I cannot think of a better place to ask this question than here in our forums.
I have a less-than-optimal setup for root cellaring. We live in a 1969 split ranch. The main part of our house was weatherized earlier this year, and all parts of it stay warm enough that it is not really appropriate for winter veggie/fruit storage (even the closets stay too warm - I have tried in past years). We have a wonderful large attached garage, but it gets cold enough to freeze hard in there, and I have learned this the hard way when I found apples and potatoes frozen rock-solid one year.
The basement has a cement floor and foundation - no dirt to dig up anywhere in there. And the basement is always too warm because of the furnace, and it's damp enough to smell musty, so I'm not interested in storing food there because I worry about what spores might be floating around in there. The ground outside is frozen solid, or I might someday consider digging an actual freestanding root cellar.
I don't have the time/energy/know-how to build something. I don't have the budget to pay someone to build something. Are there any cost-effective, creative solutions for storing root veggies and apples in a house like mine? Our extra fridge is full already with more perishable things. I have thought about storing my root veggies in coolers, perhaps styrofoam ones (those Omaha Steaks coolers seem built to last a thousand lifetimes), but I wonder about ventilation. With good air circulation I can get away with a spoiled apple not wrecking the whole containerful, but if the container was sealed and I wasn't vigilant, I imagine the spoil would spread fast.
Same for using an old chest freezer (which would be like a larger version of a cooler, right?) - the issue would be ventilation without risking too much of a drop in temp.
Still, that is the best idea I have come up with, and I'm working to collect styrofoam coolers (but it's going slowly - in our area, people are more into local grassfed beef than Omaha Steaks - a good thing, really.) Maybe I could find an old useless chest freezer to use, but I have heard those can leak freon, so I'm not sold on that idea.
Maybe at some point we can wall off a corner of the garage and insulate it to keep the temp just above freezing, but...that sounds outside the realm of my skills and budget at this time. And I don't expect the budget to change for the better.
I have my carrots in sawdust and wonder if they would be sufficiently insulated by the sawdust in a freezing garage.
(For the record, we don't store our cars in our garage, or anything else with fumes that would affect food.)
Got any quick-cheap-easy ideas?
This too sounds like my house...almost the exact same issues...one place I'm going to look at is the basement entry door that heads outside. Do you have one? This is my 1st year/winter in the house, so I'm going to monitor the temperature in that little entryway as the winter progresses to see if that is a possibility.
Otherwise, I may need to dig up the ground somewhere on the property...am interested in what others have to suggest as well...
If you were near me, I'd bring over my backhoe and make you a temp root cellar. Got any friends that can help?
If not, sounds like the garage is the best bet. I would guess that the cement floor never gets to below freezing, even though it may feel that way to sock feet. If you were to build a small box out of 2 x 4s and insulate the inside, poke a couple of holes in it, and turn it upside down over your veggies, you would probably be protected from freezing. I would guess, although I don't have all the facts here obviously, that your floor never gets too far below 45 - 50 degrees unless it is cooled by air moving across it, like when you open the garage door. You could test this by putting a glass of water on the floor and putting one of your coolers upside down over the top and check it in the morning after a cold snap.
Don't know how much space you need, but you could go to home depot and get a 4x8 sheet of 1/4 " plywood for the top, and they would cut another one in 1/2 for the sides (for free), and they can pre-cut some 2x4s as well, so all you would need would be a hammer and some nails, and probably about $40 to get it done. This would give you 4 foot by 8 foot by 2 foot tall. If you had access to a handyman in your community, this would be an easy job - maybe a half hour or so. I'd do it happily for a slice of hot homemade bread!
You could make it fancy by adding a couple of hinges to make the top open - easier to get into, but basically all you really want to do is minimize air flow so the box stays the temp of the floor. If you are really on a tight budget, I think I would make multiple boxes out of upside down coolers, and just remember to check them often because there would be very litle air flow.
Hope this helps. If you need a plan, I can draw one for you.
Oh, one more thing... the frost line under a building goes down at a 45 degree angle.
| Garage floor
\ < much warmer >
\ < -- Frost line (very cold)
so putting the root cellar near the center of the garage is the best bet.
The idea suggested by Ready seems like it would work; if the garage gets too cold then you might try cutting your Omaha Steaks styrofoam into flat panels and putting them on the floor for insulation as well as taping them onto the plywood box. Another idea: Home Depot sells flat sheets of styofoam insulation which would make it easier to build a large box rather than plywood. Just tape it together with duct tape. If it's still too cold a really small heater might work, maybe something like what is used for aquariums or even just a small wattage light bulb on a timer.
This seems like an easy problem to solve, just keep workin' it!
My husband uses old refrigerators( people just want them hauled off) in the garage with a drop light in them on very cold nights . This will not work if there is no electricity but for now it is working
Hi, Amanda. We're struggling to sort this out too. We've made a 'cold room' in the insulated, heated basement (about 6' by 8'). The room is shut off from the rest of the basement, and double insulated, including the ceiling, but with ventilation. We store our jams / pickles there and have been trying to keep root veggies. The potatoes (about 150 lbs at the start of September) are holding up very well in a 3' by 2' wooden box, covered by sand (we dig them out as we need them). A large basket of turnips seemed to be getting a little soft, so we moved them to the garden shed (under a wool blanket), but they froze last week. I looked at them and thought "what if I really needed those turnips?", and decided we really need to figure this out while we aren't actually dependent on our garden produce. It hurts to see the turnips I sweated over and nurtured all summer go onto the compost pile as I climb the learning curve, but at least I can still buy replacements at the grocery store. We've already eaten all of our carrots (note to self, the children like carrots - plant more next year). The last of the cabbages have kept well enough in a basket in the cold room for the past month (we've been trying to eat them up as we know they won't keep as long as the root vegetables, but I'm frankly getting so sick of eating cabbage that they might end up on the compost pile as well out of sheer malice).
My dad has a really neat set-up. My parents kept one corner of the basement floor bare earth (the rest is poured concrete), and built a little room around it for the potato bin. Dad's potatoes keep all winter, and are in better shape by April than many of their store-bought cousins off the grocery store shelf.
Bluenoser , Frozen coleslaw is pretty good . It is a sugar vinegar mix . If it gets cool enough might try that .
Thanks so much for the ideas - I'm going to keep chewing on them and I am sure a long-term solution will eventually emerge.
I had apples, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes needing storage immediately (i.e., get them out of my kitchen but don't let them freeze in the garage - nighttime temps are in the 20s now). So I temporarily repurposed two plastic camping coolers. They each have a drain hole, which I left open as a vent, and I did not seal the top lid down completely. I put apples in one and potatoes/sweet potatoes/squash in the other (anyone know if there is a problem with offgassing among these three?) I have more apples and squash in our extra fridge. I have another cooler that I am thinking of putting the sawdust/tcarrots in. It's a small-scale solution and is just an experiment, but a worthy one, I think.
I like the idea of building a permanent structure, either a big locker-type thing on the floor or a walled-off sort of mini-room in one corner. At the moment, the garage is pretty cluttered (ahem) so that will have to be a more long-term thing.
We are also considering digging up our back property line, which is on a big hill, to relocate some of the dirt/fill into our swimming pool, which failed this year and can't affordably be used as a pool again, not that it was sustainable to begin with. (The swimming pool is destined to become a nice, pre-fenced garden, assuming we can come up with the fill.) Our nice flat yard backs up to a steep hill, and perhaps when we do that, we could put in what I call a "hobbit hole root cellar" with a little door. I lived in Europe for a year as a teen, and everyone rural had these, complete with little half-sized doors. I only went inside one once, but it was really cool. I don't know the logistics of safely building a root cave like that, though - anyone know of good resources?
Another possibility long term would be digging up our patio and replacing some of that area with a greenhouse (attached to the house) and a root cellar (both with dirt floor, of course.) I wish I could make that happen right now, but one thing at a time. I have faith that somehow, necessary improvements will get done, even though we won't be on the early end of the curve. I have a friend planning to help us build a chicken coop this spring. I realize the time to have gotten these things done was yesterday, but doing the best we can is better than doing nothing.
Anyway, thanks for the insights and encouragement - very helpful!
What range of outside, basement, and garage temperatures do you see? I've learned a lot about the different microclimates around my house by putting some cheap thermometers in different places.
You might want to store your squash separate from potatos if you can. The Bubel's Root Cellaring book recommends 50-60F for winter squash (butternut) and 32-40F for potatos and apples. I keep potatos in the root cellar as cool as possible and squash under the bed in an unheated bedroom.
Following on Ready and Earthwise's comments above, the way you should place insulation is to hold in just enough heat in from a source of heat to keep your veggies from freezing. TIf the heat source is the earth, the floor should not be insulated (and ideally the insulated sides would pass down through the floor below the frost line but that's not practical if you have a concrete floor already). If you have a light bulb for heat, the floor can be insulated to minimize conduction of heat out through the slab. Just insulating the veggies themselves won't save them from freezing if temperatures are consistently below freezing, since the veggies themselves are not a heat source.
See this thread for the insulated room I just built in my basement. Now I can heat my basement workshop area without conflicting with the root cellar.
In a 2145 cubic foot root cellar how much air exchange is required? We are in a warm climate and any air we bring in adds heat and humidity. The cellar is cooled by a 9000 btu cool only mini-split. Is there a rule of thumb for air "safety" in locked up environments?
OliveOilGuy - I have a great book on the topic: Root Cellaring, by Mike and Nancy Bubel. For them, the issue is not so much how many CFMs of air circulate. It's more a matter of the air not being obstructed - of air flow. It you PM me with a fax number I can copy and fax the few pages on the subject. Very useful diagrams.
Do any of you have the same problem as me; that most root cellar plans are for cold climates, not hot ones?
Cool room veggie storage was an item on my "to do" list that had me stumped. I need to keep things cool in the summer more than store them for the winter, as winters here are often wimpy, anemic things that last two weeks. And although things are cooler under ther earth we do not have a decent hill to put a root cellar in. We have no garage, just a detached metal shed that leaks. Like most people in the Carolinas, we have no basement. If you saw how many ponds and streams there are here, you'd know why there are no basements - we've a very high water table fot 210-ft above sea level! So homes like mine are up on blocks, and the air is let cicrulate under the house. There is a crawl space through which we might reach our forced-air ducts, and our plumbing, under 2/3 the house. I might set up vermicutur or mushroom farming under there, but it would never do as a cool room.
Our plan is to make a brick/masonry pump house with careful air circulation, shelves that let air through, and thick walls. The well tank needs a housing anyhow, or the water gets too hot to use! If constructed properly a pump house will be naturally cool from the the water tank,shade, and insulation from stone walls.
I suppose this sort of fits in with the warm root cellar.
I have about 40 head of garlic and 60 shallots from my garden. I pulled them up with the leaves on and bundled them into bunches that I hung from the floor joists in my cellar. They seem to be drying ok but I am wondering how I will store them until I use them.
The problem with my cellar is that only three sides of my house are under ground. The exposed side is where I have a one car garage that is part of the cellar. The oil hot water furnace sits in the garage.
The cellar is very moist so I have to run a dehumidifier most of the year. This seems to raise the room temperature.
It basically seems that the temperature is between 70 and 75 all of the time down there. In the summer this is lower than the 80 to 85 in the rooms where I do not run window AC. In the winter it is warmer than the rest of my house which I keep between 60 and 65.
Do the garlic and shallots need to be kept cool? Should I just leave them hanging and use them one by one?
I took one head yesterday to see what it was like and he garlic clove was much moister than what I get from the store. I think it is still drying. The garlic taste was much stronger as well.
Here is an interesting technique for keeping food cool in hot arid climates.
Thanks Travlin .....Gotta love simple things that work.
Thanks Trav.........principle works in not so arid climates too, a wet cotton towel draped over a 6 gal bucket..........reeeaaally extends the life of veggies and dairy.........been doing it for years when extended car camping in my trusty VW bus.
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