf-life of commonly stored vegetables


Harvest the third year after planting when spears are six to nine inches long.
Store in cold and moist conditions. Keep upright during storage.
The expected shelf-life is two weeks.


Harvest when leaves are still tender.
Store at room temperature.
Keep stems in water. Basil will discolor if kept in the refrigerator for 10 days.
The expected shelf-life is five days.

Basil can be dehydrated, dried on a counter, or frozen. 
Store dried basil in a cool, dark place in spice jars or containers. 
Freeze basil into ice cubes, then drop them into your sauces or soups when you need them.


  • Harvest two to three weeks after bloom when the beans are still immature.
  • Store in cold and moist conditions.
  • Beans will develop pitting if stored below 40°F.
  • The expected shelf-life is one week


  • Harvest when they are 1 ¼ to 3 inches in diameter.
  • Store in cold and moist conditions without their tops.
  • The expected shelf-life is five months.


  • Harvest while the flower buds are still tight and green.
  • Store in cold and moist conditions.
  • The expected shelf-life is two weeks.

Brussels Sprouts

  • Harvest when the heads are one inch in diameter.
  • Store in cold and moist conditions.
  • The expected shelf-life is one month


  • Harvest when the heads are compact and firm.
  • Store in cold and moist conditions.
  • The expected shelf-life is five months.


  • Harvest when the tops are one inch in diameter.
  • Store in cold and moist conditions without their tops.
  • The expected shelf-life is eight months.
  • My note: You can store carrots in a cool, dark area of the basement in boxes filled with sand that are misted now and then.


    • Harvest while they are still white and before the curds are “ricey.”
    • Store in cold and moist conditions.
    • The expected shelf-life is three weeks.

    Sweet Corn

    • Harvest then the silks are dry and brown. The kernels should be milky when cut with a thumbnail.
    • Store in cold and moist conditions.
    • The expected shelf-life is five days. 
      My Note: the sugar content in sweet corn begins to deteriorate as soon as it is picked. I like to strip the kernels off and freeze them, or cut them in half and freeze on the cob after blanching.


    • Harvest for slicing when the cucumbers are six inches long.
    •  Storage in perforated bags in the refrigerator is possible for a few days.
    • Cucumbers develop pitting and water-soaked areas if chilled below 40°F.
    • Do not store with apples or tomatoes.
    • The expected shelf-life is one week

    My Note: It's best to preserve them by canning then as pickles and relishes for long-time storage.


    • Harvest while the color is still deep purple (or white, or whatever color they are supposed to be)
    • Storage in the refrigerator is also possible for a few days.
    • Eggplant develops pitting, bronzing and pulp browning if stored for a long period below 50°F.
    • The expected shelf-life is one week.

    Garlic Bulbs

    My Note: Leave a few inches of stem, and braid the into a long rope and hang them - These last for months hanging in your kitchen. 

    Peel the cloves and store in containers in the fridge, pickle them, dehydrate or in jars with olive oil, for short-term storage. 

    Onions and garlic can be stored separately in paper bags. Store scallions, chives and other members of the allium family in cold and damp storage.


    • Harvest when the necks are tight and the skins are dry.
    • Store in cold and dry conditions.
    • Cure at room temperature for two to four weeks before storage.
    • Do not freeze.
    • The expected shelf-life is four months

    My note: Onions do not need to be, and should not be, refrigerated. 
    I store them in a cool, dark place in linen onion bags, in a wire hanging produce basket, or a bin on the kitchen counter.
    You can chop and blanch onions and freeze them.


    • Harvest when the roots reach their desired size
    • Store in cold and moist conditions.
    • Parsnip sweetens after two weeks of storage at 32°F.
    • The expected shelf-life is four months.

    My Note: Parsnips can stay in the ground until late in the fall, until a hard freeze is expected. The cold makes them sweeter. 
    Cook these
    like you would carrots and other root vegetables, roast, mash or add to soups and stews. My favorites are roasted or mashed with a pinch of turbinado or any non-refined sugar sprinkled in while cooking.


    • Harvest when the vine dies back.
    • Potatoes that will be used for frying should be stored at 40-50°F to avoid cold-induced sweetening that can result in discoloration during frying.
    • Cure at 50-60°F for 14 days before storage.
    • The expected shelf-life is six months.

    My Note: Don't store potatoes in the fridge. It's not necessary. except for perhaps longer-term storage. I do not refrigerate potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, shallots, tomatoes or winter squash in the fridge. They sit in baskets on my counter, or on shelves in the cupboard in linen produce storage bags.

    Fruits that don't need refrigeration

    Oranges, lemons, limes and most citrus don't need refrigeration. Keep and use them from the counter.

    Root Vegetables 

    How To Store your crops

    • Pick root vegetables before the temperature drops below 25°F , brush off loose soil (don’t wash them), clip tops to 1 inch, and leave roots intact.
    • Pack beets, carrots, turnips, radishes, and rutabagas in damp sand, peat moss, or sawdust so they don’t touch each other. 
    • Celery keeps best if pulled up by the roots and stored upright with the roots in damp sand.
    • Apples, pears, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and potatoes can be stored in the same place as root vegetables, as long as they are given extra air circulation to keep them drier.
    • For the apples and pears: Many gardeners advise wrapping each individual fruit in paper to help them keep longer and discourage any rot from spreading.
    • Cabbage and brussels sprouts can be uprooted and replanted in a bucket or bag of moist soil.
    • Potatoes need darkness and a spot nearer to 40°F .
    • Isolate the apples in their own container, as they give off ethylene gas and also absorb strong flavors.
    • Sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash actually need slightly warmer conditions to keep their texture. They can be kept in a dry basement or closet in the home, which is below room temperature. 

      Squash and sweet potatoes do need to be cured before storage. 

      For squash, leave stems intact and cure for two weeks to dry and harden the skin before storing. Sweet potatoes need to be cured at a high temperature (80°–90°F; 26°–32°C) for 5-10 days before storing and don’t let them drop below 50°F (10°C) in storage.

    If you have the outdoor space, try using a traditional "Root Clamp"

    I don't use these outdoor or soil root cellars because of rodents, and I won't get a cat, trap them or poison them in the house..... I'm just passing this info on to you brave and inventive souls. You definitely need rodent control for any of these "cellar" or outdoor methods. My idea of rodent control is 50 gallon galvanized trash pails with layers of straw or sand inside where my root crops would reside. I drill a few teeny holes in the top for air. These work really well. I add additional bungee or trash pail straps to keep the lids on tight and rodents out. Hanging bins work well, too.

    Be sure to check your stored produce regularly whatever storage method you use, and remove anything that has started to spoil

    A "clamp" is a traditional method used to store an over abundance of root vegetables such as turnips, carrots and potatoes over winter. Simple to construct with minimal materials.

    Select an area that doesn’t collect or retain water.

    Place a layer of straw about 6-8 inche deep over a circular area about 5ft wide.

    Take the green tops off of your vegetables as they will rot in the clamp. Check for any damaged or rotten veggie which should be discarded.

    Create a stable mound of vegetables – largest at the bottom.

    Cover the entire mound with more straw and heap another layer of soil over this. Pat down with a spade to help rain run off.

    It is important to construct a ‘chimney’ by leaving a clump of straw sticking out of the top. This allow excess heat from reactions inside the mound to escape, maintaining the correct environment instead of cooking your vegetables.

    When you need to use vegetables from the mound open up the top or side and take what you need before sealing properly again afterwards.

    You can initially add a layer of sand for the base of your mound if you think you may require more drainage.

    If you have large amounts of spare veggies either make additional clamps, or increase the length, not the height, keeping it consistently 5ft wide to retain maximum efficiency.

    Easiest Room Clamp for small gardens - Just dig out holes in the hard ground to store cabbages, potatoes, and other root vegetables. Use hay in between each vegetable. Cover with a thick layer of straw, and then the dirt to keep out any frost. Then cover with  a bale or two of straw. That's old-school and it works.

    Alternatives to Root Cellars

    Trench Silo

    A shovel is all you need to make a trench silo. 
    Start by digging up your beets, carrots, parsnips and other long-keeping root crops, cutting the tops down. 
    Dig a trench 6 to 10 inches deep and 18 to 24 inches wide. 
    Replant your vegetables close together in the bottom of this trench, replacing the soil around them and heaping it 6 to 10 inches above them, burying the crops completely with soil. 
    A variety of crops can be kept in the same trench. They're not actually growing.

    The temperature and humidity levels below ground are perfect for preservation, so you will be able to harvest from your trench silo right through winter and into spring. Because your vegetables will be deeper underground after you replant them in a trench silo, they’ll be better protected against winter temperatures than if you simply covered them with an organic blanket. If you live in a region that has cold winters, and the soil freezes too hard to dig, you may have to leave your root veggies in their trench until spring, before harvesting them.

    Garbage Can Root Cellar

    Keeping water out is one of the challenges of a hole-in-the-ground pit cellar, but using a garbage can will help. Dig a hole slightly larger than the diameter of the can and deep enough so that the can’s lid will sit 6 inches or so below the soil level. Set the can inside the hole, then layer in the veggies with some straw or dead leaves. Set the lid on the can, use a stick to pack soil all the way down into the gap around the outside of the can, and then flare the soil out at a tidy angle around the opening. Long-keeping root vegetables will live happily down there, even in the coldest weather. Good storage apple varieties will too, but keep your veggies separate from them. (Apples release ethylene gas as they ripen, which will shorten the storage life of vegetables.)

    Cut a couple of 2-inch-thick pieces of rigid foam slightly larger than the diameter of the lid and place the foam on top of the can to keep out frost. Cut another circle of 3/4 inch exterior wood to about the same size and place it over the foam, with a stone on top to keep it securely in place. This method also works well with other containers or wooden barrels buried in the same way.



    Sources of info:
    University of Minnesota Extension
    PocketFarm UK
    The Old Farmer's Almanac
    Mother Earth News

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