Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

Storing Vegetables and Fruits at Home

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Virginia “Val” Hillers, Extension Food Specialist, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Washington State University
Offers the essentials for storing vegetables and fruits in pits, cellars, or basements without refrigeration. Tells how to provide the right temperature, humidity, and ventilation. Well illustrated and containing easy to read tables, this publication can increase your food storage capacity, save money, and help you use more of your garden's production.
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Many vegetables and fruits can be stored in pits, cellars or basements without refrigeration during cool fall and cold winter months. Successful storage, however, depends on providing the right temperature, humidity, and ventilation.

Outdoor Storage

Produce that requires cool-to-cold moist surround­ings can be stored outdoors in areas that are not prone to flooding. All outdoor storage has the disadvantage of being unaccessible sometimes and subject to damage by rodents and other vermin. A well-drained location is essential to prevent excessive accumulation of water.

Usually the produce must be insulated for protec­tion from frost and fluctuating temperatures. Insu­lating materials commonly used are straw, hay, dry leaves, corn stalks, or wood shavings, and some soil. Be sure that the insulating materials used are not con­taminated with pesticides.

In-Garden Storage

It is possible to leave some root crops, such as car­rots, turnips, and parsnips in the garden where they grew, for part or all of the winter. (See fig. 1.) After the ground begins to freeze in the late fall, cover the root crops with a foot or more of mulch-straw, hay, or dry leaves. Do not place mulch on warm soil because doing so will cause vegetables to decay rapidly. Wait until the ground is cold.

Produce can be difficult to dig out of the frozen ground, but it will not be adversely affected until the temperature around the roots drops to 25˚F or less. Carrots are damaged at about 25˚F, but parsnips can stand somewhat lower temperatures.


If rodents are a problem, it may be wise to store produce in a buried container or an indoor storage area. One gopher can consume a whole row of carrots left in the ground.

Parsnips, horseradish, and turnips actually improve in flavor by light freezing. At temperatures between 28˚F and 34˚F, the starch changes to sugar.

Other crops, such as beets, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, cauliflower, celery, endive, cos or romaine lettuce, kale, leeks, and onions can withstand the early light frosts and can be stored for several weeks under a heavy mulch.

Mounds, Pits

Mounds or pits are a very economical way to store cabbage and root crops, such as carrots, beets, celeriac, kohlrabi, rutabagas, turnips, and winter radishes. (See fig. 2.)

Select a well-drained location, and cover the ground with an insulating mulch. Making a shallow excavation (from 6 to 10 inches deep) and placing the produce partly below the surface will ensure better frost pro­tection, but it will also increase the danger of excess water. Place mulch over vegetables. A ditch around the storage perimeter will help remove surface water.

Vegetables keep very well in pits and mounds, but once these storage areas are opened all the produce should be removed. After it’s removed, the produce will keep for 1 or 2 weeks at most. It does not keep as long after removal from storage as will freshly har­vested produce.

Root crops can be mixed, but should be separated with mulch to prevent cross-transfer of odors. (See “Separating Fruits and Vegetables,” ahead.)

Figure 1. In-garden storage.
Figure 2. Mound storage.



Copyright 2013 Washington State University

Published December, 1978

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Issued by Washington State University Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in furtherance of the Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Extension programs and policies are consistent with federal and state laws and regulations on nondiscrimination regarding race, sex, religion, age, color, creed, and national or ethnic origin; physical, mental, or sensory disability; marital status or sexual orientation; and status as a Vietnam-era or disabled veteran. Evidence of noncompliance may be reported through your local WSU Extension office. Trade names have been used to simplify information; no endorsement is intended.