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Outdoor Fresh Produce Pit Storage Techniques (Today - Cabbage Storage) Refrigerator -Free

I have had excellent success pit storing our potatoes - harvesting them in late June or early July, and pulling potatoes out of the pit the following April that haven't even begun to wrinkle yet. So I decided to share the methods I use, and am trying currently.

We'll start with the experimental Cabbage storage set up, and when I put up the potatoes in their pit, I will share that process as well.

Cabbage Storage:

Old school cabbage storage.

This is an experiment for me. I wanted to see how long cabbages could be kept in good shape in the summer in outdoor pit storage. This method is what the old timers generally used for fall cabbage or celery storage into winter and the entire structure is then finally mounded with straw and then dirt to protect from freezing. The ground then provides some warmth and correct humidity. I improved on it a bit instead of using stakes and wood walls, and took extra advantage of the structure of old pallets.

But, I am attempting the opposite, Summer Storage. I picked a shady spot, so the ground will provide its cooler temperature and humidity. But I am not burying the entire structure. The straw will generally keep bugs at bay and insulate, but being summer, I expect to have to continually check for mice jacking themselves a home in our straw and box now and then because it isn't topped with straw and dirt, but time will tell.

I did this June 8th, and checked today June 12th - they look like they did when I put them in there so far. Our temps are averaging in the 80's this time of year and 60's / 70's at night. It will get much hotter. Into the 90's easily in the next months.

I'll update the results in the comments over time.

It's easier to view, and read the bottom 'descriptions' by clicking HERE and viewing album in it's own window.

Coming Next:

How to store potatoes in an outdoor pit all winter. We have had great success with pit storing potatoes all winter.

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Because: Some animals are more equal than other animals. -Animal Farm-

What the? > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MTIwY3_-ks

The one thing I would be

The one thing I would be worried about here is spiders deciding to use the area to build a home, specifically poisoness ones if you have them around. I would put some sort of bug/spider repellent down to give additional protection with the straw, natural of course since thats food.

To climb the mountain, you must believe you can.

bigmikedude's picture

Around here, that's just part of life.

Of all the places I have ever lived I have never seen so many freakin spiders. They are a nuisance around here in the mountains. You constantly have surprise run-ins with all different kinds of them in the house and outside, and Widows are everywhere but they generally seem to be found outside. Sometimes in the garage, but not real often. You're going to have them, no matter what. You have to constantly check things for them. Everything you are about to touch. Scorpions too. We even find those in the house now and then. (which is why you NEVER just put on some shoes or boots without knocking the heels together Lol) I even find the widows occasionally under the cantaloupes in the garden, so I pick stuff very carefully.

But in the end, in experiencing so many different types, you learn something - 99.999% of spiders want absolutely nothing to do with you. They want you to leave them alone, they want to go about their business, they want to run away or become invisible hoping you don't notice them. You pretty much have to force spiders to bite, by doing something purposefully or accidentally that leaves them no choice in their mind but to bite.

Ironically enough, I got rid of a widow the day I built this when I noticed its web in the firewood rack as I walked by. After a while, you know there's a Widow just by looking at the way a web looks. And if you run a finger through it, you'll know immediately. It's far tougher than any other spider's web.

They are really not an issue as long as you are always on the lookout for them and remain aware that there always may be one where you are about to reach. In other words, you don't just go reaching into or under stuff without having a look first, doing it very carefully, or wearing gloves.

In fact, they pretty much are always in the rocks in my herb garden:

Hmm, last time I had

Hmm, last time I had cantalopes growing, a black widow ended up under one of them as well. Well, I killed it and killed its egg sack. There must be something about that plant that draws them. I say this because while these spiders are found in my area, they are more uncommon than anything. I rarely see them and the total number of times I have seen them outside is like 3, once being under a cantalope.

To climb the mountain, you must believe you can.

bigmikedude's picture

I noticed them feeding

on fruit flies believe it or not. Lol. At least that's what often seems to be in their web and around the cantaloupes I've found them under. You wouldn't think a fruit fly would be worth bothering with to a spider that size.

But then again, people and black bears waste all that time with berries that take hundreds of to accomplish anything with.

How to get rid of ALL bugs & vermin in buildings


Because: Some animals are more equal than other animals. -Animal Farm-

What the? > http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MTIwY3_-ks

Michael Nystrom's picture

This is so awesome Mike

Thanks for sharing.

To be mean is never excusable, but there is some merit in knowing that one is; the most irreparable of vices is to do evil out of stupidity. - C.B.

Nice one Mike!

Another technique that's new to me. This is a lot less labor intensive than root cellaring so it does better for larger crop harvests. Seems good for shorter duration storage (in the grander scale) but rodents and other environmental epicurians might be more of a problem. And like a cellar you'd wanna keep it off low ground/high water table areas. Ya don't want those filling up with water.

If anyone hasn't already been pressured into scoring my book on the subject of long term food storage it has complimentary methods for this gem along with the science that makes it all work.

Maybe I'll make a new version and get you folks to collaborate on it, make it a multi-author thing....

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.


Do you think it would work in the DFW, Texas area?

Do you water the cabbages? Is it okay for the rain to get them wet?

bigmikedude's picture

Being at ground level

the ground moisture from rain keeps them watered. And being in an enclosed area, in the shade, the dirt should retain about all the moisture they need. I don't know about drier areas, you may have to hose the soil around the outside of the box occasionally, in that situation. Maybe once a week or so, but I really don't know without experiencing that situation.

deacon's picture

Sounds like what

they used to call root cellars.

If we deny truth before your very eyes,then the rest of what we have to say,is of little consequence

Hybrid pit storage

yeah I deal with storage in a hole in my book but look at those ventilated retaining walls...I can see dismantling those and stacking them until they are needed after next year's harvest. That kinda makes it flexible, scalable.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

deacon's picture

I had that E-book

That was,until the comp caught a nasty virus,and was then totally wiped
and redone,guess I should hard copied that aye? :)

If we deny truth before your very eyes,then the rest of what we have to say,is of little consequence

Too glad to furnish you with another copy

PM me bro.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

I will be interested in your

I will be interested in your follow up post on this. Especially the potato storage.

I have been looking at methods of storing my produce long term, preferably without a fridge. I was considering making a storage pit by burring an old chest freezer but have been concerned about maintaing air circulation and humidity.
Instead I have opted to build a potato rack to store them inside for now while I do more research. I hope to start on it this week as I should be harvesting soon. I will also hang some onions and garlic and freeze others.

So did I follow that right that you re bury the roots when you placed them into storage?

OK the fridge thing

Like that?

1. Please make sure to remove all the cooling apparatus, the lines, the fins, the pump before doing this. That stuff is poison to living things.

2. Totally drill some big holes in the bottom unless your area's soil tends to bog. If you can line the hole with gravel or small rocks underneath it, so much the better for drainage.

3. The trick here is propping the door open when it's coolest and closing it when it's not.

There is nothing strange about having a bar of soap in your right pocket, it's just what's happening.

Yeah, something like that. I

Yeah, something like that. I was planning on lining the bottom and sides with 6-12in of gravel. I would place it lower so the top of the fridge sat a few inches below the ground and place an additional cover on top of it so the sun did not hit it directly.

I didn't think about propping it open. But here in North Alabama (and when I move back home in a few years South Louisiana) during the summer the only 'cool' time is at night.

bigmikedude's picture

I'll post pics of the potato pit procedure

probably within the next two to four weeks when I harvest mine. The pit will make your potatoes outlast any other home storage method. An old timer taught me how to do it, and I swear by it now.

Close to ideal temps, and ideal humidity, naturally.

They'll last months in it. From June to the next April. (As long as you aren't in Yuma AZ or a rainforest or something. Lol)

The first year I did it, I buried them in late June I believe. We hit record 105 degrees a few days that summer shortly after I buried them, and held 90+ for a month afterward, with more or less semi-drought conditions through the rest of the summer. We have clay silt soil.

I was still picking perfectly good potatoes out of the hole until April.

And Yes - Re-Bury the cabbage roots when placing into storage.

Ill be looking forward to it.

Ill be looking forward to it.

I am working on a storage bin to put inside for now. I am in North Alabama ATM so I am worried about the heat. I haven't been able to keep store bought ones for long, hopefully fresh grown will do better.
Maybe I will give your method a shot next year after I see your pictures on how you do it.

bigmikedude's picture

To help you in time for your harvest

Find a location, ideally a slightly mounded area, but make sure it is an area where water will not accumulate or run into the hole during heavy rains, or make your own mound.

Dig a hole about 18" to two feet deep. As big around as you need for your harvest.

It is also imperative to construct a four legged lean-to pavilion type structure with a slightly angled roof of some kind that is slightly bigger than your hole so that NO RAIN can fill the hole. You might be able to get away with a piece of metal roof directly over the hole, but I never tried that and it would be an invite to critters.

Here is mine ready to go: (it is actually on a small mound although these pics don't show it)

Line the bottom and sides (the whole hole) with 3 inches of straw.

Place your biggest undamaged potatoes in the bottom, on the straw, 1 potato deep.

Add about a 2 or 3 inch layer of straw on top of them, make another layer of potatoes.

And repeat as necessary until pit is full and maybe slightly mounded.

Ideally you want your biggest and most pristine (zero damage) potatoes in the bottom to reduce any potential long term rot issues, and your smaller potatoes higher up in the layers. The smaller ones will fade the fastest and should be used earlier if possible. (But they won't shrivel too badly if you don't) Any slightly bug damaged ones should be in the top layer and be used first and fairly soon. Obviously - don't even put any terribly damaged potatoes in the hole at all. (ones with holes drilled very deep, bruised, or half chewed, etc..)

When full, add a final layer of straw, maybe 3 inches again, even 4.

At this point, you don't have to, but you may want to cover the whole pit with some kind of weed cloth that breathes. NOT SOLID PLASTIC. I will be trying the spun black stuff this year that looks like fibers (not the cheap perforated plastic brand) to keep the final topping layer of dirt (that you dug out of the hole) from mixing with the straw every time you dig into your pit. You can get it at Wal Mart, Home Depot etc. I have never used anything other than straw and dirt before but I am tired of sifting the old straw out of the dirt at the end of winter.

Now take all the dirt you dug out of the hole, and cover the whole pile of straw, (optional weed cloth), and potatoes.

Hope the early process description helps.

Chances are your potatoes stored in a house, even fresh, will eye very quickly. Even in total darkness. I tried it once, in a 62 degree food cellar, before I started the pit method. They didn't make it long at all before they had 2 foot eyes growing on them and shriveled out.

Also note: By March / April, you may find a white powdery mold like growth spread through the straw in the hole. It rinses right off the potatoes. And obviously, remove any rotting potatoes and surrounding rotten potato leakage contaminated straw immediately (if you do find any) through the winter.