Pits and Trenches
If you have a lot of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, beets, and rutabagas to store and do not have a root cellar or other space indoor space available, a pit or trench might be another option to utilize. A pit or trench can come close to creating the same conditions you would find in a root cellar — cool temperature but not freezing, humid but not too damp, some type of ventilation, and protection from critters of all kinds.
A word of warning: a pit or trench is not a “for sure” thing. The spot you choose may look dry and suitable in September, but by January it is a soggy mess and mice and other tiny creatures will have found their way to your food. Your climate is big a factor when using pits and trenches; if you live in an extremely cold climate the food will easily freeze no matter how much straw or leaves you use for insulation.
Pits should be small and it is best to store no more than a week's worth of food in each pit so that it is emptied, and its contents used (transferred inside to the refrigerator for the week's meals), all at one time. A pit is great for storing potatoes, carrots, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabaga, cabbages, and apples.
To create your pit, dig a hole one foot deep and three feet square in an area that you know has good drainage. Line the hole with three to four inches of straw, hay, or leaves. Gently place the vegetables into the pit in a pyramid shape — do not just throw the veggies in as they can be easily bruised or broken. Now cover them with a foot of straw or leaves and then cover the straw with soil. If you think mice or other critters will be a problem, place hardware cloth or a screen over the vegetables before covering them with the straw and soil.
You now need to work on ventilating your pit. Loosely layered straw and hay might provide sufficient ventilation, or you can use a metal can or pipe that has both ends open. Place the can on top of the pile of vegetables, making sure the top of it is not covered with the straw or soil mulch. It is important to cover the top of the can with mesh to help prevent mice, birds, and other animals from using it as a doorway to their next meal.
If you have a problem with mice or rats in your garden, set some traps as a way of preventing them from eating all your stored food. Another option is to introduce a predator animal. One way to do so is to set up a snake home of loosely piled rocks and sticks to attract some garter snakes. They will keep the mice in check.
Trenches are used to store leafy vegetables like cabbages, celery, Brussels sprouts, and Chinese cabbages. Again, the trench will, like a pit, not keep your veggies from freezing if you live in a cold climate. To build your trench, dig a channel one foot deep (or more depending on what you are storing) two feet wide and whatever length you may need. If the soil is loose, you may want to prop up the sides with boards.
Dig up the plants, including their roots, that you want to overwinter, then transplant them closely together in the trench. Make sure the roots are well covered with soil and that the top of the plant is not higher than the height of the trench. Once transplanted, water the plant roots, making sure the leaves do not get wet. Leave the plants for a few hours to settle and then place a board over the trench, covering the vegetables. Cover the board with a foot of straw, hay, or leaves and place a piece of plastic or a tarp over everything. To remove the plants, open one end of the trench, remove what you need, and then close it up again. Burying a barrel is another way to store some veggies; a wooden barrel covered with straw would work well. You can use any type of barrel, just not plastic, and make sure there was nothing in the barrel previously that could poison your food. Stay completely away from anything that may have contained pesticides.
Mice, rats, and other burrowing animals have long, flexible, cylindershaped bodies that allow them to fit through small holes. Because of this, it is important to cover any ventilation openings to your cellar or pits with extra-fine mesh or screen.
Dig a hole deep enough to contain the barrel. Make sure there is about two inches of the barrel left above ground, keeping in mind that you'll be placing a few inches of rocks or pea gravel on the bottom of the hole for the barrel to sit on. Cut a hole in the bottom of the barrel for drainage, making sure you cover it with mesh or screen to keep out any critters. Place your veggies into the barrel, layering with straw every foot or so. Cover the filled barrel with at least three to four inches of straw that is several inches larger in diameter than the barrel. You may want to put in a ventilation pipe for better circulation; again, make sure you cover the top of the pipe with fine mesh screen.