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.


  1. Hi Steve,

    I am really impressed. No seriously, very impressive stuff: It's organised and diverse too.

    Do the glass bottles have screw on caps or do they employ a rubber seal and are boiled and air tight (like the ones here)? Some of the youngest bottles I use here ceased local production 40 years ago and the glass is amazing quality - and people sell them for next to nothing... Do you have tin or stainless steel lids? I've noticed that the tin lids are slightly corroded and was thinking of ditching them for completely stainless steel - they still seal OK though.

    Not building a purpose built house was probably a good idea if you were both working. My lady and I had undertaken a few serious building projects before and were very used to working together but still it took us 18 months to build this place from start to finish and we're still working on the infrastructure here even now. You made a very wise decision.



  2. Hi Steve,

    Just out of interest: Have you ever attempted to make vinegar before?

    Cheers. Chris

  3. Hi Chris- thanks for the comments.

    Canning- (oh why is it called canning instead off jarring?) the lids common here are two part- a single use metal lid with an integral rubber seal surface, and a screw ring which holds it tight during the canning process. Some items are water bath canned- meaning they are submerged in boiling water at atmospheric pressure, and some items are pressure canned in a pressure canner. All based on the reference books we have.
    these are the common sealing lids:

    the last couple years we have been trying out these to see how they work. We find that they are trickier to get sealed during the canning process, you have to get the tightness just right or they don't seal properly.

    vinegar- I haven't posted about it yet, ( guess I need to do that) but we did our first beverage fermenting this fall. I know you are well experienced in making adult beverages, but we are still new to it, and just got our equipment several weeks ago. Long story short- we got eight gallons (30 liters) of cider from a cider pressing get together right after we bought the carboy, so in went the cider instead of the malt I had meant to make in to beer. The results are drinkable, but not as good as commercially available hard cider. Anyway, we made none of it in to vinegar, assuming that if the batch went awry, we'd have a bunch of vinegar. I think next year we will intentionally make some vinegar.