Root cellar update: the best bins for my root cellar

In mid-January, I did a complete inventory and assessed the success of a variety of storage bins and insulators. I tried three basic bin/insulation types: solid plastic Rubbermaid tubs filled with damp peat moss; the same with damp cedar shavings (as I don’t have access to clean sawdust); and either wicker or plastic baskets with layers of newspaper between layers of produce (3 sheets). For more details, see this post.

Root cellar storage
Clockwise from upper left: Rubbermaid tub with damp cedar shavings; basket with layers of newspaper between layers of produce (use at least 3 sheets per layer and cover top with 10 sheets); damp sand to add humidity to the air; cabbages resting on damp sand. All bins are usually covered with several layers of newspaper - I took them off for the photo.


Root vegetables:

Damp peat moss Damp cedar shavings Newspaper/basket* Notes
Potatoes (Kennebec, Russet, Pontiac Red) Sprouting OK where dry; sprouting where wet Excellent condition; a very few are starting to shrivel Store more than 50 lb next year
Sweet potatoes n/a n/a Quite shriveled and spotty – too cold Store with squash next year
Apples (Cameo) n/a n/a Excellent condition. A couple on the edges are a little
less crunchy, but none have gone mealy
Such a treat!  Grow this kind for sure.
Rutabagas A little rubbery, especially if they were near/above the
surface at all
Slightly shriveled, but better than the ones in peat moss n/a Stems make good eating, too
Beets Shriveling and sprouting Slight shriveling and a few sprouts; better than peat n/a Need LOTS of moisture. Also – these were in a paper bag for the first month or so – not a good idea.

* The flat black plastic baskets are great – you can get them cheap or free from nurseries or other places that sell flower bulbs. They stack and still leave room for air circulation!

Root vegetable summary:

  • Potatoes and apples do GREAT in baskets with layers of newspaper tucked around them.  I’m very happy – I can see how much of each I’ve got left and I don’t have to dig around to find dinner…or wash damp peat off my arm up to the elbow.
  • Rutabagas probably need some kind of damp medium, but cedar shavings seem to work OK.  The cedar did seem to impart an odd “sparkle” to the veggies – not sure what that is, looks like little fibers – but they wash off.
  • Beets need tons of humidity to stay solid and firm.  I night need a better way of storing them.

It’s funny – the damp peat worked great in buckets in the garage. Nothing sprouted or shriveled.  I wonder if that’s because the garage was more uniformly cold, and the root cellar often goes up to 40, and the ‘taters thought it was spring?


I also tried cabbage heads sitting in damp sand and covered with plastic and/or newspaper.

Newspaper/basket Damp sand
Cabbage – small storage heads Green; a few dehydrated leaves on outside; inner leaves
still quite good
Growing roots; a few shriveled, rubbery, blackening leaves
on outside; inner leaves fine
Cabbage – summer variety Very pale yellow; several outside leaves drying up; inner
leaves noticeably sub-prime
Very pale yellow; outer leaves translucent or blackening;
lots of roots (which hold sand)

Cabbage summary: What made the most difference for cabbage was the variety, not the storage method. I haven’t been growing my own cabbage, and it’s hard to get variety names at the market.  Small, solid heads work better than large, flat heads, but not all small heads are created equal. Also, I will probably not do damp sand next year because it’s hard to get all the grit out, even after I cut off all the roots.  I also expect to have better greens in the greenhouse next winter.

A few other random items:

Pickles and kraut
Pickles, kraut and daffodil bulbs
  • Pickles.  The pickles were fermented in July, and when they started getting a layer of gunk on top, I boiled the brine (with a little more brine added), wiped the top of the jars clean, and filled the jars to overflowing with boiling brine.  This killed the good bugs, I know, but it also sterilized the jars.  Note – I did NOT seal the jars; these are “half-sour” pickles and supposedly do not have enough acid to be safe to can.  So I put loose lids on them and put them in the root cellar, treating them essentially like refrigerator pickles.  They are not moldy or spoiled in any way, though starting to soften a bit.

    Stored squash
    Winter squashes - not in root cellar; in basement in 55 degree dry place
  • Kraut: The kraut was fermented in canning jars and covered with a loose lid – no other processing. Once it was “done,” I put it in the root cellar.  This was back in August or September when it was still 55-60 in the cellar, but it’s doing just fine.
  • Winter squash (Delicata, Waldham butternut, Long Pie pumpkins) – stored outside root cellar in basement (53 degrees and dry) in flat baskets or on open shelving – all are in perfect condition at this point. I grew these and cured them in the sun for a few days before bringing them indoors.
  • Daffodil bulbs: Starting to sprout just a little. I should have planted these in the fall, but I’m hoping they’ll hold on until spring.

Published by Emily

I'm an instructional designer and gardener based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Free moments find me in my garden or the forest, hugging trees and all that jazz.

6 thoughts on “Root cellar update: the best bins for my root cellar

  1. I’m finding that cabbage variety makes a profound difference in both holding (garden) and storage qualities.

    I grew variety “Storage” (yes, that name) and variety “Kaitlin” (dense, white interior especially for sauerkraut), both from Johnny’s. They both stored extremely well in my garage – I only now brought the last one in to make coleslaw. These are late-season cabbages. Summer varieties are very different. I guess that if one is purchasing for storage one should ask the grower when they were harvested. If harvested a couple of months earlier and held in cold storage, they probably won’t hold well in a home root cellar or substitute.

    1. My problem has been that the people selling at the market often don’t know the variety names of the cabbages they are selling, I assume because they didn’t select the varieties.

  2. A few posts back you mentioned that your SO loved raisins so you would continue to buy from afar. I actually had great success drying local grapes from the farmers market in my solar dryer last summer and have tons of jars of great raisins. Very easy and satisfying! -karyn

    1. What’s your technique? What variety of grapes did you use? I tried them once in an electric dryer and it took 3 days. And, of course, the grapes came from California to begin with…

  3. Yes, it does take days and not all are finished at the same time. But if you’re using solar there’s less guilt about the energy use. I wish I knew the variety of grapes. As you mention, some of the vendors are not the growers and so don’t know either. I just looked for red seedless.

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