Monday, November 16, 2009

Root Cellaring

I love root cellaring. I kept my first root cellar the winter before I dug my first garden This will be my fourth winter root cellaring, and my first in a real, dug-out-of-the-dirt root cellar. My landlords have a lovely ice house right next to my little house, the musty top floor of which holds a ping pong table, my cold frame, their apple press (I'll be pressing apples this weekend!), and assorted odds and ends. The dug out floor under the storage area is a beautiful, large root cellar originally intended for the storing of ice in sawdust, cut from the stream by the house or, more likely, from the Hudson. Cut in huge chunks, insulated by sawdust, and kept in the chilly, humid cellar, huge blocks of ice (now most commonly seen as converted vodka luges in a frat house near you) would stay solid through summer for ice cream making, lemonade, and the like.

In case you haven't picked up Mike and Nancy Bubel's definitive book Root Cellaring (yes - root cellaring has a definitive book - go buy it now if you ever want to use/find/build a root cellar!), I'll let you in on this secret - the ice house is a PERFECT root cellar. It has all of the key components - it is underground (which stays at the perfect temperature and humidity - just above 32 degrees Fahrenheit and around 90% humidity) and it has good air circulation. The draw back - it's packed earthen floor and general shabby state, makes it a haven for mice and other hungry little critters who couldn't be happier to see you walking down with bushels of carrots, parsnips, and apples for a winter full of meals.


My Thursday night project included cutting hardware cloth (which, if you haven't tried it, is a giant pain - wear gloves!) and wrapping it around all of the boxes I intend to store my veggies in as well as my 50 pound bag of potatoes. each box has a lid that opens for easy access (for me - not the mice!)

In case you're wondering why I go to these lengths to store vegetables and fruits, I'll let you in on the secret.

First, it's the only way to have local produce year round - and local produce, even four months into storage, is better than store-bought stuff. Plus, it's good for the world and your local economy! Second, it's cheap - buying vegetables in bulk and in season is cost effective if you can front the money, plus you don't have to store things in your fridge, which doesn't actually save you money or electricity because you're already running the fridge, but it's pretty exciting. Third - in my past life, I was obviously a squirrel, because I can't get over how much fun it is to put a ton of food into a basement and then dig it out (literally - root veggies are stored in sawdust, sand, or peat moss) as I need it throughout the winter.

The Method

Root veggies, cabbage, and apples all get stored in cold, humid conditions. A cold basement is probably perfect. If you have a little nook under a porch that extends underground, you could probably insulate that and make it work. Or you could do the genius thing my landlords did - dig a hole in the ground, put a chest freezer or other insulated, rodent-proof box in - or just a support system - insulate the top 12 or so inches between the top of your makeshift veggie box and soil level (the top of the box should be below the frost line) - and figure out how you'll get this contraption open and closed in the winter (my landlords rigged a make-shift, sloped cellar-like door over theirs and have straw between this roof/door and the freezer). Too many apples in too small a space will make your root veggies sprout - but one or two bushels in a large enough, ventilated space should fine.

Store root veggies (except potatoes, which can be left out on a shelf or in a bag) in moist sawdust, sand, or peat. My method is: layer of sawdust, layer of veggies (carefully placed so as not to touch - veggies that touch spread mold to each other and rot faster), layer of sawdust, a thorough misting of water, repeat until the top. Then I mist my veggies every 2 weeks or so to keep them fresh. If you have more than one box of anything, label the boxes 1, 2, 3. You don't want to have to guess which boxes are empty in February. Come spring, this sawdust makes for good carbon for your compost pile or good roosting material for your laying hens.

You might be wondering - what about squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes (I know they're a root but they're the exception), onions and garlic? These winter storage veggies like less humid, cool (not as cold - 40 - 50 degrees for garlic and onion, 60 degrees for squash - I find a happy medium because it's too much work to set up 3 storage areas). To store these wonders of the winter kitchen, you'll need an old, drafty house (check!) and somewhere that's unheated (check!) Places that might work: an unheated room in your house, the opposite end of a basement with a heater (the heater dries out the air - thus making the opposite, cool corner ideal for non-humid, warmer storage), the attic (if you'll remember to go up there).

I built a shelf into the corner, bottom cabinet in my kitchen which is the farthest place from the wood stove in my little house and in the Northeast corner of the house - right in the coldest spot, closet in against the warmer kitchen by soon-to-be-insulated cabinet walls. You might point out that kitchens get warm and humid. My kitchen, however, doesn't get hot or humid, and when it does (RARELY - cooking for myself is a fast and somewhat boring activity), the heat rises up above the cupboard in question.


On an unrelated note:

I don't have internet at home (I know: WHAT!? HOW DO YOU LIVE?? ARE YOU IN THE STONE AGE?? YOU MUST GET IT FROM A NEIGHBOR! (answer: no, none of that sort is available), WHAT DO YOU DO WITH YOURSELF!?!?). At first it was simply that I wasn't getting around to it, then that I couldn't really afford it, and now it's because I love it. The thing about internet (and cell phones) is that waking time is constantly about being in contact with other people. So much so, that I forget how to just be alone for hours at a time without thinking about who to talk to next. I've come to really appreciate that silence. So I do my personal internet business (including this blog) at work during my lunch break, at the library, or at local cafes with wifi.

No comments:

Post a Comment