University of Illinois Extension

Storing Vegetables

Freshness Is in Store

A box in the basement or a garbage can buried outdoors can provide an excellent and inexpensive means of food preservation. Whether homegrown or store-bought, many vegetables can be stored for several weeks when kept under proper conditions.

Extra vegetables should be kept in the ground for as long as weather permits. Many vegetables can be left where they are grown until mid-November and then harvested and placed in storage.

Root crops (beets, carrots, parsnips, potatoes and turnips) can be left in the ground until there is a danger of the soil freezing. Soil can be piled in hills over the shoulders of carrots and beets to protect from freezing. Straw or soil piled over the row serves as insulation and protects plants for even longer.

When harvesting root crops for storage, remove dirt and cut off the tops. Root crops should not be washed if they are to be stored for extended periods.

Start with the Best

The preserved vegetable will be only as good as the fresh product. Store produce that is mature, free from bruises, cracks and insect and disease damage.

Vegetables that mature in the later summer and fall will store best for longer periods.

Harvest vegetables for storage during the coolest part of the day when they contain less heat.

Temperature and moisture (humidity) are the most important factors for good storage. The requirements vary for each vegetable. Avoid warm temperatures as they promote rot. Moisture should not collect on vegetables in storage.

It's the Pits

Outdoor Pit

For storing vegetables a barrel, drainage tile or garbage can may be buried upright with 4 inches of the top above ground.

The container should be located in a well-drained area. Make a ditch so the surface water will be diverted and not run into the container.

Use the lid for the garbage can. A wooden lid can be made for the drainage tile or barrel. Cover the lid with 6 inches to 1 foot of straw, grass clippings or sawdust and put an old rug or a canvas or plastic cover over this.

Storage Mound

A storage mound may be used where ground water is a problem. It also is useful for a short storage period under mild temperatures.

Pile vegetables on a layer of straw on top of the ground. Cover the vegetables with a layer of straw held in place by a layer of soil.

One to 2 bushels of vegetables may be used for the mound. When the mound is opened, all of the vegetables should be removed for use.

Cool Basement

An unheated, well-ventilated basement can be used for storing some vegetables.

Crops may be kept in bins or on shelves for storage. Moist sand, wet burlap bags and layers of wet sphagnum moss will help to add moisture.

Watch It

If food starts to rot during storage, remove it. Use vegetables that show signs of shriveling or growth. Vegetables do not stay fresh for long after storage so use promptly. Remember to keep the storage area clean.