Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cellar news

Now that the outside temps are colder, it's much easier to keep the root cellar temperature at the proper level. I aim for somewhere between 32 and 36, with high humidity. The humidity has also been easy -- we've got a naturally dank basement, and thanks to 14 inches of rain in October, the ground is still saturated. Our average annual rainfall is 21 inches. Our basement subpump is still running every other day or so, which is pretty much unheard of in January here.

I took a quick inventory of the goodies in my root cellar, and I must say I am verily pleased. 95% of the potatoes are still good. It seems the Kerr's Pink variety doesn't last as long as the others, so I'll know to eat those first next year. And the blight spots and green spots don't seem to affect storage longevity. Also, the thickness of the skin hasn't been a factor--the thin-skinned spuds are doing just as well as the thick-skinned ones.

My few rutabagas turned soft and mushy back in December. Next year I think I'll plant them later in the season and keep them in the garden as long as I can. The beets didn't last long, either. Not a big loss, as my family doesn't like beets. But still good to know.

My two remaining cabbages are looking pretty decent, as are the two winter squash I have in the cellar. I've read that squash prefer a warmer storage temp, somewhere around 50 degrees. I have most of my squash in the main basement area, but I thought I'd experiment and put a couple in the cellar. So far so good.

And I've still got about two bushels of apples left. They look fine as well. If they start to go bad I'll do some processing. Anybody know how long apples will last in a root cellar?

Another surprise -- in my scrounging I found a forgotten tray of sand and carrots. When I saw them I winced, expecting a soggy mass of carrot mush. But when I reach my hand in, I was amazed to find most of the carrots still firm. They still had their short spikes of green stem sticking up, but apparently they stopped growing when the cellar temps dropped down far enough. I am elated by this, as I was not looking forward to buying supermarket carrots so soon.

So, overall the root cellar has been a fantastic success. I haven't had to buy any carrots, cabbage, potatoes, apples or squash so far this winter, and it looks like my boxes of seed potatoes will stay good long enough to plant next spring.

'To plant next spring.' Doesn't that phrase sound lovely!


Lucky Lizard Ranch said...

I have cellar/basement envy!

Erin said...

Yay! I was wondering how the new root cellar was going. That is awesome that the carrots and potatoes are still good. I so wish we could have basements in our area, but with the high water table it would be impossible. I miss that about the midwest. I can only grow as many potatoes as we can eat the 2 weeks after harvest.

Mr. H. said...

It sounds like the root cellar is working out really well for you. Potatoes are a crop that a person can use to judge the conditions of a root cellar, if they are looking good everything else should be OK as well.

I am surprised that you have been able to store a squash down there, I will have to try that next year. I would love not having them upstairs in my way.

We have not had the best of luck with apples, although ours are still looking pretty good this year. They are supposed to be one of the better storage crops and should last four months or more. I think the dampness in your basement will be a benefit to them, ours tend to start shriveling a bit come February but are still worth eating.

I'm very glad to hear that you are happy with the cellar and really enjoy your posts regarding it as there are so few of us, that I am aware of, that use one.:)

Jessika said...

Fabulous! Is your root cellar an area walled off from your existing basement? We have a huge 8ft deep 30 x 65 ft cellar. One section is going to be walled off for my cheese cave but I'd love to make a section for a root cellar as well.
Amazing, well done!

Mama Pea said...

On our first homestead here in NE Minnesota, the original settlers (early 1900's) had dug a cellar into the hillside. When we moved there in the early 70's, we dug it out (it had collapsed) and rebuilt it. It was a wonderful root cellar. One year we kept apples until JUNE(!). But I'm sure the conditions must have been optimal that year. Other years we could keep them until about March/April. (If we didn't eat them all by them!)

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Congrats Jo that new root cellar looks to be working out great.

Thistledog said...

I have root cellar envy.

I will build one like Mama Pea described, dug into the side of a hill, when I move to my Kentucky farm. But for now, here in balmy San Diego, I have no where to store potatoes or carrots that I can grow.


Jo said...

Hi Liz! If you have cellar envy, I have climate envy. I'll trade having a root cellar with being able to grow fresh veges nearly year-round. There are some things I'd love to grow but don't have the growing season for -- sweet potatoes being at the top of the list!

Hey Erin -- Yes, basements are good, particularly in tornado season! Sorry you can't have basements. I wonder how the good people of Virginia used to preserve their food in ye olden days?

Hello Mr. H., thanks for the info on potatoes and apples. I think I might try your forced greens in the basement next year. I saw some baby lettuces in the grocery store the other day and they looked so yummy, and I was so tempted!

Hi Jessika -- Yes, we walled & insulated an old coal cellar in the basement, and added some intake/outtake vents. I think your cellar would be a great place for roots. I got my plans from Mother Earth News online (http://www.motherearthnews.com/Do-It-Yourself/2004-12-01/Build-a-Basement-Root-Cellar.aspx) and adapted them for my space. So far, so good!

Hello Mama Pea -- How cool that you were able to use the old settlers cellar at your old house. I love preserving and using the knowledge of those who came before us. Do you have a root cellar now?

Hey Rick! Thanks for the congrats. If you ever get out here for a visit I'll give you the grand tour.

Hi Thistledog -- good to hear from you. I checked out your website -- very cool! Of course, I wouldn't need a root cellar if I could grow peas in January. ;) Good luck with your Kentucky farm.

Mama Pea said...

Yup, we do have a root cellar. We put it under an addition we built on the house. Unfortunately, we're having trouble keeping it cold enough. Seems like our northern MN winters have been getting milder and warmer since we built it. Go figure. It will get much better, I hope, when we do more work on our cold air intakes, etc.

Trailshome said...

Your root cellar looks great. And isn't it wonderful to be able to just go to those stored goods and bring them in when needed.

Here in our area with a very high water table, we can't have a basement or it would freeze, but I've always wanted a root cellar.

The solution we finally found 8 years ago was very simple and works great. We bought two big metal garbage cans and buried them in our woods with just the neck sticking out of the ground about an inch and a half. Each fall we pull them out of the ground, scrub them out and dry thoroughly and fill them with goodies.

In one can go potatoes, beets and a few cabbages, packaged in reused plastic grocery bags, so we can just reach in and pull out about enough for a week at a time.

In a separate can go apples. Apples offgas something that makes root vegetables sprout and spoil, so they have to be kept in an entirely separate container. Each apple is wrapped in newspaper and about a dozen at a time are put in a bag, then the name of the apple type written on the outside of the bag. That way if one apple goes bad, the spoilage is kept in the newspaper and doesn't spoil all the rest of the apples in that bag. We keep golden delicious for short time eating, they last only about 2 months, fugi, also for eating, but they keep 4 to 5 months, and jonathan for pies-another longer keeper. All of them are great baked and as a quick fried apple dessert for dinner. The smell of those sweet spicy apples that wafts out of the can into the cold winter air is just amazing.

We've added a third smaller can to keep our onions in, and it saves us so much money each year to have these wonderful fresh vegetables available so handily.

Our potatoes maintain their cold crisp condition all the way into April and never freeze through our tough northern Indiana winters.
We really appreciate them in the spring when most potatatoes you can buy are soft and wrinkled.

The cans are buried out in our woods, about 100 feet from the house, leaves piled over the top and a tarp thrown over that to mark the spot and keep it dry under the fall rains and winter snow. We often see deer tracks all the way around the cans in the snow. I think that they walk over the cans and smell the apples drifting up and look for them, but never have managed to get inside.

Our granddaughter loves going "shopping in the cans" out back and coming in with goodies for the kitchen.