A little more on root cellaring

carrotsA few weeks back, I was interviewed for an article in the Boulder Daily Camera called Preserving Your Roots about home root cellaring. I got quite a few questions from friends about one particular part of the article: storing carrots. Since I harvested a full 5-gallon bucket’s worth of carrots this week from our community garden patch, I had the opportunity this weekend to document the process of preparing these carrots for a winter of storage and thought I’d share it here.

Although I have often peeled, chopped (or grated), blanched, and frozen carrots in the past, by April, I’m desperate for something with a bit of crunch. Two years ago, I tried taking the last of the late fall carrots from the farmer’s market, sealing them tight in zip-top bags, and storing them in our extra fridge. They lasted until March, but took up a ton of space that I might have used on another scarce commodity in Colorado winters–good fruit!

So last year, I purchased Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest and read about his recommendation: storing carrots in buckets of damp sand. Carrots need a high amount of humidity to keep their crunch, so the idea behind the wet sand is that it will both help keep the carrots cool and hold in moisture. Here’s what you do.

carrots2First, cut the greens and the stringy roots off of the carrots. I’ve seen a variety of recommendations with regards to whether to keep up to an inch of greenery on the top of the carrots, but I never do this and mine typically keep quite well. Then wash the carrots and pull out any that have insect or shovel damage. These will be the first to spoil and should not be put in with the rest. Either grate & freeze these, or store them in the fridge and use them within a week.

I store my carrots in a 5-gallon food-grade plastic bucket (I have quite a few of these on hand for bulk flour, beans, and grains) with a tight-fitting lid and use play sand purchased from the local hardware store. I use a 1-cup measuring cup to scoop an inch or so of sand into the bottom of the bucket and then start laying the carrots in with additional sand. I need to warn you here that if you don’t have someone with some pretty serious muscles to carry the full bucket to where you intend to store it for the winter (a garage that doesn’t get below freezing or an unheated basement, attic, or crawl space would all work), you might want to consider filling the bucket in its final location–ours was over 50 pounds when it was full!

carrots3If the sand is not already damp (mine sat out in the rain for two days between the time I bought it and when we finally filled the bucket this afternoon), add water until it’s thoroughly damp, but not dripping. Standing water in the bucket would lead to rot, but the carrots need enough moisture in the sand to keep from going limp.

Keep alternating sand and carrots until the bucket is full, put the lid on it, and that’s it. Checking for moisture and adding a cup of water here or there throughout the season may be necessary depending on how dry it is in the room where the carrots are stored. Other root vegetables like celery root, kohlrabi, and beets, can also be stored this way. I also have a friend who uses damp wood shavings instead of sand (make sure the saw dust is from untreated lumber!!), and I’ve even read that you can use dirt or straw, although it seems like insect and rodent problems might be more likely with those materials.

With two weeks to go until the last Boulder County Farmer’s Market, there’s still time to stock up on root veggies, winter squash, onions, and garlic before winter. Doing so now will make sure you have fresh local veggies to enjoy all winter long.

3 thoughts on “A little more on root cellaring

  1. I think the ideal would be to get sand without any silica particles in it (for this or any other use), but since the main health risk the silica particles is inflammation of the lungs from inhalation of the particles, I don’t think damp sand poses much risk for this particular use 🙂 In the sandbox, where kids are constantly throwing sand and the wind blows it, yes, but in the root cellar, I think we’re safe.

    Thanks for the info!!! I had forgotten about this and am going to go look at my bag now since this is the same sand we used in G & L’s sandbox!!

  2. I didn’t hear about this article Julie! 🙂 Cool.

    Do you know anything about silica in sand? That was why I used mulch and sawdust for storing the roots. I had a bag of play sand but was afraid to use it since I didn’t know what was in it.


    Now I am guessing that you just want to be sure to wash off those carrots as well as possible after taking them out of the sand. Fortunately you would do that anyhow on account of the sand!

    Sorry I didn’t remember this before. The stuffiness in my head must have made me remember it somehow!

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