All the Best Ways to Store Vegetables Over Winter

  • Maybe you got lucky with a great harvest this year, more than you can possibly eat at once or give away to friends. Or maybe your garden wasn’t as productive as it usually is, and you want to make sure what’s harvested won’t go to waste.
  • In the old days, things were simpler—almost everything from the garden just went into the root cellar for safekeeping through winter.
  • Most modern homes don’t have root cellars, so it takes a bit of experimentation (and creativity) to find the right balance of space, temperature, and proper ventilation so you can store vegetables for a long time.
  • If you want to maximize the shelf life of your hard-won harvest, keep reading!
  • How to make sure your vegetables will last in storage

  • Surprise: The refrigerator isn’t always the best place to keep vegetables.
  • If you want to enjoy that delicious bounty of food through fall and winter (and maybe even spring), it’s important to grow the right varieties, pick them at the right time, and provide the right conditions that keep them fresh (or dormant) for as long as possible.
  • 1. Grow a reliable storage variety.

  • There’s no better way to maximize storage life than by growing a long-storing variety in the first place.
  • If I wanted homegrown onions in December, for example, I wouldn’t grow Alisa Craig or Walla Walla, which have a shelf life of just a month. I’d go for an onion variety like Copra, which can last up to a year under optimal conditions!
  • These varieties are known to stay sound the longest:
  • Yellow onions
  • Copra
  • Newburg
  • Patterson
  • White onions
  • Southport White Globe
  • Sterling
  • Stuttgarter
  • Red onions
  • Red Creole
  • Red Wethersfield
  • Redwing
  • Winter squash
  • All cultivars of Cucurbita maxima (Banana, Buttercup, Butternut, Hubbard, and Turban winter squash, to name a few)
  • Garlic
  • Artichoke
  • Creole
  • Silverskin
  • Potatoes

  • Burbank Russet
  • Katahdin
  • Kennebec
  • Red Chieftain
  • Rose Finn Apple Fingerling
  • Russian Banana Fingerling
  • Yukon Gem
  • Yukon Gold
  • 2. Pick vegetables at the right time.

    Vegetables that are picked at peak maturity will last longer than underdeveloped or overripe vegetables. So, try to delay harvest for as long as possible, unless frost is coming or pests are threatening to decimate your entire crop.

    Related: Find First and Last Frost Dates Accurately with This Custom Planting Calendar

    When you harvest, handle the vegetables gently. Any produce that’s bruised, nicked, or otherwise damaged or imperfect should be set aside to use up first.

    3. Give your vegetables enough time to cure before storing them.

    Certain vegetables need to be cured in order to keep well in storage. This process dries and hardens the skin so your vegetables are less susceptible to premature rot.

  • Curing also heals any wounds and gives the vegetables time to get sweeter or more flavorful, as starches are converted into sugars.

  • Garlic should be cured in a warm and dry area out of direct sunlight for 2 to 4 weeks. (Timing will depend on how humid your climate is.) Here’s everything you need to know to cure your garlic properly.

  • Onions need 1 to 2 weeks of dry, warm conditions for the necks to dry down completely and the skins to become papery. Follow this step-by-step guide on how to harvest and cure your onions.

    Potatoes have a simple, two-step curing process: Once the foliage has died back, leave the tubers in the ground for about 1 week to allow their skins to thicken and “set.” Then, harvest all the potatoes and leave them in a dark, well-ventilated area (ideally with 85 to 90 percent relative humidity) for 1 to 2 weeks to finish curing.

    Sweet potatoes should be cured in a warm, sunny area (80°F to 85°F with at least 85 percent relative humidity) for 7 to 10 days before storing.

    Winter squash need to be cured in the sun while it’s warm and dry for 1 to 2 weeks. Here’s exactly how you cure pumpkins and other winter squash.

    4. Pay attention to temperature and humidity requirements.

    Most vegetables like being stored in very cold conditions. The majority prefer temperatures between 32°F to 38°F for optimal keeping, though notable exceptions are sweet potatoes (which store best in warmer temperatures of 55°F to 60°F) and winter squash (which should be kept between 50°F to 55°F).

    High humidity is often preferred as well (up to 90 percent relative humidity for root vegetables and potatoes).

  • Unfortunately, home refrigerators are warmer and drier than most of your produce likes: around 40°F with 50 to 60 percent relative humidity.

    To make up for these conditions, you can increase humidity by wrapping your vegetables in damp towels or storing them inside plastic grocery bags to keep them from drying out.

  • 5. Keep certain crops away from others in storage.

    As a gardener, you’re likely familiar with companion plants.

  • Many fruits emit ethylene (a naturally occurring, colorless, and odorless chemical) as they ripen, and this chemical speeds up ripening for other produce as well, causing them to spoil sooner than they normally would.

    So, it’s best to keep high-ethylene producers away from most other fruits and vegetables in storage (and away from each other) if you want things to last longer.

    High-ethylene producers include:

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Avocados
  • Okay, real talk: If you have a “typical” home (and not a home with a large butler’s pantry, basement storage, or root cellar), how can you keep all these high-ethylene producers away from each other?

    The first thing you should do is avoid piling them all together in a bowl on the counter (unless you plan to eat them within a few days).

  • Cantaloupe
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Try to dedicate a bowl or basket to each type of produce, and put them in different areas—perhaps one in each corner of the kitchen, one on each shelf in your pantry, and one on the dining table, for instance.

    Cooler temperatures also help produce stay fresher longer, so avoid storing them in direct sunlight or right next to the stove.

    You can also refrigerate fruits to slow down the ripening process and extend their shelf life. However, you should only do this with fully ripe fruit—so keep them at room temperature until ripe, then place the fruits in a bowl (with plastic wrap over it) or in a plastic bag, and refrigerate.

  • Winter vegetable storage tips by crop

    For the most comprehensive overview on how to store your vegetables, herbs, and fruits, check out my Fruit & Vegetable Storage Guide.

    It’s a downloadable ebook filled with useful tips and easy-to-read charts that you can print and hang in the pantry to help you waste less food in the kitchen!

    You can also follow the tips below for storing the most common harvests this time of year.

    Root vegetables

    Root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, and parsnips can be stored right where they are: in the ground!

    In fact, this is the best place to keep them through winter as the soil provides just the right amount of moisture (90 to 95 percent humidity) and cold (32°F) that they like.

    Let your root crops grow for as long as possible (but before they turn woody) until right before the first frost. Then, cut off all the green tops, leaving just a couple inches of stem above ground so you know where they are.

  • Spread a heavy layer of mulch over them (up to 8 inches thick if you live in a very cold climate—you want to keep the soil from freezing solid) and leave the crops in place.

    When you’re ready to harvest, just push some mulch aside, pull the vegetable, then cover the bare soil with mulch.

    If you’ve already harvested all your root vegetables, store them in the fridge with the greens removed. Store the greens like you would other leafy greens (wrapped in a towel inside a plastic bag or placed inside these amazing cotton produce bags).

    Leave the roots unwashed and loosely sealed in a plastic bag. The bag helps hold in moisture so the roots don’t go limp as quickly.

    If you like the convenience of prewashed vegetables for salads and snacks, scrub the roots clean, then refrigerate them in containers filled with water.

    This method works especially well for radishes (which I like to keep in bowls) and carrots (which can be stored horizontally in wide, shallow containers, or upright in tall, half-gallon mason jars). No lid is needed unless you’re worried about accidental spills.

    By storing root vegetables in water like this, they’ll stay nice and crisp for weeks! Just be sure to give a fresh change of water every few days if it starts to cloud.