Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables

by Mike Bubel, Nancy Bubel

Paperback(2nd ed)

View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for delivery by Tuesday, May 11


Stretch the resources of your small backyard garden further than ever before, without devoting hundreds of hours to canning! This informative and inspiring guide shows you not only how to construct your own root cellar, but how to best use the earth’s naturally cool, stable temperature as an energy-saving way to store nearly 100 varieties of perishable fruits and vegetables.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780882667034
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 01/09/1991
Edition description: 2nd ed
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 117,965
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About the Author

Mike Bubel co-authored the classic best-selling guide Root Cellaring with his wife, Nancy. They were avid gardeners for many years in Philadelphia and then on their farm in Wellsville, Pennsylvania. 

Nancy Bubel, co-author of the classic best-selling guide, Root Cellaring, was a gardening columnist for Country Journal magazine and wrote for Mother Earth News, Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Family Circle, Womans Day and New Shelter magazines. She was a member of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Society for Economic Botany, and a life member of both the Seed Savers Exchange and the Friends of the Trees Society. 

Read an Excerpt


Planting Crops for Fall Storage

The countrey-man hath a provident and gainfull familie, not one whose necessities must be alwaies furnished out of the shop, nor their table out of the market. His provision is alwaies out of his own store, and agreeable with the season of the yeare.

Antonia de Guevera, The Praise and Happiness of the Countrie-life 1539

Our first attempts at storing vegetables for the winter were more or less incidental. We'd grown a big long row of carrots and beets and had extras left over in the fall when it was time to clean up the garden for the winter. We brought the surplus root crops into our cool, dirt-floored basement room and kept them there in cartons covered with burlap bags. Gradually we learned how much more our garden could do for us. By spending a little more time planning and planting, we found we could produce as many as 33 different kinds of vegetables for winter storage. With this variety, no one vegetable must carry the burden of being a daily staple, and we don't tire of our stored bounty. Most vegetables that we plant for fall storage may be sown as succession crops, following early peas, lettuce, or beans. This practice makes efficient use of both garden space and soil nutrients. For example, nitrogen left in the soil by the peas and beans promotes leafy growth of fall cabbages and kale. The whole process of dovetailing spring, summer, and fall crops can be intricate but most satisfying to work out. "Let's see now, I planted spring peas on the edge of the garden where soil was easy to dig early. Now that they're finished I can put in kale, which should also be at the edge of the plot so it doesn't get plowed up at fall clean-up time, and which needs a good supply of nitrogen."

As we experimented with growing and keeping different vegetables, we discovered what the experts had known all along: that vegetables to be stored keep best if they're harvested at their peak of maturity — neither underdeveloped nor past their prime. Producing vegetables that are harvest-ready when weather has turned cold enough to provide good storage conditions takes a little planning, but the results are worth every minute spent with pencil, paper, and seed catalogues. Luckily, cool fall weather keeps many vegetables on "hold" so that they don't grow as fast as they would in summer, thus providing a comfortable margin. Carrots that are ready to harvest in September are just fine for winter storage. Even cabbage that heads in September will usually hold — in a cold climate — for winter eating.

Many storage vegetables, in fact, grow best during the cool days of early fall. Lettuce, escarole, and corn salad, which would have bolted to seed in July and August, grow crisp and leafy in September and October. Cabbage, collards, and kale put on exuberant new green growth. Parsnips, salsify, and Brussels sprouts show their excellent true flavors only after frost has nipped them.

Light affects the development of some vegetables too. Cole crops like broccoli produce best during short days. Soybeans are also short-day plants. Decreasing day length triggers their flower formation. Special winter radish varieties produce good roots when days are short, unlike their quick-growing summer-radish cousins which may develop only a thin scraggly root when the sun sets early.

Enthusiasm for digging, planting, and even weeding seems to come naturally in the spring. The impulse that in March often carries us away with its insistence that we nurture some green thing, must sometimes be summoned with some will power in June, July, and August when weather is hot, weeds are persistent, and the whole burgeoning garden is crowded with productive life. Fall frosts seem far away in July when one must weed early in the day to avoid the baking sun, but that is just the time when many good fall-producing crops should be started. As we gardeners like to remind each other, part of each season is spent preparing for the next. After a few years, the wheel of the year takes us with it. Once you've pulled home-grown leeks in November and offered fresh, green, root-cellar salad for Christmas dinner, you find yourself ready to make summer plantings too, even if they must be deliberately scheduled and dutifully carried out, perhaps when you don't really "feel like it." Think of it this way: summer plantings carry the garden forward and keep it productive for the second half of the gardening year, the half you miss out on if impulsive spring plantings aren't succeeded by deliberate summer sowings of durable roots and sturdy leaf crops.

This year, for example, my garden has been an orphan of sorts, for I've been too busy helping with house construction to keep it weeded and consistently replanted. I am not proud of the sway it looks this fall. Lamb's quarters five feet tall tower over the carrot row. A carpet of cheese mallow has invaded the cabbages. The ducks have munched on one patch of escarole and the other patch is not blanched — I haven't had a chance to tie up the leaves. Nevertheless, the few hours I devoted to renewing the garden in June and July have kept the rows producing. Under all those weeds, I can still find the following vegetables, this second week in November:

* Carrots

* Escarole

* Head lettuce

* Comfrey

* Chinese chives

* Cabbage

* Broccoli

* Brussels sprouts

* Leeks

* Winter radishes

* Beets

* Parsnips

* Kale

* Parsley

* Jerusalem artichokes

In other years, I have also had rutabagas, kohlrabi, salsify, chard, and turnips.

Sometimes it's hard to find room in the summer garden for your fall crops, and, in my experience, young seedlings sometimes struggle when planted in the row in summer's heat. For these reasons, I've gotten into the habit of starting seedlings of many of my fall crops in flats. I keep the flats on the porch where I can water them and tend them until the seedlings are about two inches high with sturdy stems and several pairs of leaves. Then I transplant them into spaces in the garden — often into a just-cleared row where I've pulled onions, and sometimes into spots where an early planting has finished or failed. This gives me an additional two weeks growing time for early crops in the garden and ensures a good start for the seedlings.

The usual transplanting precautions are especially important in summer heat. Whenever possible, I move seedlings into the garden row on a cloudy day. If rain is expected, I find planting just before a shower preferable to planting after rain. One is less likely to compact soft wet soil by walking over it, and the young plant is naturally watered into place. (I always pour a cupful of water into the planting hole too, of course.)

New transplants need some protection from hot sun for their first three to seven days. I often use berry baskets, which cast a light grid of shade but let sun shine through too. A leafy branch also works well, either placed lightly over the seedlings or stuck in the ground to cast a shadow. Summer transplants usually need to be watered several times in addition to the watering you gave them when setting them out. Mulch them as soon as you can, too, to hold moisture in the soil and control weeds. Once I start canning in August, I find that weeds often get ahead of me, so summer mulch is especially good crop insurance.

When sowing seeds directly in the row, I usually water the seeds in the open furrow and then draw a ¼- to ½-inch layer of fine soil over them. This helps to prevent crusting of the soil. Plants that have delicate foliage, like carrots, often appreciate the additional protection of a thin layer of dried grass clippings or fine, light hay scattered over the row.

Summer planting for fall harvests takes a bit of gumption and persistence. But once started, it becomes a habit. The sight of a row of ruffly, blue-green kale plants flanked by just-heading cauliflower, tender crisp fall head lettuce, and wrist-thick leeks, all lightly silvered with dew on a snappy September morning, will do much to confirm the habit and your own respect for yourself as a gardener and provider. I am busy, absent-minded, and sometimes get behind in my weeding. If I can raise this kind of fall abundance, you can too.


Good Keepers

... Through the improbable winter to the impossible spring.

William H. Matchett "Packing a Photograph from Firenze"

Here's a checklist to consult at the beginning of the gardening season — which is, for most of us, in January and February when we pull a rocker up to the warm woodstove or glowing fireplace with our lap full of catalogues, ready to fill in the rows in our mind's eye garden — the one that is always perfect. We have a brand-new chance, now, to remedy the mistakes and shortcomings of the last gardening season. A look at the root cellar will tell us whether our order of good keepers should be increased. Old-time gardeners referred to the late winter and early spring weeks as "the hungry gap" — when stored vegetables ran low, fall-butchered meat was used up, the cow was dry, and the hens hadn't resumed laying. If you're left with only a handful of root vegetables at midwinter seed-ordering time, now's your chance to provide for a bigger and longer-lasting winter vegetable harvest next fall. We've kept this list of good keepers separate so that you'll find it easy to refer to when planning your garden. Most of the vegetables discussed in this book will keep well regardless of variety, but for really outstanding storage life, you might want to try some of these especially reliable varieties. Unless specific sources are noted, the variety is widely available.


* Detroit Dark Red

* Hybrid Red Cross

* Long Season — our favorite keeper beet; huge and rough-looking, but very tender.

* Lutz Green Leaf

* Perfected Detroit


* Green Comet (hybrid) — good for a second planting.

* Waltham 29 — a good fall broccoli.


* Green Pearl

* Jade Cross

* Long Island Improved

* Silverstar

* Valiant


* Takinogawa Long


* April Green

* Avalon

* Custodian

* Danish Ballhead

* January King

* Krautman — especially for sauerkraut; heads are slow to split.

* Mammoth Red Rock

* Penn State Ballhead

* Premium Flat Dutch

* Savoy Langedijer Winterkeeper


* China King

* Summertime

* Two Seasons Hybrid

* Wintertime


* Chantenay

* Danvers

* Flakkee — also called Autumn King.

* Gold-Pak

* Ingot

* Spartan Bonus Hybrid


* Andes

* Veitch Autumn Giant


* Large Smooth Prague

* Monarch

* Zwindra


* Fordhook

* Giant Pascal

* Utah


According to the catalogue, colbaga "combines the flavors of Chinese cabbage, cabbage, and rutabaga."


Vates is good because it is shorter, but all collards are very hardy.


Not a long keeper, but try these late varieties.

* Burpee Hybrid

* Imperial Black Beauty

* Jersey King


* Salad King — frost resistant.


* Batavian Full Heart

* Sinco


* Dwarf Blue Curled Vates

* Dwarf Siberian

* Green Curled Scotch

* Westland Winter

* Winter bor


* Grand Duke

* White Vienna


* American Flag

* Carina

* Elephant

* Musselburgh

* Nebraska


* Burpee Yellow Globe Hybrid

* Copra

* Ebenezer

* Golden Cascade

* Marathon Hybrid

* Norstar

* Rip Van Winkle

* Southport Red Globe

* Sweet Sandwich

* Yellow Globe Danvers


* All-America

* Harris' Model

* Hollow Crown

* Offenham


* Allgold — our favorite — keeps until spring and high in vitamin A.

* Centennial

* Porto Rico

* Vardaman — a bush variety.


* Burbank — best grown on light soil.

* Katahdin

* Kennebec

* Norgold Russet

* Red la Soda — medium late.

* Sebago — late.

* Superior

* Yukon Gold

* NOTE: Cascade and Norchip are poor keepers.


* China Rose

* Chinese White or Celestial

* Miyashige

* Round Black Spanish

* Sakurajima

* Shogoin

* Tokinashi


* Altasweet — good flavor.

* Laurentian

* Macomber

* Purple-Top


* Sandwich Island, the standard, is offered by all seed sellers who sell salsify.


* Acorn — fair keeper.

* Blue Hubbard

* Buttercup — a delicious squash.

* Butternut — especially Waltham and Hercules Strains.

* Chestnut

* Delicata or Sweet Potato

* Gold Nugget

* Melon Squash — see chapter 9, "Fruits."

* Sweet Meat

* Vegetable Spaghetti — not advertised as an especially good keeper, but keeps well for us, till midwinter.

* Warted Green Hubbard

* Wyoming Crookneck


* Burpee's Long Keeper

* Egg Tomato

* Moon Glow


* Des Vertus Marteau — delicious flavor.

* Just Right

* Purple Top White Globe


* Winter Melon — also known as Christmas Melon.


Growers Keepers

How to Raise Top-Quality Storage Vegetables

Gardening is soil management. ... soil is the most complex substance with which we may ever have to deal.

R. Milton Carleton The Small Garden Book

When you've progressed from storing incidental fall surplus to making purposeful plantings for good eating all winter long, you'll find that planting times and growing conditions can make a difference in the amount and quality of your fall harvest.

With the exception of tomatoes, squash, sweet potatoes, and melons, most storage vegetables thrive in cool weather. Insect problems are usually much less serious after the first frost, so the combination of cool weather and reduced competition can help you to raise some fine fall crops. The time of planting will have a bearing on the quality of the storage vegetables, too. You want to put away vegetables that are mature, ready to serve, but not overage and tough. The information in this chapter should help you to time and nurture your plantings so that the vegetables you count on will be at just the right stage of development when you want to harvest them. If you're an experienced gardener, you know that frost improves the flavor of certain vegetables. Parsnips and salsify, for example, are sweeter after frost because some of their root starch is turned to sugars. Kale, Brussels sprouts, collards, and Chinese cabbage have a much milder and more pleasing flavor after frost.

What is not so widely acknowledged is that the soil in which your plants grow can influence the keeping quality of the vegetables you harvest. According to studies reported in E. P. Shirakov's Practical Course in Storage and Processing of Fruits and Vegetables, abundant potash in the soil promotes long storage life of fruits and vegetables grown on that soil. Good sources of potassium include manure (especially sheep, horse, and pig manure), compost, green manures, and rock powders like rock potash and greensand. Seaweed, wood ashes, corncobs, comfrey, peanut hulls, and citrus peels also contribute potash to the soil. What's more, as Jeff Cox wrote in his article "Potash: The Plant-Growth Catalyst," in Organic Gardening, potassium can be, in effect, stored and released by organic matter in the soil, which attracts the potassium and keeps it until it's needed by the plants. Good gardening practices that add organic matter to the soil include mulching, applying manure and compost, and turning under special plantings of green manure crops like soybeans, clover, buckwheat, annual rye, or alfalfa.


Excerpted from "Root Cellaring"
by .
Copyright © 1991 Mike and Nancy Bubel.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



Section One: Starting Right With Storage Vegetables

1. Planting Crops for Fall Storage

2. Good Keepers

3. Growers Keepers: How to Raise Top-Quality Storage Vegetables

Section Two: Bringing in the Harvest

4. How to Harvest and Prepare Vegetables for Storage

5. Life After Picking

6. Spoilage

7. Food Value in Winter Keepers

Section Three: All the Winter Keepers and How to TreatThem

8. Vegetables

9. Fruits

10. The Underground Garden

11. Other Good Foods to Keep in Natural Cold Storage

Section Four: Food Cellars for Everyone

12. Trenches, Keeping-Closets, and Other Vegetable and Fruit Hideaways

13. Planning Your Root Cellar

14. Keeping Things Humming in the Root Cellar

15. The Basement Root Cellar

16. The Excavated Root Cellar

Section Five: "Here's What We Did...."

17. Root Cellaring Experiences

Section Six: Recipes

18. Cooking Sturdy Keepers




Customer Reviews