Cold food storage is the most basic food preservation method. If you live in a climate with true winters (freezing temperatures), you have what you need to keep many vegetables and fruits in good condition for months after harvesting.
If you’re interested in growing vegetables indoors, all of my starter tips are here.
Storage and Putting Up
Do you know the expression ‘putting up’? I’m guessing it originated from the process of placing freshly prepared jars and cans of food up on the shelves of storage cupboard (i.e. putting them up in the cupboard). If I’m wrong, it’s still a good way to remember what the expression means since it’s still widely used with the canning crowd today.
Some foods are preserved by putting up (pickling, canning, freezing, dehydrating, etc.) and others can be placed whole (in their natural state) in storage for extended periods of time (under the right conditions). Others can be stored with added salt, vinegar, sugar, and oils to keep them edible for months to come.
First I’ll walk you through the basics for whole food storage and then we’ll dive into some recipes for canning, freezing, and other preserving methods from some experienced gardening friends.
Storing fresh produce in your kitchen? Here’s a printable fresh fruit and vegetable storage cheat sheet.
Tips for Storing Whole Foods at Home
Choose What You Love
The first step for getting started in food preservation and storage is often the most overlooked: choose vegetables, fruits, nuts, and beans you really enjoy and know you will use. Old habits can be hard to shake. Perhaps you grew up with canned green beans but never really liked them. That’s your queue to move on to something else you really will enjoy.
Fall harvest is an excellent time to get great deals on bulk lots at farmer’s markets.
- Vegetable choices include root vegetables (beets, carrots, onions, turnips, parsnips, rutabaga, celeriac), cucumbers (pickles!), tomatoes, potatoes as well as squashes, pumpkins, and some unexpected picks like cauliflower and eggplant.
- Fruits are often best processed by canning, freezing, or drying.
- Herbs can be dried or frozen in the pure form or as flavored pestos.
- Nuts can also have much longer shelf lives with proper storage.
I’ll give you an overview of the entire storage process from start to finish and suggest some resources to get you started.
Here’s the basic steps:
- Cure / dry the produce before storing it.
- Create a storage area with the right conditions (temperature, humidity levels, darkness, air circulation).
- Monitor the vegetables in storage for mold, mildew, sprouting, or wilt.
- Plan your cooking around anticipated use-by dates to avoid food waste.
Start with freshly harvested veggies and fruits in good condition, free of bruises, rot, mold, or mushy areas. Items like onions (fresh from the garden), for example, first require a drying or curing process before placing them in cold storage. You often see gardeners lay out their freshly harvested onions on sunny days. This draws out excess moisture in preparation for food storage, avoiding rot, mold, and mildew later on.
2. Cold Storage
There are all sorts of cold storage options from the traditional cold room or root cellar to more adaptive ideas like outdoor cellars, pits, or insulated boxes.
Choose your storage area based on the foods you are storing.
Food storage needs include providing the optimum temperature range, humidity levels, light or darkness, and air circulation. Plus, you obviously don’t want things destroyed by nibbling vermin and other such creatures. These factors will help you determine the best storage setup for each type of food crop.
Many root vegetables like potatoes favor storage conditions just above freezing (32F/0C) with 90% relative humidity, whereas something like winter squash likes a warmer room at 50F and just 70% relative humidity.
This chart has excellent information listed for each vegetable (it’s a PDF file on the The University of Wisconsin-Extension
You can see the storage conundrum this creates. The old-style approach of keeping everything in one unheated basement room may not be your best choice. Over the years I have tested out various setups and opted for storing food in various places throughout our basement, garage, and outdoors. It’s not as handy but everything fairs much better.
3. Monitor Stored Veggies
Once veggies are in storage, they do need to be checked every couple of weeks. We usually get a couple of warm spells in the winter where suddenly our unheated garage is actually too warm and the potatoes and stored bulbs start to sprout. Temporary relocation to a food cooler in a shaded area of the garden solves the problem until temperatures drop again. Moldy items should be disposed of to avoid spreading the problem.
4. Keep Track of Use-By Dates
Every item in cold storage will have a different life expectancy. Check the expected storage lifespans and mark your calendar to be sure to use things up before they turn bad and chase you down the street.
To get started in long-term food storage, I always suggest starting small. It really can get overwhelming and without a method to the madness, food gets wasted.
It could be something as simple as buying a large bag of potatoes at the farmer’s market and figuring out the best place to keep them in your home. Done right, they could stay nice and firm for as long as 8 months. Without adequate humidity levels, you’ll see them gradually shrivel up. Too much warmth and they start growing shoots. Food management becomes a lot more efficient when you start to learn all these nuances.
I recommend finding a book or resource you like, and dive in. As with any advice, you’ll find tips that just don’t work in your setup. Write them off and move on. Sometimes success is attributed to the wrong thing and we lose our minds trying to figure out why the same setup doesn’t work for us.
Frugal and Less Wasteful
Not only is long-term food storage frugal and smart, but learning to store whole foods properly will cut down on food waste in your home. Have fun with it. And can and preserve the rest.
- BOOK: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables
- INFO: National Center for Home Food Preservation
- HANDY CHART: Storing Vegetables at Home by H.C. Harrison / PDF File
includes a helpful chart listing vegetables, their preferred storage temperatures and humidity levels, plus their average storage lifespan.
- Preserving Tips
How to dry herbs | Greenside UP
How to preserve pure herb pastes | The Prudent Garden
How to store potatoes | Grow a Good Life
How to freeze green beans without blanching
| An Oregon Cottage
How to freeze pesto | Somewhat Quirky Design
How to cure garlic Sensible Gardening
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛