Did you have a good garden this year? Many of our readers have reported they’re growing bumper crops of carrots, turnips, potatoes, and other root veggies. But using them up is always a challenge. You don’t want them to go to waste so what can you do? Many root vegetables, like carrots, can be kept right in the garden over the winter when covered with a thick layer of mulch. But it’s not very convenient. The method of storing root vegetables in sand indoors not only provides an efficient way for you to reduce waste, but also helps you conserve energy, save money, and put delicious, quality produce on the table for months to come—no root cellar needed!
Which Fresh Root Vegetables and Fruits Store Well in Sand?
Vegetables that store exceptionally well in sand are turnips, beets, rutabaga, carrots, parsnips, salsify, ginger, onions, and winter radishes. Firm fleshed fruits such as apples and pears also keep well in sand.
The Basics of Storing Root Vegetables in Sand
- Temperature. Root crops require cold and moisture when stored in sand. They are best stored at a temperature of 32 to 40° F. with 90 to 95 percent relative humidity. High humidity helps keep carrots and other vegetables from shriveling. Apples and pears require the same cold temperatures with a relative humidity of 80-90 percent.
- Container. Use cardboard or wood boxes placed off the ground on pallets. The crisper drawer in the refrigerator also easily transforms into a mini root cellar. Plastic storage bins also work.
- Location, location: In the book, Root Cellaring, authors Mike and Nancy Bubel advise, “All you need …is a 3.5′ x 7′ space. It will hold 28 half-bushels of produce.” The room you store your veggies in will need to be unheated, enclosed, and well insulated. If you have a basement, a corner or a closet can easily be converted into a root cellar. If you don’t have a basement, you can use an interior corner of an unheated garage or storage shed during the cooler months, as long as the temperature does not drop below freezing.
- Type of sand. Once you’ve decided on a suitable location to store your root vegetables, you’ll need “play” sand to pack the harvested vegetables. Play sand is a fine-grade sand that has been washed, dried, and screened. This type of sand is used in children’s sandboxes and landscaping projects. It is usually sold in 50 lbs. bags at your local garden and home improvement stores. Play sand is typically damp—not soggy. If it isn’t, you can add some sand to a bucket and moisten with a spray bottle of distilled water and toss sand with your hands to evenly distribute moisture, before packing root vegetables. The sand locks in freshness and deters rot by keeping excess moisture away from the vegetables.
Procedure for Sand Storage
- Remove the leafy tops of vegetables before storing them, but don’t clean or wash the root vegetables prior to storage. Let them sit in the air for a couple of days prior to storage to let the skins “cure.”
- Select the best of the crop—mature, but not overripe, unbruised, and unblemished produce.
- Pour a layer of sand, several inches deep, into your storage container. Work your fruit or vegetables into the sand, adding more sand and vegetables in layers, making sure the sand covers the vegetables being stored, and allow for space between the vegetables.
- Store carrots and parsnips as they grow, vertically in the sand, ensuring they do not touch each other.
- Don’t store apples and root vegetables together. Apples release ethylene gas that would speed the ripening and process and can cause your root vegetables to rot.
- If your storage room is dry, check the sand periodically. Add moisture when needed to keep the sand from drying out. An easy way to do this is to spray the sand with distilled water, as needed.
- Check stored food every week or so, culling those veggies showing signs of deterioration.
- Generally, root crops should stay fresh in sand for two to five months.
- Remember, the vegetables are stored to eat through the winter months, So, eat them before signs of spoilage appear.
- When you’re ready to eat your vegetables, remove the desired quantity, dust the sand off, and clean thoroughly before preparing.
Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004.