Winter doesn’t have to mean the end of fresh, local eating. Root cellaring is a free, easy—often forgotten—way to store fresh produce. Get a thermometer and test nooks in your basement, unheated closets or garage and see how root cellaring can work for you. Dry storage works best for foods from the garden, area farms or orchards; don’t try to store grocery store produce in this way.
Cheryl Wixson, chef and organic marketing consultant at Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, says temperature is the most important factor in keeping garden veggies from rotting. Different types of produce store best at different temperatures but most can’t withstand freezing. Most produce stores best at relative humidity levels between 60 and 90 percent; thermometers with humidity meters are available at garden supply and hardware stores. Always start with unblemished produce.
Apples: Wixson recommends storing winter varieties such as Golden or Roxbury Russet, Northern Spy and Baldwin; ask your local farm or orchard employees which varieties are best for storage. Keep them isolated in a plastic tub with a lid because they emit ethylene gas, which will rot other foods. Apples store best in cool or cold temperatures, down to 32 degrees, and damp conditions, around 90 percent relative humidity. Check your apples frequently because, as the saying goes, one bad one can spoil the lot.
Beets, carrots, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, rutabaga, leeks: Place produce in plastic bags with small holes poked in them inside a box or bury it in damp sand or sawdust in plastic tubs. Keep cool between 32 and 40 degrees with 90 to 95 percent relative humidity.
Garlic, onions: Alliums must be stored in a dry area, but they can withstand warmer temperatures, up to 50 degrees. Paper or mesh bags work well as storage containers.
Potatoes: Potatoes store best in dark, moist conditions at 32 to 40 degrees. If it’s too warm, potatoes will sprout, but this doesn’t spoil the lot. You can break off the sprouts and still eat the potatoes.
Winter squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes: These also require dry conditions above all. You can bury sweet potatoes in a tub with dry sand. Squash and pumpkins can sit out on shelves in temperatures of 50 to 60 degrees. Don't store a squash or pumpkin if its stem has broken off.
For more suggestions, check out the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.
More about fresh, local food
• You can enjoy delicious food and support local farmers by buying meat, eggs and produce in season—year round!
• Want fresh food, but not sure how to find it? Here's 20 tips on how and where to find fresh, local food.
• Use this simple guide to find out how to can, freeze, dehydrate and store fruits and veggies.