Authored by June Zellers

Are you interested in growing some of your own food but hesitant about spending your summer hours either canning or freezing?  Have you considered growing vegetables that you can store without preserving?  By selecting varieties known for their long storage, you can have carrots, beets, celery, onions, cabbage (both regular and Chinese), winter squash, onions and potatoes well into winter without doing much work.  

Onions and winter squash require cool but dry conditions.  I have a dry cellar, which stays between 40 and 50 degrees all winter.  Below is a picture taken at the end of April of what’s left of the 100+ pounds of Talon onions that I harvested in 2020.  As one can see, the onions are still just fine and will remain so into early summer.  Or they can be kept in a cool closet in that room in your house that is never quite as warm as everywhere else.

The “root” vegetables (beets, carrots, etc.) require a moist, cool (between 34 and 40 degrees ideally) place for the winter.  Cabbages can be harvested with their roots intact, placed in compost (or soil) with their heads wrapped in newspaper, and like root crops, they will keep all winter.  One can even store celery (again with roots attached) in the same manner for about six weeks.

Some basements have an area with a dirt floor, making it ideal to close off for a storage room, being careful (of course) of the needs of water and heat pipes in that area.  One can hook up a direct vent to the outside to regulate the temperature if the configuration of your basement makes that possible.

If you have a bulkhead, you can easily convert it into a root cellar.  That’s what I do here.  I pull the stairs out in the late fall and insert a rack that holds large “bulb boxes” (like the one in which the onions were stored).  The potatoes go from “curing” in the garage after harvest, directly into the bulb boxes.  No need to use leaves or to keep moist.  I pack the carrots and beets in shredded leaves and try to remember to sprinkle them with water about once a month or so.  I sprinkle compost on the floor next to the rack and “plant” the cabbages in it.  If it gets below zero outside and the root cellar starts to get close to freezing, I just crack the door to the basement to let it warm up a little.  A remote thermometer in the root cellar that displays in the kitchen makes it easy for me to keep track.
For a detailed article about how to turn a bulkhead into a root cellar, read Adam Tomash’s article “Bulkhead Root Cellar” in the MOFGA newspaper at