How To Root Cellar Carrots in a Crawl Space (www.newlifeonahomestead.com)

Prepping Carrots for Storage

Before you store your carrots there are a couple of things you definitely want to do to keep them from going limp over time:

Do not wash the carrots. Gently brush the dirt off of the roots before storage, and wait until you’re ready to eat them before you wash them off.

Cut the green stems off. Otherwise, they will continue to sap nutrients out of the roots and the carrots will get rubbery.

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Remove any damaged carrots from the group. These are more susceptible to deterioration during storage, which could spread to the healthy carrots around them. Better to use these up right away.

The Storage Experiment

June, 2014

I’ve read about many ways to store fresh carrots, but I’ve never tried any of them long term. In the past 5 1/2 years of homesteading, I’ve learned many times over again that books don’t always get it right, nor do they always give you all of the information you’ll need to be successful. Something might sound good on paper, but when you try it in real life you encounter problems that you never envisioned having to deal with. Until you try it yourself, you really don’t know what to expect.

Since we had a great harvest this year, I thought I’d do some experimenting with seeing how well fresh carrots will store long term. We don’t have a basement or a root cellar, but we do have a crawl space under the house which stays very cool throughout the summer months. I figured I’d stick a tub of carrots down there to see how long they’d last, and note any problems I run into.

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I started with a clean plastic storage tub. I knew the mice would chew through a wooden box in no time, so I wanted to use something rodent proof.

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I put a 2″ layer of damp sand in the bottom of the tub. This isn’t any special “clean” sand. I had a truckload of it brought in from a local landscaping company when we laid our brick sidewalk, and this was leftover. I had been storing it in old trashcans to keep it from getting spread all over the ground. Recent rains made the sand moist, so I didn’t have to do anything to wet it before using it for the carrots. You do want the sand to be damp though, if you want your carrots to stay crisp.

I chose sand because it was what I had. Sawdust from untreated wood can also be used. I even read somewhere that you can use wild moss from the woods… which would be interesting to try.

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Next, I laid the carrots on top of the sand, giving them a little bit of room between each. I’ve read that it’s best that they don’t touch during storage, and I’ve also read that it doesn’t matter if they touch. I just thought I’d play it safe. You also want to give them some space between the carrots and the walls of the container for better insulation. Don’t have them right up against the walls of the box or tub.

Cover the carrots with 2″ of damp sand, and repeat the layering process.

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For my second layer, I put some of the Dragon carrots in there to see how they store compared to the St. Valery variety.

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Finish it off by covering the carrots with another 2″ or more of sand.

I only did two layers of carrots because I didn’t want to waste too many if it didn’t go well.

Into The Crawl Space

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There is an approx. 3′ tall space underneath our home that stays a cool 60-ish degrees during the sweltering summer months- our crawl space. It’s the closest thing we have to a root cellar at the moment.  It was all I could do to push the tub of sand and carrots into the crawl space. It was extremely heavy. In all I used about 8 or 9 gallons of damp sand.

Would it work? How long would the carrots stay good in there?  I was dying to find out.

I put a thermometer on top of the container so that I could keep an eye on the temperature periodically.

…3 Months Later

September, 2014

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It has been about three months since I stored the freshly harvested carrots. I wanted to see how well they were holding up.

Strapping a headlamp around my head, I crawled underneath the house and dug around in the sand until I retrieved a handful of carrots. I was surprised to discover that the tops had started growing back, though obviously not green due to lack of sunlight.

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After washing them off I could better see how they were holding up. One had a rotten spot on it, but the rest were still surprisingly firm. I trimmed off the ends, peeled them, and we ate the carrots fresh right then.

A couple of weeks later I fished out a few more carrots for dinner. Most were still good, but a few had rotten spots as before.

…5 Months Later

November, 2014

It has now been about five months since I initially stored the carrots in the crawl space. Yesterday, I went under the house to dig up what remained of the harvest.

I dug. And dug. And shifted sand all around. But I found no carrots.

It seems the carrots have rotted and decomposed, leaving nothing but orange stains in the still-moist sand. Very interesting.

The thermometer was reading 58*.

Conclusion

Storing fresh carrots in damp sand in the crawl space definitely prolonged their life. The carrots stayed very fresh for the first three months of storage. If I had checked on them more often, removing the rotting carrots as needed, they might possibly have lasted longer.

The St. Valery carrots seemed to store better than the red Dragon carrots.

Not sure how well this method would work on store-bought carrots, since they’ve already been washed. It would be interesting to try.

Have you ever tried root cellaring carrots? What has your experience been?