Frugal Cold Storage

by Merissa on October 10, 2012

in Canning and Preserving, Featured

Post image for Frugal Cold Storage

As much as I love canning I also love having fresh produce in the winter. Up here in the north it's hard to come by, at least for a fair price.

Enter cold storage.

Do you picture an underground room with dirt walls and veggies hanging from the ceiling? I did too at first. Or maybe even something a little more modern like my grandma's cold storage room in her basement. Concrete walls and shelves lined with canned goods. Yes, something like that is on my house dream to-do list for someday. But for now, we still want the storage options while making do with what we have.

And let me tell you, what we have is an icky wet crawlspace. When I first started thinking about building some cold storage into our current home I turned to the crawlspace. But no matter how many trenches we dig around the house, how many fans we stick down there, or how many times we have to sub-pump it out, it's always kinda icky and not very reliable.

After I crossed the crawlspace off my checklist I researched some other methods of cold storage. I liked some of the simpler plans and I hope to be able to try them before the weather gets too cold and the ground freezes but for now I needed to come up with a low to no cost solution.

This room in my house did not exist until this spring. Our home was a foreclosure before we bought it and while it sat empty someone broke into this door. It was a mess and cold air blew in right into the living room. Now I don't believe you can live in rural South Dakota and not have an entryway so I suggested that we turn this hallway into one. The cost was very minimal and as you can see, it's still somewhat of a work in progress but it's almost finished besides the final touches. (Paint!) This room has no heating vents and is completely blocked from the rest of the house so it stays cooler (or hotter in the summer). It makes a great mudroom.

It also makes a great bulk storage area. Here you can see my buckets that I use for bulk products in my whole foods stockpile such as rice, beans, grains, ect. The other half of the closet is for coats.

Here is a picture of the whole little room. Do you see my cold storage?

Kind of sad looking at the moment with only some potatoes and winter squash but my next co-op order will bring apples and bulk onions that will also share the area. Once I have more produce I will put a small shelf right here so I can stack the produce better and not take up any more room in the entryway. I'm storing my produce in simple crocks. I buy these for around $5 each at antique stores. These are not the fancy Red Wing crocks, they are simple no design, no brand crocks that usually have cracks or chips. They work great for storage! You don't need to use crocks if you don't have them or don't have access to them. Use 5 gallon buckets, old ice cream pails, or anything else that will hold produce!

Do you have a room in your house that would be suitable for cold storage? To maintain optimum conditions for the produce it needs to stay below 50F (or lower) at all times. Apples like even colder temps closer to 35 degrees.

I'm working on some other methods of cold storage that require a little more work that I will post soon. If you are like me and needing to put something in cold storage now this option will give you decent storage until you have time to build something better. (Because you might not want to store your pantyhose onions in your entryway!) Or maybe this will even work for you all winter long!

Do you do cold storage? What are your methods?

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8:30 am

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Valerie Z October 10, 2012 at 10:21 am

I have a similar entry way and was considering the idea, but won’t the light affect the produce?


2 Merissa October 10, 2012 at 11:58 am

Most of the light in mine is blocked because of the position of the door, but yes, if your entryway gets a lot of light it might not be the best place.


3 Jen October 10, 2012 at 11:45 am

Great idea, our basement is dark and dirty, but it stays around 30-40 degrees in the winter. I’ll have to try this for all our potatoes we’re about to dig up.


4 Sherine October 10, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I am going to wrap some apples in paper, put them in some Styrofoam coolers we have collected and keep them in my workout room. It stays pretty cool in there in the winter, so I’m hoping that will preserve the apples for at least awhile.


5 annie @ montanasolarcreations October 10, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I’ve been trying to figure out a good cold storage area that doesn’t freeze in our cold Montana winters. We have a crawlspace similar to yours so that’s not an option! Right now things are in boxes and buckets in the garage but it is not insulated well enough and we don’t constantly heat it so it will likely freeze in there when we get a really cold spell-but it will work for a little while!


6 Deb K Gholson October 10, 2012 at 4:19 pm

Hub decided two years ago to build his/our own root cellar. Things were going great and very inexpensively until he got in a hurry to cut pegs for the lid molds — he zipped right through his right index finger, cutting it almost completely off to the first knuckle. Ended up having the rest of it taken off. We now have a $15k root cellar. 😉


7 Little House on the Prairie Living October 10, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Oh my Deb! I’m sorry!


8 Linda October 10, 2012 at 7:31 pm

We have no room in my house either. But one thing we do have is a big well house. So that’s where we store potatoes and even canned goods(I build shelves). The temps stay around 40 degrees all year round so its works pretty good for us.


9 RG October 13, 2012 at 3:39 pm

We have a similar place – an entry that isn’t as cold as outside, but not heated either. But what about when it gets really cold here in ND? We have it for cold storage now, but the temps have already gone below freezing a couple of times. Will this make things rot?


10 Merissa October 19, 2012 at 9:41 am

It depends on how low it goes. Temps down to 30 degrees are ok, anything lower than that and you may want to try and find a way to heat it up just a bit.


11 Michelle October 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm

this is awesome! we live in coastal texas, so our winters are completely eratic, mornings are freezing but by afternoons it could be 60-65 degrees. argh! i’ve been trying to think of an inexpensive way for cold storage. i know that we would have to build something and refrigerate it. that is where i know the cost will come in is that refrigeration as hubby saves everything so the materials cost for building would be minimal. any ideas on that? any help would be great. i’ve even thot about seeing if we could solar panel it for the electricity for just that building. mother earth news had a great article on low cost DIY solar panels last issue.


12 Merissa October 17, 2012 at 3:09 pm

I haven’t tried anything like this before but I think it could work great, especially with a home-built or low cost solar panel to power it. Let us know if you end up doing it!


13 Jenny October 17, 2012 at 7:18 pm

I’ve heard that you shouldn’t store apples with the rest of your produce (especially the potatoes). Apparently the apples produce a gas when they ripen that will make other fruits and veggies spoil faster.

I’m not exactly sure about this, but you might want to look into it before you have a mudroom full of rotten veggies welcoming people to your house.


14 Merissa October 17, 2012 at 7:46 pm

As far as I know they have to be in very close proximity or in the same bucket. I will however, be storing mine elsewhere anyways since they won’t fit in this little spot:) A good thing to think about!


15 chris October 20, 2012 at 9:04 am

I tried to do this last year in my garage (the only place that’s feasible right now). I put potatoes, onions, carrots and beets layered in a box with paper in between. I live on the coast so it is very damp here. My veggies all went soft in a very short time and then rotted. What do you suggest I do different?



16 Merissa October 20, 2012 at 10:57 am

It was probably because of the dampness that they rotted. Maybe put a dehumidifier in with them?


17 Notjustgreenfingers October 23, 2012 at 12:45 am

Lol, we store our pumpkins and squashes in our bedroom as it’s the coldest room in the house….so romantic!


18 Hayley October 24, 2012 at 12:34 pm

@ Chris,

Have you tried storing your root vegetables in buckets of sand in your garage? I used to live on an island in the British Channel where it can get quite damp and I used to store my carrots in buckets of sand.


19 Lisa November 1, 2012 at 11:32 am

What a great idea! Why didn’t I think of this???? Our basement is too warm to store produce well, and the little room under the front steps is too damp. We have an unheated entryway with coat closet on one side and a “chest” with a lift up lid on the other. We have always used them to store coats and winter accessories (which makes sense of course) but we don’t use the front door much so it’s really just badly used storage. Now I know a better use. The spare coats and accessories can be packed away. Is it a bit strange? Maybe. But that’s okay. Thanks for the great idea!


20 Joan Blurton November 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm

Has anyone tried trenching potatoes (I don’t like the idea of having to dig up in winter) or burying metal garbage cans? My mother says when she was a child, people (this was in Wyoming) would bury old cast iron tubs in the backyard, and use that for cold storage, with a wood top for a lid.


21 Michelle December 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

we really dont have a single room in our house that will work (not even in our damp basement) we are wondering and trying to figure out if there is a way to build a storage “closet” or box in our non insulated garage but we live in MN where it gets really cold in the winter and I am afraid that the produce would freeze – any suggestions? thanks


22 Mary Beth Elderton December 17, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Well…no. We live in the south where we have no basements and usually have 60+ degree days throughout the winter, only occasionally getting colder and then accompanied by rain. So my choices are refrigerator or freezer. Even air drying can be a challenge due to high humidity.


23 melissa partington January 27, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Our dishwasher succumbed to the fate of all things, and after pulling it out and replacing the hardwood floor that it ruined, we buried it in the side of an earthen mound, upright, just as if installing it under a counter. I will plant a dense groundcover around the door to stabilize the soil there when it gets warmer. But the pull-out racks make it very convenient to store root vegetables, and with its thick layer of insulation, originally designed to keep it quiet, it should keep root veggies very nicely.


24 Schyler March 14, 2013 at 9:59 pm

Joan and Melissa (Hey! Haha!) are right. Bury your food in a container beneath the frost line like our foremothers did. I saw Richard Proenneke do this on the PBS documentary Alone In the Wilderness


25 HeidiG. October 3, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Wow! Great documentary recommendation. We watch a lot of PBS shows, but this is not one we’ve run across. Amazing!


26 CherylR October 11, 2013 at 9:49 pm

Merissa, do you remember the monumental ND winter chronicaled in the “The Long Winter”? First thing that crossed my mind when reading about that storm y’all just had. Started early, then one after another. So sad reading of all the cattle lost up there…many families not yet recovered from the drought. Hope you are stocking up fast, just in case. Best wishes in your new place!!


27 Merissa October 11, 2013 at 9:57 pm

Yes, I have a bad feeling we are in for a winter like that. We will be better prepared for the next storm!


28 CherylR October 11, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Sorry about that mis-spell, should be chronicled. Duh. 🙂


29 Liz Alley October 18, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Thought I would add a thought about the cold storage. If you have some old
clay pots, preferable large, and put sand instide the bigger one,then nestled the other clay pot down in & put veggies in it; it creates kind of a mini like frig. Something with the damp sand evaporating & making it cooler. Read it a while ago & have been doing this for a few veggies in my hubbies old shop out back.Thanks Enjoy your articles & hope to head up that way one day. Have a friend in Montana I need to see sooooooo, road trip. LOL Liz


30 Chris Turner Pasek October 24, 2013 at 10:44 pm

We have a sunroom on the south side of our house off our kitchen and I generally use it for cold storage all winter…it is usually about 20 degrees warmer in there than it is outside so I do monitor the outdoor temp and if it goes below 10 degrees I haul all the plants and anything else that is out there into the kitchen for the night. I have a ceiling fan that goes 24/7 and in the winter I have one of those radiator heaters that I put right under the fan to circulate the warmer air around the plants that are out there. The plants all get the bright light and anything else that is stored there goes behind the tables and is covered up. Even in the winter on a very sunny day that room can get to 80+ degrees during the day but about 4 PM it starts to get really cold in there again. Some days it is 85 in the sunroom, 80 in the kitchen with the sunroom door open and 72 in the living room on the north side of the house and it seems really cold in there and it’s not. I also have an old fridge in the basement that I use to store some stuff in too… is really cold and I have to make sure things don’t touch the back of the fridge or it will freeze .


31 Donna October 25, 2013 at 3:22 am

When I was a kid we didn’t have a basement and my Daddy always dug a big hole in the garden and lined it with straw and put our potatoes and turnips in it. Layered it with more straw and mounded it up with dirt. When Mommy needed Veggies, Daddy would go out with the pitch fork and dig her out some and cover it back over real deep.We did this every year as long as I can remember.


32 BARBARA July 24, 2015 at 1:03 pm

My family continues that method today & we’ve no problems with any of it rotting, freezing, etc. Also, cabbage with winter squash are just as easy to “hole up.” Although this is July 24th, 2015 this method is already discussed & resolved in our household as with the rest of our family. You know, What is old is new again. Love it.


33 Tina October 25, 2013 at 11:38 am

I live in GA (Atlanta area). We’re at 53 degrees right now, and I don’t recall it being this cool in late October. About the only place I can think of to do cold storage is our covered back deck, and anything I would put out there would have to be well protected against squirrels, possums, and other night animals. (While there’s a top cover on the deck, it’s open on the sides.) Is it possible to do cold storage in GA or is this only for people who live up north?


34 Merissa October 25, 2013 at 11:44 am

You should be able to you will just need to monitor the temps/humidity a little more carefully. It might work best for you to bury your food. (If possible)


35 Tina October 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

We do have a backyard. That might work. 🙂


36 Carrie January 3, 2014 at 8:41 pm

I like the crocks very much…country-chic? 🙂 my parents have a swimming pool and buy chlorine tabs by the 5-8 gal bucket full in the summer. I snag one or two (cleaned several times of course) every time I visit to dump apples and potatoes in. I did learn to make sure you rotate your veggies or fruit periodically for good air flow! I’m gonna try the squash! Ps… These huge buckets are also good for composting and potting soil…they come with lids! Double win 🙂


37 Lori January 25, 2014 at 6:35 am

I had the same aha! moment and started using our laundry room, which is an addition also with no heat or cooling. I keep potatoes, onions and winter squash in there. We live in the south so our winters can still have high temps, so I have to watch them, but overall it works really great!


38 Abigail April 11, 2014 at 8:34 am

We have a stone cold room attached to our living room. It stays way below 50 even in the heat of summer but in winter it does fall below freezing.

Ive been looking into canning and fresh cold storage and was wondering if the room dropping below freezing would be a problem for fresh apples, pears, squash and also for canned goods?


39 tracy April 27, 2014 at 6:59 pm

This might be old-fashioned, but here in Kansas we would find a top loading washing machine on the curb or at the dump and take out the motor. We would bury it outside the kitchen door. We kept an old broom near the space. When we needed veggies or apples we would brush off the washer lid and open to get what we needed.


40 Rachel September 6, 2014 at 8:30 am

Hey Tracy I’m in missouri. And worried about the humidity. We were wanting to do something similar. So I was wondering did it rust or the veggies go bad quickly?


41 loyda February 18, 2015 at 9:13 am

Thanks for posting this on FB, I live in AR and every year we have tried to store they have all rotted.. We have a sunroom that is unheated/cooled and in Sept/Oct the temperatures fluctuate way to much and the squash (acorn, spaghetti and butternut) went bad.. So this last year I put them in the produce bin in our refrigerator.. Had them there a month and they went bad…. Just not sure what to try next….. 🙁


42 Eve June 7, 2015 at 4:58 pm

We have a “cellar” built into the side of a hill. The roof is covered with soil and grass grows on it. The door has thick polystyrene in it to insulate the space. This works very well in winter (we have frosts but it doesn’t often snow here). In summer when the weather gets hot, it’s always a cool space. We live in the Nelson area in New Zealand.


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