I’ve been on a mission for years to figure out the best vegetable crops to grow in our garden for long term, cold winter storage to feed our family fresh food throughout the long, cold Montana winters. While we preserve a lot of food by canning, freezing, fermenting and dehydrating, there are some crops we can grow that do well being overwintered if they are kept in the proper cold storage area.
Ideal Locations for Winter Food Storage
If you have a root cellar, that’s great! You naturally have a cold location that won’t freeze to store vegetables and fruit over winter. Growing up we had a dirt floor cellar in our old farm house so I know first hand how easy it is to store winter produce in a root cellar.
I’m here to tell you it’s possible to store vegetables and other produce over winter without a root cellar! We don’t have a root cellar at our current homestead.
Instead, the former owners built a well insulated shed for storing canning jars of food and over wintering fresh produce.
We have another small room in our house that the former owners also used for cool storage. We keep the temperatures warm enough the pipes don’t freeze but cool enough that storage vegetables and fruit last all winter.
You could also use an unheated basement, crawl space or garage that is unheated as long as they stay above the freezing point of 32 degrees F. Here is a list of other ways to store vegetables without a root cellar and ideas for places to store food where you might not expect.
If you don’t have a root cellar or cold storage room, check out this step by step guide on how to build your own root cellar.
Ideal Conditions for Food Storage in Winter
Most cold storage vegetables and fruits do well with temperatures ranging from 32-40 degrees F. Many vegetables and fruit also store better with higher humidity levels.
We live in a dry climate so we naturally have lower humidity levels. We don’t want the expense of running a humidifier to increase our humidity levels so I make modifications for specific produce mentioned below.
Some root vegetables that need higher humidity levels can be stored in tubs of damp sand. I considered trying this but again, I didn’t want the expense of buying more supplies so experimented with what we had to make it work.
Storing vegetables and fruit in cool storage all winter can be done successfully if you properly cure the produce first. It is also important to remove any produce that has signs of damage or rot so they don’t taint the rest of your storage crops.
I go through our storage crops at least once a month and look for any signs of damage, mold or sprouting and use these first.
Here are some more tips on how to properly store vegetables over winter.
Selecting the Best Vegetable Crops to Grow for Cold Winter Storage
From our years of experimenting, here are the best crops to grow to keep in cool storage over the cold winter and eat fresh all winter long:
1.Garlic-Once cured, I store garlic in shallow cardboard boxes in our cold storage room. You can also braid the garlic stems and hang them. We save cloves of garlic from the previous year to plant our fall garlic the following year so I always set those aside from the ones we plan to eat. If you don’t have your own garlic cloves to plant, here’s a variety of organic garlic cloves to choose from.
2. Onions-These can be grown and stored in cool storage all winter if they are properly cured. I usually keep them in shallow storage bins in my cool storage room. I’ve also stored them in reusable mesh bags or old pantyhose that can be hung up. We grow two different varieties of onions since I use them both in cooking: heirloom yellow onions and heirloom red onions. Both these varieties do well in storage.
3. Shallots-I store shallots similar to how I store garlic: in a shallow cardboard box. The reason I don’t use deep cardboard boxes is because there isn’t as much air flow and I find things don’t store as well or as long when kept in too deep of a box. Here’s the heirloom shallot seeds we grow.
4. Leeks-If harvested later in the season, leeks can be kept in cool storage for several months. Since we live in a dry climate, they start to dry out the later we get in winter so I try to use them early in the season or preserve them to use all winter. This is a great variety of organic Leek Seeds to grow since they are cold hardy to 20 degrees F and can actually be left in the garden in the winter as long as they don’t get below that temperature.
5. Potatoes-Once properly cured, potatoes are a great crop to keep in cool storage over winter. Here’s our post on growing, harvesting and storing potatoes with more tips. We started out with certified disease free seed potatoes and save seed potatoes from our previous years’ crop to plant the following year. Always make sure you are planting disease free potatoes!
6. Celeriac- Two years ago was the first time we experimented with growing Celeriac. I kept it in our cool storage room and used it in soups throughout the winter. Delicious!
7. Rutabaga– I grew rutabaga for the first time about six years ago. I didn’t grow up eating rutabaga so it was a fun learning experience growing it and cooking with it! Rutabaga is a root crop but more like a carrot than a potato in the need for moisture so stored them in an old cooler or tub/bucket with a lid to help keep in moisture. This is the variety of heirloom Rutabaga seeds that we grow.
8. Turnips-Six years ago was also the first time I grew Turnips, another vegetable I didn’t grow up eating. They are another great storage crop that we overwintered and cooked with throughout the winter. We grew this variety of organic, heirloom Turnip seeds..
9. Carrots-These can be kept in the ground covered with a deep mulch over winter and actually get sweeter after frost. Now that we have raised bed gardens, this won’t work since the soil freezes in the raised beds.
Instead, I’ve experimented with keeping them in an old cooler with a lid and a food grade bucket with a lid. The key is to make sure they are slightly damp but not too wet they will rot, and not too dry or they’ll start to wither.
I cut off the green tops before storage and brush off the soil. While in storage, they start to grow little rootlets and sprouts out of the top. They may not look pretty when taken out of the cool storage, but simply trim off the top and scrub off the rootlets and it’s a perfectly normal carrot and oh so delicious!
If you have an old fridge or space in your current refrigerator, here’s our post on how to keep carrots crisp in the fridge for several months.
Here’s our favorite variety of organic heirloom carrot seeds. My kids love this variety because they are slightly sweeter. I think they’re great because they store so well compared to some other varieties we’ve grown. We’ve been growing and saving these seeds for years!
10. Parsnips- Parsnips are similar to carrots and can be left in the ground in a garden under a layer of deep mulch to be harvested throughout the winter. Like carrots, Parsnips will actually get sweeter after experiencing cold temperatures. I’ve also stored them similarly to carrots in an old cooler. Here’s the variety of heirloom parsnip seeds we like to grow.
11. Beets-Beets can also be left in the ground in the garden under deep mulch in the winter and harvested as needed. We did that at our old homestead but now we can’t do that with our raised garden beds that freeze. Now I usually can some pickled beets, preserve the beet greens and the rest I keep in a covered tub in our cool storage room for months at a time. Here is our favorite variety of organic, heirloom beets to grow.
12. Winter Squash-Every year we grow a variety of winter squash. Once the winter squash are properly cured, I store them on the floor in our cool storage room.
We eat them fresh throughout the winter and last year I even had one last all the way to May and it was perfectly fine! Over the years we’ve experimented with growing all these varieties of winter squash, each one with a slightly different flavor.
13. Pumpkins-We also grow pumpkins every year and store them the same way we store winter squash. This is our favorite variety of heirloom pumpkin to grow and store each year.
14. Cabbage-We always grow cabbage every year, which should be no surprise since I have a German husband who loves his kraut! We make big batches of homemade fermented sauerkraut and then store several cabbages over winter to use in various meals.
Due to our dry climate, cabbage is a little trickier to store over winter due to our low humidity levels. These usually only last a couple months in our cool storage. To help them maintain some level of moisture without drying out or rotting, I wrap them in damp paper towels and lightly spritz them as they start to dry out.
This is the variety of heirloom cabbage seeds we’ve been growing for years that is known for doing well in storage and less likely to split than over varieties.
15. Kohlrabi-We’ve been growing kohlrabi for over ten years since I first learned about this unique vegetable. We preserve some of our kohlrabi and store some in cool storage to use fresh in my favorite kohlrabi coleslaw and Kohlrabi Soup (recipe coming soon!).
We’ve tried several varieties of kohlrabi seeds over the years but prefer this Kohlrabi variety since it is an heirloom variety so we can save seeds.
In addition to all these vegetables that are great for long term cold winter storage, did you know you can also store apples over winter without refrigeration? You can read our post on how we store apples over winter without refrigeration and no root cellar!
Do you grow vegetables to store over winter and have any tips to share?