Most root vegetables could stay in the ground until their consumption during winter. However, they are often harvested in fall because soil is still loose. Freezing indeed makes harvesting difficult, and in the ground, root crops often perish from excess cold, moisture, or are nibbled on by hungry animals. If you do not have a cellar, it is possible to create a buried or above-ground silo to preserve them better. Here are a few construction techniques.
1- The role of the silo
The silo’s role is to keep vegetables safe from biting cold, moisture, and rodents.
That’s why, in light and well-drained soil, you can simply leave your root vegetables in place in the ground. Just spread a good layer of leaves or dry straw covered with a plastic tarp to insulate them from the cold and moisture.
A silo also makes it easier to retrieve a few vegetables for cooking every now and then. You don’t need to labor with the spade in hard soil.
Which vegetables and how to harvest them?
- For vegetable harvesting, choose a dry and sunny day. To pull out the roots without injuring them, pull on leaves as much as possible. It helps to use a broadfork or spading fork for leverage to lift the soil up.
- Only keep healthy roots, because any sick ones would contaminate the whole silo.
- Shake the earth off without brushing or washing them so as not to injure them. They don’t need to be very clean.
- Remove foliage by twisting it off near the collar (top of the root). Ensure that your vegetables are well dried when storing them in the silo.
2- How to build an outdoor root cellar?
Building a traditional root silo
It’s a cinch to build a root cellar in a basement or garden using just a few cinder blocks with straw or dried ferns for insulation. This insulating layer helps maintain a constant temperature between 32 and 39.2°F (between 0 and 4°C).
- Start by building a small enclosure using two layers of cinder blocks (or nailing together boards, like you would for a compost bin), then lay about 4 inches of straw or dried ferns (10 cm) on the bottom. Another way is to dig a hole in the ground, roughly 24×24 or 36×36 inches (60×60 or 90×90 cm), and line the bottom and sides with straw or dried ferns.
- Next, arrange a layer of vegetables well spaced from one another,
- followed by a new layer of straw, leaf compost, fiber, or even untreated wood chips or sawdust. This material should ensure effective insulation and ventilation to prevent the vegetables from rotting.
- Keep stacking several layers in this manner.
- Finish off with the insulating layer (straw, etc.) before spreading 4 inches of soil on top (10 cm).
- Cover everything with a waterproof tarp or fitted boards to protect the root cellar from rain.
- If you’re using a sloping metal sheet, make sure to dig a small trench to divert runoff water away from the root cellar.
Building a recycled root cellar
You can also use a large plastic trash bin with its lid:
- Set up your trash bin against a wall in a sheltered area of the garden or in a garage,
- insert slightly damp sand (cool to the touch) between the layers of vegetables instead of straw,
- Then simply place the lid on top to protect the root cellar from rodents.
An old washing machine drum, buried in the ground, can also serve as a root cellar!