Are you looking for a place to store all of your winter produce but your home is not equipped with the perfect root cellar? Here’s how to create DIY Cold Storage no matter what type of home you live in!
DIY 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!
That’s where cold storage comes in.
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, we’ve been lucky enough to have that too. But if an entire cold storage room isn’t an option for you, you probably still want the storage options while making do with what you have.
And let me tell you, what I started with was an icky wet crawlspace. When I first started thinking about building some cold storage into our first home I turned to the crawlspace. But no matter how many trenches we dug 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, too wet, and not very reliable.
After I crossed the crawlspace off my checklist I researched some other methods of cold storage. Here are some ideas on how I’ve set up a DIY cold storage in the homes that we’ve lived in over the years. Maybe one of them will provide you with some inspiration on how you also can have cold storage in your home.
Our first 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. 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 made a great bulk storage area. Here you can see my buckets with Gamma lids that I use for bulk products in my whole foods stockpile such as rice, beans, grains, ect. The other half of the closet was for coats.
Here is a picture of the whole little room. Do you see my cold storage?
I didn’t have much yet at the time I took this picture, only some potatoes and winter squash but my next co-op order brought apples and bulk onions that also shared the area. Once I added more produce will put a small shelf right here so I could stack the produce better and not take up any more room in the entryway.
I love to store my produce in simple old 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!
If you are like me and need to put something in cold storage now, without having a special basement area, 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!)
But who knows, maybe this will even work for you all winter long!
In another home we lived in, I actually had that amazing concrete room that was just perfect to create DIY cold storage. We built bins and shelves to store all of the produce in single layers. It was glorious!
Foods to Put in Cold Storage
Each year, I get busy lately putting up fresh produce for our winter stockpile. There are many winters that I can get to January without having to pay full grocery store out-of-season price.
This is where cold storage comes in. We can stock up on bulk and cheap in-season and end-of-season produce and store it where we will be able to enjoy it for many months to come. In the rest of this article, I’m going to be talking about various produce and how long it will last in your cold storage. I’ll also share how it’s best to keep it, and what varieties you should look for to last the longest.
–Find more Ways to Make Produce Last Longer here.
Apples will last from 2 to 7 months in cold storage depending on what variety you choose. It’s best if apples are individually wrapped in newspaper, although you can also just store in a cardboard box or wooden crate. Tart apples will keep longer and better than sweet varieties so look for Fuiji, Pink Lady, Cameo, or Honey Crisp.
–Here’s how to make Apple Syrup with apple peelings!
Pears will last 2 to 3 months if properly stored. Wrap individual pears in newspaper and ensure they stay stored around 30 degrees. Look for Bosc and D’Anjou.
–Click here for a simple Pear Tart Recipe.
Potatoes will last for 4 to 6 months. They shouldn’t be stored near apples or any other ethylene-releasing produce. Look for Kennebec or Yukon gold.
—Old Fashioned Scalloped Potatoes in the slow cooker.
Sweet Potatoes should be stored similar to potatoes and will last 4 to 6 months when stored properly. Look for Centennial and Jewell varieties.
–Need a meal idea? Here’s a Chicken, Beans, and Sweet Potatoes Sheet Pan Supper.
Onions should be dry on the outside before they are stored. They will last for 5 to 8 months. You can wrap these with newspaper or use the Pantyhose Onion Storage method. Onions should be stored in a very dry environment and should be allowed to breath in what they are stored in (no plastic). Look for Stuttgarter, Brunswick, Yellow Glove, or Red Burgandy. (No sweet varieties.)
–We like to use fresh onions in Homemade Taverns!
Pumpkins will last for 5 to 6 months when stored with a small portion or their stem still on. Winter Luxury is a good variety to look for.
–Here are 11 Ways to Use Pumpkin Seeds.
Winter Squash will last for 4 to 6 months in cold storage. Look for Delicata, Hubbard, and Butternut varieties. Do not clean the squash before storing.
–Learn How to Cook Winter Squash.
These are really just basic winter storage produce varieties but if you are new to cold storage, these are a good place to start. Once you get the hang of it and get a great system set up you can also learn to store other produce such as radishes, rutabagas, turnips, and more.
For all things cold storage, I highly recommend the book Root Cellaring. It contains so many different ideas on how to have proper cold storage and it makes it so easy to look up the produce that you are trying to store and find out what to do with it.
More DIY Cold Storage Ideas
Here was a picture of our final cold storage in our first home. It consisted of a simple wire shelf unit and old crocks. I left the apples in apple boxes with layers of paper between them.
I have a room set up in the most underground part of my basement. It stays cool in here year-round. – Carlye Ann H. (Little House Living Reader)
Here’s where I store my canned goods in our basement! Potatoes and onions are stored in another room further under the house. – Hannah M. (Little House Living Reader)
I have a cold room built into my basement. It stays about 5C all year. It’s about 8ftx12ft, with shelves built on the wall and a standing rack in the middle. Storing my potatoes in there for the first time. – Kristina G. (Little House Living Reader)
Our root cellar here in the Smokies. – Judith H. (Little House Living Reader)
Do you do cold storage? What are your methods?
This blog post on DIY Cold Storage was originally published on Little House Living in October 2010. It has been updated with new information in September 2019.