Building a root cellar
Years ago, just about every household had a root cellar for storing summer produce. The cool, moist, and dark conditions kept fruits and vegetables crisp even through the winter.
Jennifer Megyesi has written a book about building root cellars and storing vegetables in them. She lives on a former dairy farm and turned an old sawdust bin into a root cellar.
"We retrofitted that sawdust bin by taking out the wooden walls and replacing them with concrete so it basically was an insulated area of concrete below the ground, and then fitted with pipe to take out the hot air and bring in the cold air," says Megyesi.
A root cellar can be a concrete-lined hole in the ground or you can just burying a barrel to hold the food. Technically, Megyesi says a root cellar doesn't have to be below-ground. She knows people who have converted garage bathrooms and old ice houses into vegetable storage areas.
Whatever method you choose, the key to a root cellar is good ventilation. You can use fans, but you can also use the law of gravity.
"In our root cellar we have a pipe on top and hot air rises so naturally the hot air goes out of the top of the pipe," says Megyesi. "And we have a pipe on the bottom, and the cool air goes to the bottom so it's just a natural flow of air without any fans at all."
Besides good ventilation, low temperatures and high humidity create the best storage conditions for fresh food. The ideal root cellar temperature is between 32-and-40-degrees. Humidity levels vary by the type of produce. If humidity is too high, the vegetables will sprout. If the humidity isn't high enough, the produce will lose moisture and shrivel up.
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Learn how to organize a root cellar for storage temperatures
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