Sunday, October 25, 2015

A tour of the root cellar

When we started looking for a farm property six years ago, I had been inclined to find open land with no buildings, so I could build a very energy efficient and probably earth sheltered house, as well as lay out the overall infrastructure with permaculture principles in mind. 

But the house and property we ended up buying had enough cool features that I let go of that idea. (Good thing too, as I now think the project might have been quite the strain, as we were both still working and not living close enough to make very quick progress)
One of those features was an attached root cellar. Since the house is hillside and partially earth sheltered, the root cellar is accessed from inside the house, on the upslope side. 

While the root cellar does have a couple design flaws, it is quite serviceable, and since it adjoins the laundry/utility room, it is very handy. Who wants to go out in the snow, clear snow from the door, and chip some ice before getting a jar of canned tomatoes in February?

Here is a quick tour of our stores this fall.

We have a set of bins, a wooden shelf set, and two sets of plastic shelves. With the humidity and dark, the wood needs to be rot resistant. I used cedar leftovers, and some black locust leftovers. 

The bottom half of the bins has butternut squash, potatoes, and acorn squash. Apples were here earlier, till we made the cider. These all store well, and the potatoes were from our own seed potatoes saved in the root cellar from last season. Down and to the left you can see the hard cider we bottled a couple weeks ago.

Top half of this bin tower has onions, more acorn squash, and on top are seeds in glass jars.

This shelf set has dry beans, spinach noodles, dried apple slices, apple butter, apple pie filling, apple sauce, spiced apple rings ( we had a good apple year) dried potato slices, and some peach pie filling.We found making noodles is a good way to put up extra spinach, and it works well with basil also.
 These shelves have pickles, green beans, dehydrated kale, and some beverages.
 The wooden shelves have pickles, tomato sauce, pasta sauce, green beans, chicken broth, and some odds and ends. You can also see our garlic. We did not have a great garlic year, but have already planted next years garlic, so what's left is all for eating. It should last till late winter, but won't get us to next summer.

A lot of this does not really need to be in a root cellar, but it would not fit in the pantry or kitchen storage, so this makes a fine place till we need more true root cellar storage for more root crops or fruits. We haven't harvested the parsnips yet, but the carrots were a bust this year, and hope to get better results and store some in here next year. 

A lot of our veggie storage is in our chest freezer, but over time we hope to can or dehydrate as much as we can to reduce dependence on the freezer. We try new dehydrating or canning experiments each year, some work, and some don't.

Most of this is from our own trees and garden, but not all of it. The peaches, acorn squash, and beverages are purchased. We increase our dry bean plantings each year, and have enough for year round eating now, but most of those are stored in the pantry. 

Two things I hope to modify on the root cellar are a better air vent setup, and a bit more dirt on the roof. These will both get it colder, and keep it colder longer in to summer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

water collection

Finally made some progress in capturing and storing rainwater. The north half of the barn roof now flows in to a 350 gal. ( 1325 l) tank, and I have installed a gravity driven drip system to our fruit and nut trees downhill of the barn. 

The routing might look goofy, but I was trying to place supports that tied in to the internal structural, find a level spot, keep the tank on the north side where sunlight ( causes algae) is minimized, as well as not being below the window.  

This is still not enough capture, so I plan to expand the storage to catch even more of the rainwater. Plans for the south roof flow are to irrigate the south garden. When I get that side finished I'll post an update with photos as well. 

Barn is 30 ft. ( 9m) x 60 ft. (18m), so a 1 inch (25mm) rainfall will provide 150 cubic feet, ( 4.25 m3) or 1100 gallons (4200 l)

Since each downspout is catching half the roof, this setup could potentially get 550 gallons (2100 l) from each inch of rain.

Average annual rainfall for here is 36.56 in. ( 928mm), which is a generous amount of rain, so I really just want to save enough to get through drought stretches as long as this setup is just for trees and supplementing rain in the veg gardens. 

If we decide to try to rely on rain for more uses, and the well pump for less, then the need is a great deal larger. For now, I plan to increase storage enough to capture rain from April through August, which is about 17.6 in ( 450mm). That's a lot, but I would stay with above ground storage, and simply drain and shut down in the winter. 

If we try for year round use and storage, then insulation or an in gound cistern will be needed. 

The drip system has had some problems to consider. First, it was hard to find components that are suitable for low pressure . Many catalogues have "low pressure" fittings, but this means 5-15 psi ( 35 kPa- 105 kPa). Since I am using only gravity, I have much less than than, somewhere in the order of 5-15 feet of head. I found some that are marginal, but the flow is still not very good.

Second, running it above ground means that once grass and weeds grow up, it is hard to find! I put out a few flags, but need to do some more to make sure we don't damage it and can find it if maintenance is needed.

Third- It will be hard to drain all the way before freezing temps arrive, without taking it all up and coiling it. I may try to blow it out with air.

I got this finished late in the season, but it should really give the trees a boost next year.

Monday, October 12, 2015

solar dehydrating update

Now that we've done some dehydrating, here is what we've found with the design.

As I mentioned in the prior post, the design I used was not the product of some company or solar design engineer, but the result of homesteader ingenuity. 

So far, were have dehydrated greens and fruit. Collards and lacinado kale were blanched before dehydrating, and they dried quite well, in less than one day. Apple and peach slices both dehydrated well, and are now stored in glass jars. If it's cloudy or you don't get the fruit in the dehydrator first thing, it might take two days. We just leave the fruit in the dehydrator overnight and have had no problems. After they are dry, we store in airtight glass jars.

Our "summer kitchen", blanching collards on the propane cookstove.

The dehydrator has four individual trays that can be taken out for loading with food or for cleaning. We found that sugary food like peach slices will stick to the stainless screening, so we used the plastic screens from our electric dehydrator on top of the  stainless screen. Plastic sticks less, and is easier to clean up in the kitchen sink. 

Picture shows kale that has been blanched and the center rib cut out, starting the drying process.

Some observations: 
Occasionally an ant has found its way in to the dryer area if it's cloudy or overnight, but normally, if the sun is out, it is so hot insects don't go in. 

The temperature and air flow is not quite as good in the lower two sections. This is actually handy for drying herbs, in which you want a low temperature. For fruit slices, we just switch top and bottom trays half way through so they finish equally. I don't yet have a temperature probe, but plan to get one, then we'll know how hot the two levels get.

Next year, maybe we'll try jerky. The two dehydrators have now been taken down and stored in the barn for the winter.