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How to Store Vegetables All Winter (In the Pantry and In the Ground)

The summer garden is great. The bountiful harvests of tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh herbs are so good that it’s easy to eat it all fresh. And if you can’t quite eat it all, you can turn to canning, freezing, or dehydrating as the easiest ways to preserve your summer harvest.

But what about the fall garden? What about those crops like onions, potatoes, and pumpkins, that are ready all at once? It’s impossible to consume a harvest like that within a few days (unless you’re feeding a crowd).

Storing produce in the fridge and freezer is great—until you run out of room or lose power in a winter storm. Fortunately, people have been storing produce for years without the convenience of electricity.

Maybe your grandmother had a root cellar, and you likely have a basement (which will do in a pinch). If not, a pantry or closet will work just fine!

Most root crops, winter squash, and some brassicas don’t need additional refrigeration to keep fresh. We call these vegetables storage crops, and with the right treatment, they will last for weeks, even months—giving you plenty of time to enjoy your fall harvest and eat fresh produce until the next growing season.

This blog post will lay out everything you need to know about storage crops, including ideal storage conditions and average shelf life.

Just imagine: this winter you could be the person your friends turn to for fresh produce.  

What is a storage crop?

A storage crop is any fruit or vegetable that can be harvested and stored for an extended period of time without spoiling or losing its quality.

Most root crops (potatoes, onions, carrots, and beets, for example) and some brassicas (like cabbage) are considered storage crops because, under the right conditions, they will keep for weeks and even months. Winter squash, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes also store well. These crops are typically harvested when they are fully mature and then stored in cool and dry conditions to maintain their freshness and nutritional value.

Other than being extremely tasty, storage crops are essential for providing food during the winter months, when fresh produce may be scarce or more expensive.

How to harvest and cure storage crops

What separates root crops from other vegetables is their ability to cure, or create a natural seal that slows the decomposition process.

Root crops

Harvest root crops on a dry day, and avoid washing the roots as scrubbing will interrupt the curing process. Brush off any excess dirt and cut the leaves and stalks about one inch from the bulb. Leave the roots intact, since cutting the taproot could introduce rot and shorten shelf life.


Winter squash and pumpkins need to go through a curing process before they can be safely stored. Cut the fruit away from the vine and leave in the field for a week to dry. Alternatively, you can bring the squash indoors to a sunny, dry location. Avoid damaging the fruit during harvest. 


Like winter squash, onions and garlic need to be cured for storage. After harvesting, hang the bulbs or lay them out in a single layer in an area with good airflow. In about two weeks, the bulbs can be transferred to a breathable bag or basket and stored.

How to store vegetables 3 ways

The University of Minnesota Extension breaks down storage conditions into three categories:  cold, moist storage; cold, dry storage; and cool, dry storage

1. Cold, moist storage

Good for: root crops

Ideal temperature: 32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit

Ideal humidity: 90%

Root crops

Root crops store best in a cool, dark, and humid environment. Carrots, beets, turnips, rutabaga, and radishes prefer to be stored between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit in 90% humidity.

The best way to maintain these conditions is to store vegetables in a tub filled with moist sawdust or peat moss in a garage or basement. This packing method maintains the high humidity levels that root crops need to stay crisp and fresh

Remove the leafy tops prior to storage and shake off any excess dirt (avoid washing the roots prior to packing). Add a layer of sawdust or peat moss to the bottom of the tub, then place the roots in a single layer, leaving space between them. Layer with more material and place another layer of roots.

When the tub is full, cover with a lid and transfer to a cold, dark room. Check the tubs periodically throughout the winter for rotting produce. Use a spray bottle to add humidity as needed.

Average shelf life:

  • Beets: 5 months
  • Carrots: 8 months
  • Parsnips: 4 months
  • Rutabaga: 4 months

2. Cold, dry storage

Good for: potatoes, alliums & brassicas

Ideal temperature: 32 - 40 degrees Fahrenheit

Ideal humidity: 60%


Alliums like onions, garlic, and shallots need a dry storage environment that’s just as cold but a lot drier than other root crops prefer. 40 to 50-degree temperatures and 60% humidity are ideal: a cool but dry room like a closet would be perfect for storing alliums.


Potatoes need drier and colder conditions (similar to alliums) but don’t store the two together unless you want your potatoes to taste like onions! 

Potatoes need to be stored in complete darkness at roughly 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Avoid washing potatoes after you dig them, and allow them to dry for two weeks before transferring them to permanent storage. Keep potatoes in a single layer to minimize the risk of rotting tubers.


Cruciferous veggies like cabbage store best between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit but with only 60 to 70% humidity. 

Near the end of the growing season, dig up the plants by the roots and replant them into buckets with soil. Bring the buckets to a cool, airy location indoors, like a garage or mudroom. No need to water the buckets–the dormant plants will keep fresh until you harvest the vegetables.

Average shelf life:

  • Leeks: 4 months
  • Onions: 1 to 3 months
  • Garlic: 6 months
  • Potatoes: 6 months
  • Broccoli: 2 weeks
  • Cabbage: 5 months
  • Cauliflower: 3 weeks
  • Kohlrabi: 2 months

3. Cool, dry storage

Good for: winter squash, pumpkins & sweet potatoes

Ideal temperature: 50 - 60 degrees Fahrenheit

Ideal humidity: 60%

Winter squash and pumpkins

Some vegetables like pumpkins and winter squash prefer temperatures in the 50 to 60-degree Fahrenheit range—just below what we consider room temperature. Keep these vegetables in cool, dry environments for the longest shelf life. Store them in single layers in boxes in a basement or in an unheated pantry.

Sweet potatoes

Even though we call them potatoes, sweet potatoes are in a different family than regular potatoes and must be stored differently.

Average shelf life:

  • Pumpkins: 2 months
  • Winter squash: 2 to 6 months
  • Sweet potatoes: 6 weeks

In-ground vegetable storage

Root cellars and refrigerators are awesome for produce storage, but the best place to store root crops is actually in the ground!

Many root crops, including beets, carrots, and parsnips, actually get sweeter after a frost—so don’t let the colder weather scare you into harvesting everything prematurely. Leaving roots in the ground is the best way to guarantee freshness–the plants will enter dormancy and stop growing, and winter weather conditions will keep the roots hydrated and chilled. 

As fall turns to winter, cover the plants with straw or mulch to add an insulating layer at the soil surface. Over the next couple of months, you can harvest root veggies as you need them and not have to worry about indoor storage or using electricity. You won’t be stressed about your entire harvest rotting or freezing, and you can likely pick roots up until you seed your spring crop!

Additional storage tips

  • Use breathable bags and boxes

For the longest shelf life and the best flavor, store root crops in breathable containers in a cool, dark place. If you don’t have any perforated or mesh bags on hand, make your own by punching some holes in a plastic or paper bag. Baskets and milk crates are sturdier than bags and just as good for storing roots. 

  • Keep storage crops out of the sun 

Although sunlight is essential to the curing process, sunlight can break down vegetables and cause them to spoil more quickly. Keep storage crops out of the sun whenever possible.

  • Keep storage crops separate

As some vegetables decompose, they release gasses that can cause other vegetables to spoil more quickly. Onions are particularly bad for this, and for this reason, you might have heard not to store potatoes and onions together. 

  • Regularly check for signs of spoilage

Check your pantry and root cellar often so that if one or two vegetables spoil, the whole bunch won’t go bad. 

  • Use the smallest vegetables first 

Eat the smallest roots and fruits first, as larger produce tends to have a better shelf life than smaller produce.

  • Use sand, sawdust, or peat moss to pack moisture-loving root crops in tubs

These moisture-absorbing materials help maintain high humidity levels without encouraging rot. 

If you can match the right crop with its ideal storage conditions, you’ll be able to maximize storage potential and enjoy delicious produce for weeks and months after harvest.

Store what root crops you can in the ground and keep cold-sensitive vegetables in a cool, dark location until you’re ready to use them. Even if you don’t have a root cellar, a pantry or mudroom is all you need to keep your fall harvest fresh throughout the winter. 

So go on—sow those fall seeds with confidence, knowing you’ll be able to store your harvest and eat fresh all winter long. Shop our collection of fall seeds today and get those seeds in the ground this month! 

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