Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Home Root Cellar

I've written about my efforts to eat regionally and locally by growing my own food and supporting a local CSA.

The challenge in New England is how to preserve food from November to May when the garden is bare (other than Kale, Chard, and Collards which grow well in cold frames).

During the month of October we pickled, canned, and froze our fruits and vegetables to prepare for the winter ahead.

We also created a root cellar in our basement to store turnips, potatoes, carrots, rutabegas and dozens of different types of squash. My favorite squash is Hubbard, which keeps for 6 months at 50-55 degrees. Hubbard squash used to be a very popular squash in the US, but today fewer people cook and the varieties available in supermarkets are limited.

Just about every home in New England has a basement. Most basements are too warm for winter food storage, but there are two techniques that work well. The first is easy - the bulkhead leading down to the cellar stays above freezing, so we loaded the steps down the basement with vegetables. The other is to create ventilation into a closed part of the basement.

Here's how it works.

Traditionally, the root cellar was an underground space built under or near the home, insulated by the ground and vented so cold air could flow in and warm air out in the fall. Then when winter temperatures arrived, the vents were closed, and the cellar stayed cold but not freezing. You can create an indoor version of the cellars that have long served homesteaders well by walling off a basement corner and adding the vents, allowing the temperature to remain near freezing through the winter months.

There are several good online resources describing how to build a root cellar

Mother Earth News

Earth House

Organic Gardening

Back to the Land

There are also several good books available for help in cellaring in the modern home or apartment.

Root Cellaring

Putting Food By

Over the next 6 months of cold weather, we'll see how long the root cellar lasts. I look forward to reliving the summer and fall harvest every time I cut open a squash or open a jar.
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