Drying and cold storage are easy and inexpensive ways to preserve and for storing vegetables. Onions, garlic, and hot peppers are usually dried. Winter squash, potatoes, and root crops are best kept in cold storage.
- Plant vegetable varieties bred for winter keeping.
- Don’t wash vegetables before putting into cold storage ‐ use a brush to remove soil.
- Cut tops off root vegetables.
- Check vegetables in cold storage frequently and remove any that are spoiled.
Choose your location and preservation method for storing vegetables based on the vegetable’s preferred temperature and humidity, as listed below:
- Cool and dry: onions
- Cool and moist: root crops, potatoes, cabbage
- Warm and dry: winter squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, dried hot peppers
In‐ground Vegetable Storage
Roots, tubers, and bulb vegetables require little effort to store. Some vegetables ‐ including beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips ‐ can be left in the ground until you want to use them. Cover with a 1‐2 foot (30‐60 cm) layer of mulch such as straw or hay, which will trap air and won’t become saturated with water, an easy way of storing vegetables. You can also use wood chips or leaves if you remove them before they decompose in the spring.
The upside of in‐ground storage is that it’s easy. The downside is that vegetables can be damaged if it’s too cold or too rainy, and harvesting is difficult to impossible if the ground is frozen ‐ a case where cold storage isn’t the best option. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are not suitable for in‐ground storage.
Root Cellaring And Storing Vegetables
Storage spaces in the home can approximate old‐fashioned root cellars. Your “root cellar” should be a cool, dry, dark space, such as a cool cupboard, closet, basement, or garage. Optimal cold storage temperatures are 45°‐50°F (7°‐10°C). The best storing vegetables for root cellaring are beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkins, rutabagas (swedes), turnips, and winter squash.
As a type of cold storage, some vegetables store well packed in layers of damp sand or sawdust in wooden boxes, crocks, or plastic buckets. Beets, carrots, parsnips, rutabagas, and turnips can be preserved this way. Place boxes where they will be stored ‐ they’ve heavy when full ‐ and alternate layers of vegetables and layers of damp sand.
Storing Tips by Vegetable
Choose large beets for storage: they’ll keep better than small ones. Leave an inch (2 cm) of stem. Store in damp sand at 40°‐50°F (5°‐10°C).
Pull up the plant roots and all; hang upside down. The outer leaves turn papery and aid in long keeping.
Carrots can be left in the ground if temperatures aren’t below 20°F (‐6°C) and they are covered with a foot‐thick (30 cm) layer of mulch. Carrots also do well stored in damp sand at 32°F (0°C).
Hot peppers can be strung together using heavy thread, piercing the peppers near the stem end with the needle, forming a “ristra”, which is then hung up to dry.
Leave onions in the ground until the stalks fall over and are almost completely dry. Dig up the onions and dry in the sun ‐ on a screen to hasten the process ‐ for one to three weeks. Braid the dried onion stalks and hang up the braided bundles. Another vegetable storage method for onions is to cut the stems off to 1/2 inch (1.25 cm), put the onions in a mesh bag, and hang them up.
Dry and cure as for onions. Cut tops and roots both to 1/2″ (12 mm), put in net bags and hang. Garlic can either be stored at room temperature or in cold storage at 32°‐40°F (0°‐4.5°C). Beware of temperatures between 42°‐52°F (5°‐11°C) which will cause garlic to sprout.
Cure potatoes at 60‐75° (16°‐24°C) for one to two weeks in a dry, dark place. Don’t expose potatoes to sunlight. Store in heavy paper bags in a cool, dark, humid place, preferably at 40°F‐50°F (5°‐10°C). Above 50°F (10°C), potatoes can sprout. Below 36°, their starch turns to sugar. Potatoes will keep for six months.
Cold storage in damp sand at about 32° (0°C). Rutabagas will keep for six months.
Squash and Pumpkins
Cure (harden the shell) by keeping at room temperature for two weeks, then store at 50°‐60°F (29°‐32°C) with a preferred humidity of 50‐75%. Winter squash can be stored on slatted wooden shelves in a basement or garage. Move them occasionally so that they don’t rot in the area that is in contact with the wood.
Tomatoes keep best at about 60°F (16°C). Harvest green tomatoes before a frost and put in a single layer in a paper bag at room temperature to ripen. Green tomatoes can also be ripened gradually in shallow trays or boxes covered with several sheets of newspaper, if kept in a moist cool place (not quite cold storage) about 35°‐45°F (2°‐7°C).
Winter radishes can be stored in‐ground, but they are best stored in damp sand.