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Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Creating Cool Vegetable Storage When We Don't Have a Cellar or Basement

So, our house is built over a very shallow crawl space. We have 2 stories above this, with no basement. I would love to have a root cellar to store those winter-keepers of garden and purchased produce like potatoes, onions, squash and pumpkins, cabbage, apples, turnips, and carrots. But that's just not going to happen.

Storing produce at room temperature shortens usability of fruits and vegetables considerably. For an example, I read that if you keep pumpkins at room temp of 68-72 degrees F, they'll last about 1 month to six weeks. That's been about my experience with keeping Jack o' lantern type pumpkins. If you refrigerate pumpkins at about 40-44 degrees F, they'll keep for 3 months. (But I also read that refrigeration is not recommended for pumpkins.) A cooler temp will double the usable life of my pumpkins. I have 7 bought and 3 homegrown pumpkins left to cook or process. If I kept these in my pantry, I'd have to rush to get them processed or used. To make my life easier this next month, I needed to find a cooler storage place than the kitchen. And this doesn't take into consideration the onions and potatoes I need to store.

I've found a solution that I think will work for my situation. I have enough space in my fridges to store the apples, cabbages, carrots, and turnips. That leaves the potatoes, onions, and pumpkins needing a cool storage space. We have a spare room (my office actually, but I can do without it for the next few months) that is at the far end of the ductwork from the furnace. It's always a cooler spot in the house under normal circumstances. I closed the vent (on the floor) and put a large book over it. I keep the door to this room closed at all times, now. I put a thermometer into the room so I could monitor the current conditions. It's been between 52 and 54 degrees F consistently.

Winter 2020-2021 and winter 2021-2022 I stored the potatoes and onions in this room, closing off the vent and keeping the door closed. The potatoes and onions kept through early February until signs of shriveling and rot began.  In years I stored these in the kitchen pantry, the onions began showing signs of rot in December and the potatoes began to shrivel in January. My cool storage extended the usefulness of both root veggies for an extra month. I'm hoping for a similar extension for the pumpkins, meaning I won't have to finish using or processing and freezing them until the end of December or beginning of January. That works for me.

Do you have a cellar or cold storage in a basement? Do you stock up on potatoes during fall sales? If so, how do you store them?


  1. We have a basement, but it is heated living space, so there's not much advantage to storing things down there. I remember my grandmother's cellar and she could store all kinds of things there for a long time. I always liked seeing what she had in there. I don't buy or produce as much in bulk as you do, so long term storage is not too much of a problem - especially since we have an extra fridge. But we have a room that is cold like your office, so I will keep that in mind.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      It sounds like you have many fond memories of your grandmother and her cellar.
      I'm glad you have all the storage space you need with your kitchen fridge and spare one. We kept our old fridge (1977 model) and use it for extra cold storage. But as you indicated, my family buys a lot of produce each fall. Hence needing extra cool storage.

  2. We have an unfinished basement which is always on the cool side. I haven't checked out the temperature down there, but I'm sure it's in the 50s. We store our onions and potatoes there. I don't buy those items in huge bulk, as I find, even with cold storage, that they can start sprouting after a certain time. I also have noticed that the seasons in which I buy my potatoes have a big effect on how long they last, which makes sense. I think if we grew our own potatoes and onions, we would have to come up with other solutions. My husband's technique for squash is to cook up a bunch at a time and freeze it. That's quite beneficial when the time comes to make a meal--I love reheating and serving it. So simple.

    1. Hi Kris,
      I may follow your husband's lead and cook up a few of these pumpkins just to keep in the freezer for easy vegetable side dishes this winter. Great tip!
      I think you're right about when you buy produce like onions or potatoes on how long they'll last. I avoid stocking up on onions until I can get "new crop" ones. They keep much longer, even when refrigerating them when bought in the off season.

  3. We have a heated basement because it's also a living space but it's quite cool but not really cool enough to keep potatoes/squash/onions cool enough for long term. I do put butternut squash under my steps which is relatively cool and they last but I don't store large quantities of fresh items either.

    1. Hi Alice,
      That's good you have a cool enough space under the stairs for storing butternut squash. I'm betting that extends their useable life.
      You have a point -- modern homes tend to use the basement as living space and so those areas are well-heated. Not good for storing produce.

  4. I always enjoy your blog. Thanks for doing this. That's a lot of pumpkins. What's your plan for the potatoes that start to shrivel? Do you have so many potatoes that there will be a lot at that stage? We harvested about 45 # of potatoes last month. We'll eat most of them before they shrivel or sprout. But I'm thinking through what to do with the rest.

    1. Hi Claire,
      Thank you.
      I don't know if you know this but potatoes can be cooked, mashed, and frozen. So, when January 1 rolls around, I'll begin cooking to freeze these potatoes. Onions, also, can be frozen. I'll begin chopping and freezing onions as I cook later this month. Onions won't keep as well for me as potatoes, so I'll begin getting those into the freezer sooner than the potatoes.

      45 pounds is a lot of potatoes. Well done! Do you have a cool room to store them in? Also, Keep them off the ground in any space for storage. My pumpkins and potatoes are set on top of boxes and my onions are layered in cardboard boxes with holes cut in the sides and between large sheets of paper and kept on shelving. If you have access to wooden pallets, those work well to keep produce off the ground. Good luck to you with your potato crop!

  5. Our basement gets damp so we got a dehumidifier during the summer. I hope the produce keeps. I belong to a csa and I had an acorn squash that lasted till spring last year.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      I'm glad you've remedied your basement's damp problem. Wow! That's a long time for a winter squash to keep, in my experience. Were you keeping it in a cool place or just at room temperature?


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