Root Cellar and Pantry Spaces

29 11 2008

It’s interesting how something low tech and simple can make such a huge difference in the day to day operations of a household. The refrigerator is indispensable, but a root cellar really adds another dimension to food storage. Anything that requires a cool humid environment will do quite well in a root cellar.

Pumphouse root cellar

The pumphouse converted to a root cellar

First you need the appropriate space, of course. Most of us here in the PNW don’t have a root cellar dug in the back yard. One of the reasons for this, at least here Upriver, is lots of rain. Those of you with sump pumps in your basements will know what I’m talking about. Have a look around the house and outbuildings and see what types of spaces you have available.

Ideal root cellar temps are 32F - 40F with 95% humidity. This photo was taken in August - not ready yet!

I put a thermometer with a humidity sensor into our well pumphouse for a while and found that it had pretty good storage conditions. It’s usually about 5 degrees below ambient and in winter holds at about 35F – 40F since we keep a small heater in there to keep the pipes from freezing. We have a pressure tank so humidity is about 88% on average. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good for storing most things for a while. I’m not trying to keep my fall harvested carrots until spring, but I can store potatoes and cabbages for a few months and free up some space in my refrigerator.

Wrap cabbages in a moist cloth since they need extra humidity.

Wrap cabbages in a moist cloth since they need extra humidity.

A good article on root cellaring can be found at Mother Earth News. It’s written by Mike and Nancy Bubel who wrote Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables. Another idea might be a cold box which could be workable even in an apartment. The useless window above the sink perhaps?

The wrapped cabbages are kept in a cooler with the lid cracked open - ventilation is important!

The wrapped cabbages are kept in a cooler with the lid cracked open - ventilation is important!

Another useful space is, in my case, a closet under the stairs. This is the coolest place in the house and stays somewhere in the neighborhood of 50F – 60F most of the year. It is also dry. Here I can store large sacks of oatmeal, flour, sugar and onions. I picked up a box of sweet potatoes and it seems to be the perfect conditions for them too.

The coat closet, also under the stairs, was converted into a baking pantry with shelves shortly after we moved in. There I keep totes with my baking flours, spices, pasta, rice and legumes. It’s a great stash for nuts, dried fruit and chocolate. An article about stocking a pantry at MEN can be found here and indepth information from Sharon Astyk’s blog. You’ll notice a new category in my blogroll for pantry blogs as well. Feel free to suggest your favorites!

Keep in mind that it’s really best to store only what you use. It’s easiest to start by stocking up on the non-perishables staples and go from there. I don’t keep MRE’s or other freeze-dried meals since we don’t eat that type of thing. I do keep some wheat berries because I have a flour mill and I bake all our bread. I also keep a 50 lb. sack of bread flour. None of it is stored only for emergencies, it is part of our daily fare and is used and replenished as needed. No money is saved if food gets tossed because it didn’t get used!

Where do you start? I don’t know, the big pack of toilet paper from Costco? An extra couple of cans of tomatoes, tuna or soup during the next shopping trip. If you have a root cellar, get a box of potatoes. Call around to the potato farms or stop in at Norm Nelson.

50 lbs. of slightly bunged up organic potatoes discounted to $25!

If you’re Upriver, get in on the buying club that Cindy Palacios set up. This is one of the first steps while waiting for the establishment of the Upriver Co-op. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept buying clubs, here is a recent article. Orders need to be in by 2:00pm on the 1st Tuesday of every other month to start. Pickup will be on the following Friday. Pickup will be at Marblemount Community Center’s Pavilion or another agreed on location. Contact me for Cindy’s contact information if you do not have it.

I’ve crammed a lot of information into one post already so I’ll save my suggestions on where to buy what for the next post. Meanwhile look around and see what types of storage spaces you have and also check your existing stores for what you need to round out your supplies.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.

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10 01 2009
Root Cellar Update « Feasting in the Skagit foodshed

[…] at the end of November, I’d shown you my pumphouse where I was experimenting with root cellar-type storage of some food. I have potatoes, cover crop […]

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