Root Cellars and Food Storage

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Woodman's picture
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Root Cellars and Food Storage

Please share your experence good and bad with root cellars!

I plan to build a small enclosed area about 4' x 8' in a corner of my basement for a root cellar this weekend, with insulated walls, door, shelves, and inlet/outlet vents through a window.  It will be at the north corner of my house in Maine and is usually damp and cold but not below freezing.  I want to avoid  the cost of an additional refridgerator or freezer and dependence on electricity. 

The main storage vegetables will be potatos (have about 300 lb from my backyard already), beets, carrots, and maybe apples and eggs.

Squash and pumpkins are doing much better this year than last; I'll keep in the mudroom upstairs which stays about 50F in the winter and drier. 

A shelf at the bottom of the cellar stairs where it is cool 45- 55F but not as cold as the fridge works great for short term storage of cucumbers, tomatos, onions, garlic, peppers, etc.  I'm finding quality is much better than if refridgerated at 40F.   Longer term, dehydrated tomatos and corn will be kept down here too, and probably onions and garlic assuming those items should be kept drier than the root cellar which will be very humid???

Last year I had great luck storing potatos and onions all winter in the basement and beets in the bottom of the fridge, but have not tried carrots or beets in the root cellar; I've read storing in damp sand  or peat works; what have others done????.

Will supplement with greens harvested from cold frames as available.

Like Chris mentioned on the Survival Podcast the other day, working in the garden a little bit every day I find more rewarding and fulfilling than I previously imagined, and it's just becom built into part of my daily routine.

Tom

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Woodman. 

great topic.  I have not used a root cellar thus far but intend to explore this.  I have a basement in my house.  My problem is that I have central air and a furnace in the basement.  the cellar still is generally 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the house, but are there any ways around my problem above? 

I thought I read you cannot store apples with the rest of the food because of the pheremones they emit.  Is this true?

 

Brian

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Great topic! My husband and I have discussed a root cellar, but we are in SC rather than Maine. It was 92 defrees F here today, can you believe that? We have no basement. Our root cellar would probably end up under the north side of our house, since we are on a slight hill and that side has a higher crawl space. We could dig one back into the hill under the house, as long as we don't do it under a load-bearing wall, I think.

Local root cellar_able crops that did well this year for us are yams and carrots. Next year we hope to add pumkins, squash and beets. We are canning or drying everything else from our square-foot garden, but if yams/sweet potatoes will become a staple, I hope that someone has experience with a root cellar in a Southern climate and can guide us. We have a terrible problem with moles here, and I worry that something would get into the root cellar and eat what we store. Any ideas?.

 

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

The best I can do is recommend a softcover book we bought at a state museum store a couple years ago,  "Root Cellaring, Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables" by Mike and Nancy Bubel.  The back cover states, "It's the first book devoted entirely to the subject, and it covers the subject with a thoroughness that makes it the only book you'll ever need on root cellaring."  The authors explain in the introduction that they will tell you what a conventional root cellar looks like and show you how to build one, and they will also show all kinds of improvised and ingenious systems that people have made and that work.  The book has 298 pages and 18 chapters that address such things as:  good keepers, spoilage, food value in winter keepers, trenches, keeping-closets and other hideaways, planning the root cellar, the basement root cellar, the excavated root cellar, and root cellaring experiences.

I've thumbed through it and it looks helpful.  Best wishes with your project.


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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

the book Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel  Has tons of info.  How to plan & build , what are good keepers ,,how to prep the produce  etc.  (I LOVE this book )  

 My grandmother had the neatest set up ...  their old farmhouse was built in a hill so  we would go from the kitchen through the mud room right into the cellar . No climbing stairs with jars or anything .  There was a window to regulate the temp . and it was well lit.  It did have a sandy floor for moisture . After they got older and moved into town their cellar had stair so she kept track of what was down there she knew what she would need and we would go down and bring it up for them .

    We have a cave (root cellar ) in town at our garden spot .  You can put so much food in there !   I  tried to keep potatoes out here in my old farmhouse basement but it was a little to warm and the potatoes were starting to sprout by Feb.  and by summer the remaining squash were sprouting also .  I have never had a good enough crop of carrots to save except to can them and I also can the beets so I am no help there.

 I have hopes to get a root cellar dug behind the garage with a tool shed on top .    I had better get on the stick and figure something out ASAP because I have loads of sweet potatoes and do not care for them canned .

 Busy, busy season ! 

 FM

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Thanks homestead and full moon. I ordered it. Can't wait to read "Root Cellaring, Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables" by Mike and Nancy Bubel

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Brian, if you want to have a root cellar in your basement you'll want to use well insulated walls to separate it from the rest of the area where heat may build up from the furnace.  Mike and Nancy Bubel's book has been a big help and notes that although apples give off gas that may hasten ripening of other vegetables, some folks' report they don't have a problem storing everything together; perhaps adequate ventilation helps. 

Safewrite, for protection from moles I'd put everything in metal trash cans; that's what I do with my chicken feed in the barn.  I've had animals eat through cardboard and plastic.  You could even simply just bury a trash can to make a root cellar.

An idea I'm pondering is putting an old AC unit in the window of the root cellar to help keep things cool early in fall.  Currently most nights still aren't getting much below 50F here in September.  I think it would not run much in a small space kept closed up most of the time.  I'd just have to make sure to add water since the AC would tend to reduce humidity.

 

 

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

 

I thought about root cellaring, but I'm here in Southern California where it's not uncommon to see 80+ degree days in January. Would it help? I'm thinking it's refrigeration for us. 

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Woodman, You can use a window AC as a "walk in" cooler source of refrigeration, but most window AC unit will cut off once the inside room temps hit about 60 degrees. You will have to shunt around the original thermostat to get it to keep running below that, or you can buy a deal called a "Coolbot" that does that, and allows you to set the room temp down to 32 degrees. The Coolbot website is a great source of info on making your own walk-in cooler, size AC needed for size room, insulation recommendations, etc. I'll do a thread sometime on our "auxiliary" kitchen I added to the back of the garage to use as a meat cutting room, canning room and get a wood cook stove in ( not practical in the existing main kitchen ). Got an old cooler door off a commercial walk-in and built a 6x6 walk-in with a window AC for refrigeration. Our house is L shaped, with the small leg of the L being attached garage. The far side of that garage is the north side, a cinder block wall, that was mostly underground ( house built into side of mountain ). When I had the trackhoe guy here doing some work for the solar install, also had him dig out a 8x10 hole for a root cellar on the outer side of that garage wall. Then I took a saw, and cut a door opening into the block wall leading out to the new hole. Hand poured a small footer, and laid up block for the new cellar walls.

 

 

Then built a temporary wood "ceiling' to support concrete pour for the real top.

 

 

Day I had the concrete truck/pump here to pour the bases for the solar setup, we also poured the ceiling of the cellar, as well as filling the side walls. Wood was removed from the underside in a couple weeks after the "roof" cured.

 

 

Finished the inside with a coat of white Drylock, built shelving, added electrical, made an insulated door out of red cedar/foam/plywood, then added some 6" PVC pipe vents ( not shown ) in the right side wall with a "duct booster" fan on a time so it sucks in colder night air during the warmer months. That positive ventilation also allows the venting of the gas off apples so they can be stored along with potatoes in the same space. Shelves also used to store home canned goods.

 

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

TN Dancer, that's amazing. We're gonna need a backhoe to put in a septic system to get ourselves off the water grid; might as well dig out a root cellar while we are at it!

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Yep....that what I try to do too.....when I have a machine out here, I have a laundry list of projects for it !

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

I loved the Bubels' book.  Some random things to consider with root cellaring from my experience:

Keep the apples away from everything else!  They make everything overripen and rot.

You really need two separate cool areas: one humid and one not humid, carrots like humid, potatoes do not... store them the wrong way and you get nasty mush.  And then you need a warm dry area somewhere for things like winter squash.

if you store jars down there, take off the bands!! You only need the lid to keep it sealed, but the bands have a tendency to rust or corrode in place if it's humid.

Never underestimate the amount of moisture a dirt floor produces, if you have a high water table, get a French drain in place and make sure you have gravel on the floor (or a poured concrete floor and add water as needed). Mold and mildew is just not healthy in a flooded food storage area.

Insulate and ventilate!  You need to keep the cold in or out depending on your climate, and often proper ventilation makes temperature regulation a lot easier if you know which objective you're trying to reach.

Make it accessible!!  It might be a pain to dig out extra for a proper staircase with storm doors or whatever, but it sure beats trying to carry a full crate down a ladder into a hole or not being able to get to it in the winter under the snow. That doesn't necessarily mean it has to be right under or net to the house though... sometimes that's the worst place for it for exposure or damp or what-have-you.  Having your foundation collapse or your basement flood because your root cellar was dug out from the basement wall or under the crawlspace is not fun.

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Here's some photos of my root cellar experiment.  I walled about a 4' x 8' corner at the north end of my basement, which is about half below grade.  I took the photo below from the doorway into the root cellar.  At the far end, I removed the panes from a window and covered it over.  The lower penentration is to let cold air in through a duct directed to the floor.  The upper penentration has a duct to the opposite side of the root cellar near the ceiling, to promote circulation of warmer air back out.  There are dust collection blast gates on the inlet and outlet to regulate as needed.   I also put in an old bathroom fan to move cold air in if necessary; I still need to wire it up.  Nights are getting down to 30 - 40 F lately here in New England so should be able to get the space plenty cool.  I'll add some pans of water to raise the humidity as needed,

Hopefully this will be a much more convenient setup than I previously had.  I moved in my home grown potatos so far (Red Norland, Kennebec, and Yukon Gold) and have lots of beets and carrots to add soon.  For now though those are still out in the garden beds since we unusually have not had a real hard frost yet.

Tom

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

TNDancer,

Thanks for your post and to Woodman for starting the thread.  I have considered doing something similar to what you posted; I have a concern.  Must you concern yourself with any negative structural consequences when cutting a "doorway" in your homes basement wall?

Thanks.

-Brandon

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Well sure you do.  In my case, I knew ( since I laid the wall and built the house ) that this was a non-load bearing wall with the gable end of the garage roof above it.   I am also a carpenter/builder/etc, which sorta helps.   If you're NOT sure, I wouldn't go chopping holes in walls.....get help.

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Tom

I am impressed with your root cellar.  what did you insulate the walls of the root cellar with?  I noticed that the concrete floor is intact.  Is it helpfull to have a dirt floor in the root cellar.  My father in law seemed to think it's important to bring moisture into the room?

Brian

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND

  My husband and I have built two "proper" root cellars and ones not quite so intricate like holes in the ground.  I think root cellars are important because they are so low tech and don't consume electricity.  Plus you can build them with all local material and equipment.  After it's built there's never a bill!   I have a lot of information on my blog about storing the harvest and how to plant a root cellar garden at www.thegreenlifefarm.com

Here's a little video on our temporary root cellar:

http://www.youtube.com/user/thegreenlifefarm?feature=mhum#p/u/3/Y20G8Tswbdg

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Re: Root Cellars and Food Storage

Biran, The outside walls above grade are insulated with existing 6" fiberglass between the studs plus 1" polyisocyanurate insulation added when I resided the house.  I ripped off the sheetrock inside and put up plywood since it is a moist environment.  The interior walls are insulated with 1 7/8" polyisocyanurate insulation.  If I get around to it I'll add some fiberglass insulation to the inside stud walls too.

Potatoes, beets, etc, should have high humidity for storage.  I leave a pan of water in there all the time and spread water on the floor everytime I go in.

tom

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Root cellars

I live in a 350+ year old house.  We have a 10x10 cemented rock wall cellar with a dirt floor.  My vegetable garden is 37x96.  I can and freeze vegetables.  Two years ago I installed a crushed rock floor in the cellar and built a root cellar under the stairs against an outer wall.  I used 2" foil faced insulation board for the structure (4" to 6" thickness layered) and vented it through spare PVC pipe screened to keep out bugs and mice. The pipes are low on one side & high on the other to promote air flow.  I used spray foam to seal irregularities & gaps.  I put in a plastic home depot shelf.  Currently there are Delacota and Sweet Dumpling squash, garlic, and potatos from September 2010 harvest still in the root cellar.  The Acorn squash went bad the second week of February.   Do not try to store Cobbler potatos.  They do not store at all and are only worth growing if you eat them almost right away.  The root cellar took about 3 weeks to build in my spare time.   I took my time & just did a bit at a time as I had to adapt & design as I went.  Nothing is square or straight in a 350+ year old home.

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root cellar apples

Apples are hard to root cellar.  You generally need lower temperatures and good humidity control.  Also the apples give off ethylene gas as they ripen which promotes sprouting of potatos among other things.  Orchards store apples quite cold under a gas of some sort AND control humidy closely or they shrivel.  I would recomment that you can or freeze them prepared as applesauce or for pies or whatever.

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thanks

Thanks for reviving the thread.  i am curious about how people have wintered over in their root cellars.

I had a very warm-ish cool solution for most of my (gleaned) squash and only lost about three or four of them.  I was surprised.

 

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Haven't bought any veggies

Haven't bought any veggies at the store for months.  I stored about 100 lb each of Dark Red Norlands, Yukon Golds, and Kennebec potatos last fall in my root cellar.  I'm eating potatos about 5 nights a week I have so many!

The red potatos store well but are getting a little soft now, I'l lprobably use the rest for seed or cook up for the chickens.  The white Kennebecs are in good shape and the Yukon golds have stored very well.  I've had to watch the temps on a few cold nights to make sure to shut the vents and not freeze things.

I've been very suprised how well carrots and beets I just stuffed in some plastic bags have stored well also.  The ones I stored in a big plastic box of damp peat moss stored even better so far thought.  Maybe the key has been a good constant temp just above 32 F. 

Winter squash and pumpkins I keep in an unheated bedroom, about 50 gourds left still; the root cellar is too cold for squash.  If I see one starting to go bad, it goes to the chickens, who with two feet of snow on the ground can't find fresh greens to range on now.  I was more careful this past year about harvesting swuash before it got frost damaged, and that may have helped for it to store better.

Apples I'm keeping separately at the bottom of the cellar stairs about 40F, not in the root cellar.  I keep onions there too, since it's drier than the root cellar.

Gradually using up the frozen corn and dried tomatos also. 

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storing flour question - please help

I stored wheat flour (bleached, bakery flour from costco) in 5 gal buckets with very well sealed lids and a stick of mint gum (old mormon trick given to me by some mormon friends just helping a fellow non-mormom) 

I have them dated summer 2009

I just opened one of the buckets to see if the flour was still okay and to check for bugs.

Looks like the mint gum has done the trick so far but here's my question....

How long will this flour last?  I'm wondering if I should start to stockpile some fresh flour and start using this stored flour now since it was stored almost 2 yrs ago.

I"m sure there's a thread somewhere with the answer but I'm traveling ATM and I don't have the time to dig for an answer.

Thanks in advance

RG

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 If the eggs were going to

 If the eggs were going to hatch they would have already .  There is NO  wheat germ oils to go ransid in the Store bought  bleached  flour  you are in the clear .

 FM  

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rocketgirl1
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storing store bought flour
Full Moon wrote:

 If the eggs were going to hatch they would have already .  There is NO  wheat germ oils to go ransid in the Store bought  bleached  flour  you are in the clear .

 FM  

 

Thank you very much FM !

How "clear" am I exactly ?  About how long can I expect this flour to last? 

Full Moon's picture
Full Moon
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   This is a site  that

   This is a site  that might help you .    But really  there is nothing in White flour that can go bad it is just the endosperm .   That is why people grind their own grains .. to get nutritional value in it .  Plus if you soak the grains  a few days to sprout the germ inside you then have a protein .

https://www.usaemergencysupply.com/information_center/storage_life_of_foods.htm

 

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