As part of my deep love for gardening, I have always been interested in how to properly store, process and preserve the bounty of produce we bring in each summer. One method we tried out, with great success, was storing root vegetables in our basement.
Root cellars are fascinating, it’s amazing how well a cool, dark location can extend the shelf life of your produce. I’ve done a lot of reading on different methods – from building a separate, underground root cellar, to how-to’s for basement storage. Our basement is below ground, cool, with some moisture, making it ideal for storing.
Garlic & Shallots
Allium-family root vegetables need proper air circulation to properly dry and cure. If they don’t get this, the bulbs will rot away – trust me, I know. The first year we moved into our Woodford home, we hung the shallots in a well ventilated spot, and had no issues. Last year, we tried storing them in my walk-in canning pantry, and most of our bulbs rotted away! It was awful, because we lost a year’s supply of garlic for our kitchen, as well as any chance of planting some of those extra cloves for this year. We will definitely be keeping them in a better location this year.
–Hang garlic and shallots in a well-ventilated area, with space around them
–Keep both out of direct sunlight
–Avoid storing in musty or high-humidity areas.
For more tips, check out our post on harvesting garlic!
Carrots & Beets
Storing carrots and beets is not as daunting as it sounds. We were able to successfully keep our 2016 harvest of carrots in our basement for over 4-months. The only reason we didn’t go on longer? We ate them all! Our carrots stayed crunchy, fresh and bursting with that amazing flavor that only a garden-fresh carrot has.
For starters, I grow the Nantes variety of carrot, and have been for the past 3-4 years. For beets, I grow the Detroit Red and Guardsmark Chiaggia varieties. All of these have great flavor and store very well.
When harvesting your carrots and beets for long term storage:
- Harvest on a day when the soil is dry. Never harvest root vegetables after it has rained, you have watered, or the ground is still damp. Root vegetables absorb the water, and harvesting them from the wet ground means they will dry out, crack and go bad much faster.
- Work quickly. You don’t want to expose your roots to the air or sun for too long, so try to harvest and get them indoors as fast as possible.
- Do not wash! Gently brush off any large clumps of dirt, but avoid washing your vegetables. Washing them removes the small hair-like roots, as well as the protective coating the dirt provides. More air will get into your carrots or beets, and they will rot. Remember, you are harvesting a living, breathing organism, and the idea of root cellar storage is to trick the vegetable into thinking it is still growing in the garden!
- Trim the greens down, leaving about 1″ still on the carrot, and about 1.5″ on the beet. If the greens are gone, and the top of the root is exposed, put it in the fridge and eat it soon. It is not good for storage.
- Store your beets and carrots in a box or bin that allows for mild air circulation. I use old grape crates from our wine-making, as they have open spots at the bottom.
- Build the bed – I lay two layers of burlap fabric across the bottom, one horizontal a
nd one vertical in the box, to keep the shavings in, as well as to fold over my carrots. Then I fill with wood shavings, putting about a 1.5″ layer at the bottom. Lightly spray the shavings with water, so they are slightly damp. DO NOT SOAK!
- Then add a layer of carrots or beets, leaving just enough space in between so that they are not touching – about 1/4″ to 1/2″. Add another 1/2″ of shavings, lightly spray again, then another layer of vegetables, and so on, until your box is full. Cover with another 1.5-2″ of shavings, then fold in your burlap.
- Store your root vegetables in a cool, dark location. Add about 1-2 cups of water every few weeks, to keep the shavings lightly damp; I generally pour this right over the burlap, to avoid soaking that top layer of shavings.
- I store my carrots and beets separately. This makes it easier because more carrots can go into one box, as they fit closer together, and there is no guess work as to how many of what is in the box. Beets need a bit more alternating and space to be stored properly.