Hi, folks -

Lest you think Preserving Traditions hasn’t done anything recently, let me assure you that my lack of blogging has simply been because a) I’ve been busy teaching all summer and b) in last year’s survey, event write-ups were lower on everyone’s list of priority…so I let myself slack off some. :)

However! I’ve had several requests for materials from today’s workshop, so here goes:

The basic idea of root cellaring is to work with nature to keep food fresh through the winter so you can eat it in March (or June) without canning or freezing it. This can be as simple as setting a squash on a shelf – you just have to store the food in the correct temperature and humidity (usually “as close to freezing as possible and very humid”) with plenty of good air circulation.

Here’s a simplified chart of common foods, and the conditions in which to store them.

Foods Conditions Containers Location
Garlic, onions, winter squash, sweet potatoes Dark, cool (45-55), and dry. Don’t let these get below 40. Mesh bags, baskets, or open shelving Unfinished basement, unheated breezeway, under-heated bedroom
White* potatoes, apples, lactofermented foods Dark, cold (35-45), and humid. Baskets, with layers of newspaper between single layers of produce Root cellar, garage, shed, enclosed porch
White potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, beets, carrots Dark, cold (35-45), and damp Buckets or tubs, layered with damp peat moss, sand, or wood shavings Root cellar, garage, shed, enclosed porch
Cabbage Dark, cold (35-45), and damp Set stem end into damp sand; cover loosely with paper or plastic Root cellar, garage, shed, enclosed porch

*White, as opposed to sweet, potatoes can be white, red, purple, or yellow – they all store the same as each other. Sweet potatoes are a different plant family and have totally different storage conditions

Different varieties of vegetables have different storage properties. This is especially important for cabbage and apples.  Choose small, dense cabbages with lots of dark green “wrapper” leaves still attached.  Large, looser head of “kraut” or “slaw” cabbage will keep for a few weeks, but not all winter like “storage” varieties.  For apples, store varieties that are picked late in the fall, not summer apples.  Cameo and Honeycrisp are good keepers.

Don’t store damaged produce. Cure potatoes, squash, and sweet potatoes for a few days in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight before storing.  Check your stores frequently, and if anything looks like it’s starting to go bad, remove it immediately. You can often cut out the bad part and eat the rest, but don’t leave it in the cellar – what they say about “one bad apple” is very true!

Can’t find ideal conditions?

  • What’s most important are conditions immediately around the food. A bucket of potatoes in damp peat moss can keep will in a 25 degree, very dry garage, because in the bucket, it’s 35 degrees and humid.
  • Anything will keep for a while if you keep it cool and dark.  So, if your basement is 55 degrees, you’ll be able to keep potatoes for a few months, but they’ll deteriorate faster than if you kept them at 35.  Any food storage is better than none!
  • Try just a few potatoes, onions, and squash and see how long they last in the conditions you’ve got.
  • Two conditions you can’t mess with: don’t let the produce freeze, or it’ll start to rot immediately, and don’t keep it sealed in an air-tight container or room without ventilation.

More resources

Cellaring Books
Root Cellaring Mike Bubel, Nancy Bubel, Pam Art
Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar Phyllis Hobson/Storey Country Wisdom Series
The Complete Root Cellar Book Steve Maxwell/Jennifer MacKenzie      Includes plans for apartments, etc.
Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning Gardeners and Farmer’s Center of Terre Vivant
Complete Guide to Your New Root Cellar Atlantic Publishing Company
The Joy of Keeping a Root Cellar Jennfer Megyesi
Cellaring Websites
Organic Gardening/Root Cellar http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/building-root-cellar
Food Storage as Grandma Knew It/New York Time http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/garden/06root.html
Return Of The Root Celler http://www.tribwatch.com/rootcell.htm
Root Cellar Basics (great info!) http://www.floydcountyinview.com/rcbasics.html
Seed Savers Founder talks about Saving Seeds In Your Cellar http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-klein/every-seed-has-a-story_b_867122.html
Gardening In Your Rood Cellar http://gomestic.com/gardening/gardening-in-your-root-cellar/
Emily’s blog posts about her own root cellar See “Eat Close to Home” and click the tag “root cellar”