The winter root cellar is an ancient, cost-effective means of storing vegetables for year-round consumption without any extra fuel or electric costs. Not all vegetables store well in the cellar, however; tender, heat-loving vegetables with high water content, like tomatoes and peppers, are not good candidates for storage, while root vegetables like beets, turnips, and carrots can stay crisp and delicious for many months. Selecting the proper storage varieties and growing them especially for winter storage will help ensure that you have high-quality, fresh vegetables from your root cellar all year.
Turn ample amounts of well-rotted compost into the ground with a shovel to feed your storage crops all season; do not add further fertilizer as this may rush the plants' growth and lead to vegetables that do not store as well. Plant seeds in the prepared bed according to package cultivation instructions for seed depth and spacing.
Water your winter cellar seeds with the hose immediately after planting, and keep them well-watered throughout the growing season, especially through the late summer and fall before harvest. After the seedlings have emerged and reached a few inches tall, place mulch--straw, shredded leaves, or pine needles--around them to a depth of 6 inches. Place 6 inches of mulch under any winter squash or pumpkins to keep them off the ground.
Harvest vegetables for winter cellar storage at the peak of ripeness; do not pick immature or allow to overripen. Cut winter squash and pumpkins cleanly from the vine with bypass hand pruners, keeping several inches of stem attached. Cut greens from beets, turnips, and celeriac with kitchen shears, leaving 2 to 3 inches of greens attached to the top of the root vegetable.
Wash the vegetables gently, taking care not to bruise them. Sort any bruised and broken vegetables and remove them for prompt eating or freezing; keep whole, unblemished vegetables aside for winter cellar storage.
Set washed root vegetables other than onions and garlic on drying screens in a shady, dry location for a few hours to dry, then place into winter cellar storage. Place onions, garlic, winter squash and pumpkins on drying screens in indirect light in a dry location for two weeks to cure before placing in the winter cellar.