Friday, October 2, 2009

The Cold Cellar

This picture above is not my cellar. It belongs to someone else. Someone with a lot more time, energy and planning than myself. This is my dream, my goal for our cellar.

We have the underground stone root cellar. Its one thing I love about old, old farm houses. I love old farmsteads. The old houses have such character and so many details that are left out of the newly built homes and barns.

Some cold cellars are built into a hillside, separate from the house, but that makes them difficult to access during the hard, cold, stormy winter when the doorway is buried under feet of snow.

Our cold cellar is in the basement, under the front porch to be exact. Our basement is unfinished and unheated throughout the winter and so is the cold cellar.

Cold cellars are also called "root cellars" and are not necessarily used just for roots but are also used to store jars of jams, pickles, etc, as well as tender and tropical bulbs and plants that need to stay above freezing in the winter. It can also be used for a spare fridge for a lot of the year. This is a box of eggs destined for the Salvation Army Soup Kitchen.

The cold cellar needs to be below the frost line to keep the food from freezing, but unheated to keep it cold enough. It also needs to be a bit damp, as most underground cold cellars are.

So many vegetables that we grow in the north can be kept all winter in the right conditions. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult to provide just the right conditions for every vegetable. Each one can require something different. All you can do is provide what you can and check on them often, removing first the ones that look like they are not going to go the distance. This is where a canner or freezer comes in handy. After the first winter with a cold cellar and your vegetables, you will have a general idea of what you can keep in your cellar and what needs to be kept in a different environment.

Below is a list of a few of the most common vegetables that we have in this area
and how to keep them in a cold cellar. Some of them do not really require "cold" but can be hung and kept dry at room temperature. Very few vegetables will survive being kept damp at room temperature. We try not to use peat, since it is a quickly dwindling natural resource. Some tropicals and tender flowers are also discussed below.

Important Note: Do not store apples (or anything else that produces ethylene gas) in the same room with other vegetables or fruits, It will cause them to ripen and sprout prematurely. Potatoes are especially suseptible. Yes, this
means you cannot store your potatoes and apples in the same room, unfortunately, not if you expect the potatoes to keep very long.

* Carrots: Pack in damp sand. Keep damp and very cold, just above freezing.

* Onions and garlic: Keep dry at room temperature. Separate them until the tops are completely dry then braid the tops and hang the braids in your kitchen for a country decoration or hang in netting to keep dry. You can also dry them and make your own onion/garlic powder. Commercial spices contain filler. Homemade is so much better!

* Most hard skinned winter squash: After curing at room temp, store in a cool but not too cold, dry area with good air circulation. No cold cellar needed for these. Shelves in a closet with openings in the door would be a good place, but not in the bathroom or kitchen where it will be too damp. Store acorn squash in a slightly cooler and moister environment without curing.

* Cabbage: Hang in a damp cold cellar, roots and all, or cut heads, remove loose outer leaves and spread one layer deep on shelves in a damp root cellar. Keep as damp and as close to freezing as possible.

* Rutabagas and Turnips: Cool (not too cold) and dry. Do not wash before storing. You can give Rutabagas a quick, light dip in hot wax to seal them in order to keep them even longer, but they will keep for a few months in the right conditions without the wax.

* Potatoes: Keep just above freezing (40*F). If you wash them after digging,
make sure they are dry before packing in boxes for storage.

* Beets: Cut the tops to 1" and dont cut the root tip off. Store very cold, just
above freezing and very damp.

* Apples: Store very cold, just above freezing and very damp. Do not store with
other vegetables.

I know its hard to find a separate place to keep apples just above freezing.
Perhaps it is possible to close off a small corner with heavy, air tight
plastic. I have considered doing this but have not tried it yet. I may do that
this year, if we buy apples in bulk.

I also store my tender bulbs in the cold cellar. I grow cannas, calla lilies, dahlias, glads and elephant ears. I also plan to overwinter the four o'clocks I grew this year in the cold cellar.

Canna lilies like to be kept quite damp in storage and just above freezing. I have tried several methods of overwintering them. Last year I put the cannas in a single row in a box and set it directly on the stone (we have a field stone cellar). I also wrapped some little dahlias and small cannas in newpaper and piled them in a clothesbasket in the cellar. I lost a few of those so I won't be doing that this year. All the cannas that were in the bottom of the box on the stone survived very well, so I will be keeping all of the cannas and a lot of the other tender bulbs that way this winter. I have read that dahlias do well in a plastic bucket with the lid on, so I will be trying that with some of the dahlias.

This is my best beloved dahlia, 'Keri Blue'.


Joyful said...

Beautiful cellars & beautiful dreams. I sure wish I had one but I live smack dab in the city.

The Japanese Redneck said...

Your right, that one belongs to someone with more time, energy and planning than I have too.