On food storage in January

img_9595Boo!  At least the sprouts of onions like these Red Wethersfields are edible, unlike the just-as-spooky potato sprouts.

One of the things that the lazy person inside me really appreciates about freezing and canning is that, after the item is frozen or canned, it requires no monitoring from me.  Root cellar crops require lots more care.  And here it is, nearly mid-January, so it’s time for me to make an assessment of the State of the Stored.

The greenhouses and gardens in winter are great places for me to keep root crops like beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips and rutabagas, and it’s there that I go to find them.  In the past I have stored them in the root cellar, but frankly they do better (and require less of my care) in the gardens themselves.  Leeks, likewise, will be just fine in both the greenhouse and the gardens, and I am able to grow a fair number of salad onions through the winter in the greenhouses (both bunching onions (scallions) and regular onions that haven’t fully bulbed out).

Sprouty onions and potatoes in a cold dark basement are unpleasant, to say the least, especially when I am in a rush to make dinner and have to sort through them.  I store these two crops on the floor below my canning jars; the average temperature all winter there is 50*.  I try to eat the onions in the order of their sprouting (cipollini first, reds second, yellows third, whites last) and that usually works fine.  Potatoes, however, have an internal sprouting clock that goes off with a bang, usually toward the end of January, and frankly there’s not much I can do about that.  It would help if my basement were colder, maybe by 10*, but that’s not going to happen either.

In the true root cellar I have cabbage and apples.  The daily average back there is about 35*, though it gets much colder on days like today (10*).  This “cellar” is simply the back stairs to the basement.   It’s far too cold for potatoes and onions out there but these other things are just fine in the cold.  In fact, I tend to ignore them.  It helps to go through them about once a month and pull out the bad apples, but cabbage lasts all winter.

Winter squash.  They’re stored with the canned goods, but tender pumpkins get the kitchen-floor treatment under the butcher block table as it’s warm-ish there (60*).  These things all require some vigilance from me.  Fortunately we do eat quite a bit of the stuff so I usually have the stash fairly sorted through and eaten in terms of ripeness, but…we usually also hit a “no more squash, please” request right at the time when some of the more tender ones are beginning to go bad.  Luckily the geese and turkeys love squash!  Uncooked, I just split the things in half and it’s beta-carotene treat time for the poultry.  The sometimes even eat the peel.

Anyway, the short answer to the lazy person in me is that all storage requires a bit of vigilance.  Every jar’s seal needs to be checked before and after opening; the damned freezers do need to be grumble grumble defrosted annually, and yes, all root cellar crops do have an Eat By date built into them.  Frankly I am glad to be able to have the time to do this produce monitoring:  I’m certainly much more busy in the growing season!

12 responses to “On food storage in January

  1. I can’t wait to have a proper “fresh” food storage, aka. a root cellar. I do can and freeze a lot, and while canning is a lot of work at the time, once done, it’s done! I am fully with you there…

    This year – not having a root cellar or any coll but frost free area – I stored winter squashes & pumpkin. Not a problem. Sweet Poatoes – Ok as long as they were cured properly… obviously not all did. The pears went bad fast (lesson: next year: can or freeze them all), the potatoes are sprouting already. I did not try to store carrots, cabbage nor Jerusalem artichoke: they are all in a garden. I had some celeriac, but those need cool storage as I found out… oh well, live and learn.

    It’s interesting the routine that need to be re-created and the knowledge that need to be re-acquired!


  2. I wonder if it’s too damp in your basement for the onions. The temp sounds good (50), but they like a dry environment. Our onions are in an unheated (but insulated) upstairs room with the squash, and they are still rock hard and going strong!

  3. I admire your industry. And I do believe you’re quite right that some vegetables are best left to shelter in place rather than storing in a root cellar. My goodness, how many leeks have I had to toss in my time?

    Robin Wedewer
    National Gardening Examiner

  4. I had dreams of a root cellar in the crawl space under my house. But, lord, the temperature here (CA) in January is approaching 80º. Something’s wrong.

  5. I was thinking the same think as Liz, do you think it might be too moist? But yes, it does that a lot more management than freezing/canning. Neat that you can store in the greenhouse! Did you know about apples, the dry naturally from the outside in. At least mine have/are. I have them in a cool dark area about 45-50*F, and they shrivel right up, looking as if they are spoiled. But slice them open, and they are clean, whitish-pink, and delicious. (I put pics on my blog) Perfectly good. I was skeptical, as I didn’t intend this, but it happened. So your apples might do better than you thought 🙂

  6. Hey Sylvie, yeah, there is a learning curve, isn’t there? I swear I still need to look things up as to how much humidity and what temp and all that every year: I swear I forget! i know sweet potatoes need to be cured at 80* before they’re stored. Yeah pears are really fleeting: even the Bosc pears I got from a neighbor I used up quickly in a pear/apple sauce. Celeriac is the one thing I throw in the bottom of the fridge in those veg bins (that never get used here) and they keep forever in there!

    Good question, Liz, so I checked. 38% which seems mighty dry to me. I am sure it’s just because they’re the red ones. The yellows (Copra and some mutt) and the whites are just fine. So I made a mess of caramelized onions last night and put them on a pizza! The greens are saved for a stir-fry so not all is lost 😉

    Hiya Robin, chicken rancher! Yep, the only potential problem I have encountered with garden storage in the winter is voles, but they’re hit or miss. I tend to hill the produce up with some extra dirt so the tops of the carrots, etc. aren’t so tempting to them. But icy leeks are great, aren’t they?

    CC, gawd, that sounds awful! (says she who’s looking at a 10* morning and another 6″ of snow) But I guess saving things won’t be an issue if you can grow stuff outside year-round, eh. You know it’s not too late to sow some lettuce…

    Thanks for the tip, MC. That process is called transpiration and it is something all fruit and veggies do once they’re harvested. To stop the process grocers insist that the growers put petroleum or wax on cukes, peppers and apples! Yuck. Sure you can eat the stuff but why. My apples don’t up and dry though, they get mushy and moldy! yuck! but the compost thinks they’re quite yummy…

  7. 10 degrees, El??? That’s positively balmy!

    This morning we woke up to temperatures south of minus 20 degrees. Our fancy, dancy digital outdoor thermometer – that we can read on a digital readout from inside the house – gave up the ghost! Some thermometer! Why even build it if it can’t read temp’s as low as we get them here in central Wisconsin?

    Almost every public and many private functions were called off last night (and probably tonight), all schools around the state are cancelled today. Wind chills are in the range of -30 to -40 last night thru tomorrow (Friday).

    Come on over for a visit and experience some real weather! (:-)

  8. My cabbage went all brown & stinky. Oh well. Perhaps I can get Mr Chiots to build me a cold room by the back outdoor steps into the basement.

  9. I’m surprised our onions look just like yours. The floor in the garage might not be the place for them. The heat wave we’re having doesn’t seem to make a difference. Like cookiecrumb, I was considering the space under the house but hadn’t tried it yet.
    You’re right, though, in your comment to cookiecrumb–here in Southern California we can grow many things year-round without a greenhouse. We’ve already planted a few seeds for spring and have been harvesting our lettuce, kale, and spinach the last couple of weeks.

  10. I’d love to cellar root vegetables but it just doesn’t get cold enough here. It never occured to me that onion sprouts are edible d’oh *slaps self*. Thanks for that!

  11. Regarding Mangochild’s apples keeping and El’s not… I wonder what cultivar you are storing? not all apples have the same keeping quality. I think one want the old fashioned one that were bred for keeping before the days of extended refrigerated storage…


  12. Hah, Dennis, you’re reminding me why we moved from Minnesota! Yep it’s a balmy 9* here now whereas it got to -16* in Chicago, South Bend and Kalamazoo got down to -10* overnight. I will take my hot spot on the lake, thanks! But yeah it’s weird out there. Lots of monkeyshines when it gets this cold if you’re not used to it.

    Hiya Mrs. Chiots, did you happen to leave the roots on your cabbage? I guess the best way to store them is with the roots on and the more loose bottom leaves removed. I made the mistake a couple of years ago of hacking the roots off the cabbage and yeah I got brown stinkbombs too. It does sound like you have a stairway just waiting to be a root cellar though.

    Jeri, yeah, different strokes! Really, you lucky folks just need to change up the gardening plan year-round…I kind of do the same thing with having the greenhouses but even though I plant stuff in November, say, I won’t expect to see the seedlings until Feb. In other words we have a dead zone in which all I can do is harvest what’s already there and nothing’s growing. It beats the alternative here of not even harvesting!

    Sounds like you’re in the same situation, Dani, as our California friends Jeri and cookiecrumb. I looked on your site and saw your barbecued corn and nearly fainted! YUM! I guess in any of this provide-your-own-food thing it’s really important to just think local too and if root cellaring won’t work then there’s probably something a lot easier ahead of you!

    Sylvie, yeah, storage types of apples are key. Trouble is all mine are either mine or are foraged so I don’t have much of a choice because my primary consideration was FREE apples 😉 In point of fact I have no idea what any of them are with absolute certainty. Ah well.

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