{how to} Cold Storage 101

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.


22 Comments Add yours

  1. jillian says:

    Very informative! Thank you!

  2. Becky says:

    ahhhh, thank you! I have all these apples and am scrambling still to store them. Thank you thank you! I couldn’t find any sawdust so had started looking for straw/hay, but apparently those are all being bought up for Halloween decorations. Was wondering about mulch…do you think that would work? It is all I could find last time I ran around hunting.

  3. Amy says:

    Great post. What kind of material was used in the pictures with the pears?


  4. Betsy says:

    Great post Deanna – very informative!

  5. Deanna says:

    Hi ladies! Thanks for all the great comments.

    @Becky: I wouldn’t recommend mulch, only because it has a lot of sharp edges that could bruise your apples. You should be able to readily find play sand (at a home improvement store) that would work. Be careful because it is heavier than the other materials, but you can pack the apples closer together because the sand can get into the nooks and crannies better. Or…

    @Amy: I used small animal bedding (you can get a big pack for about $20). It’s available basically in any pet store, or even in a Target or other big-box place.

    Thanks for reading and your sweet comments!

  6. Dianna says:

    Great post, Deanna, thank you. What temperature is it in your basement? I think mine is too warm because things tend to sprout there before I expect them to. But there is a crawl space with some heat leakage from the warmer part of the basement through the door and a hole in the wall. I have been debating putting some potatoes and squash there. ?

  7. Deanna says:

    @Dianna – thanks! My basement temp is usually around 60-62 degrees. The root cellar is a little colder. Potatoes like cool conditions, and squash likes mild conditions, so they both might be okay. Check out the link in the story above – it has more details about storing temps. Have you tried using the mentioned packing materials? The packing’s purpose is twofold: To regulate moisture, and to regulate temperature. It acts as insulation. It might help you with your warm air problem. Good luck and feel free to get in touch or leave another comment if you have more questions!

  8. Shae says:

    Hi Deanna: Thanks for this great post. The pictures are lovely — and helpful! One thing I recently learned (the hard way) is that potatoes shouldn’t be stored with or near apples because each gives off a gas that damages the other — the potatoes sprout, the apples go soft. I’ve heard the same goes for potatoes and onions. I found some co-op extension pubs that specify which types of produce don’t make good neighbors in cold storage — maybe your UMN link has that info, too? (I tried to click through but it looks like the UMN website is down this morning, so I couldn’t see it.)

  9. Deanna says:

    @Shae – Thanks for the info! I added a special note in the post and gave you a shout-out. I’ve never had a problem with this before, so I did a little extra research and found out that keeping everything dark, dry, and under extra packing will help to regulate that gas. Thanks again for speaking up and adding some great info to the post! I really appreciate it (and PS – GREAT blog!).

  10. Shae says:

    Oh, good! I don’t usually like to butt in, but not long ago I ruined some potatoes and apples because I didn’t know about the gas issue. (It seems like they’d belong together, doesn’t it?) I’m very interested in doing more cold storage in the future. Our next step will be figuring out how to rodent-proof some part of our basement, which otherwise would be a perfect place to stash produce. Thanks again, Deanna, for the inspiring post.

    1. Rattlerjake says:

      Rodents hate mint. Grow some mint, harvest it and hang it to dry in your basement or root cellar.

      1. Darcy says:

        Rattlerjake – Really!! This is great – I have mint growing, and wish to pack a container for our garage, but have heard from neighbors that mice like to frequent our garages so I do not put food at all in our garage. It would be perfect though – temp is cool and is accessible. I will go get small animal packing, and sprinkle mind leaves in between each layer of Japanese yams! Am stoked! Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge!

  11. Becky says:

    Deanna, I did it! I just finished packing all the apples up. Its a relief honestly as it has been on my mind for a while now. Now I can kick back and enjoy my apples throughout the winter!!!! I also did the same with a pile of various squash I had. Thanks for all the help. Seriously.

  12. judy bush says:

    when packing in buckets or tubs, do you put the lid on when full or is it best to leave the top open? Can packed items be kept in an unheated outdoor shed that has 4 large window in it, so the only heat comes in the daytime when the sun is bright.

    1. Darcy says:

      Hi Judy and Deanna – I, too, would like to know this – do you put a top on a plastic tub once full? I am thinking not cuz of the lack of air – or??? I notice Deanna used a bushel baskety thing – with open bits all around it. What do you think Deanna??

  13. Zoya Khan says:

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