I’ve pretty much wrapped up harvesting crops on Silly Goose Farm. Apples are done, tomatoes are done, and all that’s left to put-up is a couple of cabbages, a few rows of rainbow carrots, and a whole bunch of pears. The pear trees on our farm are over 100 years old and positively drip with fruit. The gentleman who lived here before us would pack up the pears in bushel baskets in our house’s root cellar and pass them out a Christmastime. What a treat! A perfect pear in the dead of winter (that didn’t come from a mall store or catalog).
While many of you might partake in canning and freezing the harvest, cold storage is another option that is less familiar for the home preservationist. Cold storage requires more space than canning or freezing might and is better suited for large quantities of produce (say, a bushel of apples) that thrive in a colder environment. There are a couple of options for cold storage (depending on what works best for your situation). One option is indoor storage, which involves a cool, dry environment like a basement or a pantry. The other is outdoor storage which requires a root cellar or a trench that has good drainage. I typically opt for the indoor method, simply because it easier to access produce in the snowy winter months, drainage isn’t an issue, and I don’t have to worry about any little varmints burrowing into my crop.
Where: In a cellar/basement (in a spot free from water… so if your basement floods in the spring, think about investing in shelving to keep produce out of water’s way), in an outdoor shelter/shed that protects from the elements, or in a dark and dry pantry.
What You’ll Need: Large container (bushel baskets, 5-gallon plastic buckets, Rubbermaid tubs, clean trash cans, etc. I’ve even heard of old-timers using old clawfoot bathtubs!); packing materials (something that will regulate moisture and temperature, like sawdust, dry and clean straw/hay, peat moss, small animal bedding, good soil, or sand).
What To Do: Make sure your produce is blemish-free, clean, and dry. Place a 1-inch layer of packing material in the bottom of the container then loosely add a layer of produce. Continue to add packing material to surround the produce (alternate layers of produce and packing material). End with a layer of packing material (enough to cover the produce from air).
Best For: Potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, beets, pumpkins, cabbage, peppers, corn, rhubarb, apples, pears, squash, other root vegetables.
Where: A well-drained area that is easy to dig (as you’ll need to dig a deep hole or trench). Stay away from clay soils, if possible.
What You’ll Need: A shovel/spade, gravel or rocks (if you need to help improve drainage), burlap, canvas, or cotton duck sacks, twine, and packing material (same as above).
What To Do: Just as you would for indoor storage, pack your produce into the fabric sack. Tightly tie the sacks closed with the twine. Dig a deep hole or trench (you will want to be below the frost line and dig deep enough to cover your crops with 8-12 inches of soil). If drainage is an issue, line your hole/trench with gravel. Place your sacks in the hole/trench, being sure they are not touching. Cover with additional packing materials and top with 8-12 inches of soil. (Try to create your outdoor storage in a place that is accessible in cold months.)
Best For: Root vegetables, squash, pumpkins, apples, pears, garlic.
For a complete list of storage conditions and storage times for various fruits and veggies, click here. Keep in mind that some fruits and veggies give off gases as they ripen (especially apples and onions) that can cause other vegetables to sprout . Be sure to store these gaseous culprits far enough away (several feet, if possible) from “sprouting” vegetables, like potatoes, to ensure your produce stays fresh for as long as possible. Adding extra packing to the top layer of your container will help to limit gas emissions (thanks to reader Shae for the heads-up on this!).
TAKE NOTE: If you have a bushel of produce, you will need at least TWO bushel baskets for cold storage (due to spacing requirements and packing materials). Some people simply throw produce that is “un-packed” in their root cellars or basements, but using packing materials is the best method to ensure rot and disease does not spread and produce stays fresh!
So, there you have Cold Storage 101. This is just the beginning of the method… root cellaring is a great process for putting-up your harvest. If you would like more information on this type of food preservation or if you have specific questions, shoot me a note in the comments or on Facebook, or ask us on Twitter at @fromscratchclub.