Tag Archives: food preservation

How to Store Crops Without a Root Cellar

Tan Cheese Pumpkin

For many crops the preferred storage method negates the need for a root cellar. Anything that is canned, dried, or frozen can be kept right in your kitchen without any change from store bought groceries. However there are some crops that are stored fresh but require specific conditions. Things like winter squash, beets, and cabbages would have traditionally been kept in a root cellar. Unfortunately most modern houses don’t include that feature. Unless you’re ready to invest in building one, a little creativity can help keep your winter produce without a lot of effort.

Make a root clamp.

Root clamps are an old way of storing vegetables underground without an actual root cellar. They’re simple holes in the ground to store cabbages, potatoes, and other root vegetables. The vegetables can be layered with straw or hay, keeping a thick layer between them and the dirt to keep out any frost. On top is an especially thick layer followed by a couple whole bails to cover the top. You also want the straw or hay to be between each individual vegetable.

Today some people add an old cooler or clean trash can as a liner for the root clamp. Coolers however are not deep enough to avoid frost in cold climates.

Keep it in the garden.

In places where the ground doesn’t freeze very early storing root crops right in the garden can be an excellent choice. For crops like beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes, and radishes just leave them in their bed and cover them with a good amount of hay or straw. They can then be dug as needed.

You can also grow greens and brassicas through the winter by using cold frames, row cover, or backyard hoop or green houses.

Utilize cool places in your home.

Whether it’s a garage, a basement, under a bed, a certain cabinet, or a closet many of us have a spot in our home which stays rather cool. Crops like sweet potatoes, onions, and squashes that prefer cool, dry storage can just be stuck in baskets in these places. They will last longer if they aren’t piled up too much and have good air circulation.

Fruit crops like storage apples and pears can also be stored in this manner. However many people advise wrapping each individual fruit in newspaper to help them keep longer and discourage any rot from spreading.

Crops like potatoes, carrots, beets, and other roots that need damper conditions can also be stored in these same places. For these crops you’ll need containers and a packing material like shredded newspaper, straw, or sand. This material should then be kept damp (not wet!). You can use a spray bottle to add moisture as needed. You should trim the tops off the vegetables leaving about 1/2 inch then layer them in your container with your material in between so that none are touching.

Cabbages can be stored with their roots in damp sand or in just a basket like squash. They do better in damper places than squash does though.

Refrigerate root crops.

Root crops can also be refrigerated. For those with leafy tops trim the leaves to 1/2 inch. Potatoes also store well in the refrigerator.

Use them as decor.

Some squash, onions, and soft neck garlic store fairly well at room temperature and can double as some farmhouse type decor. Squash looks great on fall table settings and onions and garlic look gorgeous braided and hung in the kitchen or pantry.

Maintaining your storage crops.

It’s important to note that none of these methods are leave it and forget solutions. Even with a proper root cellar it’s important to periodically go through your produce and check for ones that are starting to rot or mold. If you don’t remove them the rot will spread to the rest hence the saying, “one bad apple can spoil the bunch.” Ideally you can catch them while they’re still useable.

You should also pay attention to your different varieties. From radishes to pumpkins different varieties have different storage capabilities. using varieties in order of how long you can expect them to keep is just another part of gardening and seasonal eating.

 

While these methods may not be as idyllic as a farmhouse root cellar they can work just as well. Keeping food properly in storage can help you save money on groceries, give you more self-sufficiency, and lessen your environmental impact. So pack your carrots in a container in the closet or store baskets of sweet potatoes under your bed, and stock that winter larder!

Pickled Peppers

In later summer and fall massive amounds of produce can start to overwhelm any gardener. It’s exciting and wonderful but when the neighbors start avoiding you because they really can’t take any more summer squash it’s time to preserve the harvest.

For peppers one of the easiest, tastiest things to do is to pickle them. Water bath canning is surpisingly easy and safe. It requires only basic equipment and is a great way to put up your homegrown harvest.

My favorites are jalapenos or banana peppers but you can use whatever you’ve got.

Sweet Banana (Long Sweet Hungarian) Pepper

Here’s what you’ll need:

Water bath canner (large pot, lid, and rack)

Canning jar tongs

Canning jars, new lids, and rings

5-6lbs of peppers

12 cups of white vinegar (5% acidity)

4 cups of water

*Optional*

Pickle Crisp – follow directions on package for crisper peppers

To begin harvest and wash all your peppers. Slice into rings or small pieces and place in a clean bowl. If you’re using particularly hot peppers you may consider using gloves and safety glasses. Hot pepper juice in your eyes is not fun.

You’ll need to sanitize your jars and rings. Check all the jars for nicks and then boil them and the rings. Keep the jars hot until you’re ready to fill them.

Combine the vinegar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. While the brine is heating pack your peppers tightly into your hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace .

One the brine has boiled it can be poured over the peppers leaving 1/2 inch headspace in each jar. Slide a rubber spatula around the outside of each jar to release any air bubbles the wipe each rim with a clean rag.

Place new lids on all the jars and put on rings, turning them until they’re fingertip tight. Using the jar tongs place each jar in a boiling water bath canner and boil for ten minutes.

Ta da! You’ve got peppers that will keep safely without electricity for over a year. They’re are great tossed on subs or baked on homemade nachos or pizzas.

 

Quick Pickled Dilly Snap Peas

For those of you who don’t know, “quick pickling” is making refrigerator pickles instead of canning them. Refrigerator pickles don’t take as long to make and they’re quite tasty and extra crunchy!

Even though they aren’t canned refrigerator pickles can still last for months. Think about how long you’ve left an open jar of pickles in the fridge. The cool temperature combined with vinegar’s acidity is pretty great at keeping the bacteria at bay.

We’ve got a lot of snap peas coming in and while I freeze some I thought pickled snap peas would be a great idea. The savory dilly flavor mixed with the sweetness of the peas is actually pretty perfect. I didn’t want to can them though because I’m afraid they’d lose their crunch.

Supplies

1 1/2 cup white vinegar

1 1/2 cup cold water

1 TBS pickling or kosher salt

1 TBS white sugar

2 good sized garlic cloves

2 sprigs of fresh dill (or 2 tsp dried dill)

other seasonings *optional*

non-reactive pot

1 quart or two pint jars

canning funnel *optional*

First harvest and wash your snap peas. It’s best to use peas that are as fresh as possible and if you’re harvesting to do so in the morning or evening, not under the afternoon sun.

In a non-reactive pot heat the vinegar, salt, and sugar until dissolved. Remove from heat and add cold water. Let it sit until it’s about room temperature or cooler (I stuck mine in the freezer for a couple minutes).

While it’s cooling pack your jar(s) with the peas and your preferred seasonings. Then pour your mixture into the jar(s) to cover the peas, add a lid, give a good shake and toss in the fridge.

Let your pickles sit in the refrigerater to marinate for at least 3 days. This will ensure they soak in all that delicious brine.

A few notes:

Non-reactive cookware is made from stainless steel, glass, or enamel coated metal. It’s prefered for pickling because other types of cookware like aluminum or copper might react the acidic vinegar and give your pickles and off flavor.

The seasonings for this recipe can safely be played with. You could try adding some spice with a hot pepper or red pepper flakes or go for some bread and butter type pickles. I added some chives to mine. Feel free to play around.

If you have extra brine or just want to try something else this works with many vegetables like cucumbers, sliced radishes, or onions.