Posts Tagged ‘winter vegetables’

Thinking about winter storage

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

I thought I would spend a bit of time talking about winter storage.  I find my garden pretty well takes care of itself this time of year.  I have a few flats of spinach that are just starting to germinate, they will go in the garden at the end of August at which time I will also direct seed some salad greens.  And then….THAT’S IT FOR THIS YEAR!!  Hard to believe that we will soon be heading into fall, but that is my favourite time of year so I look forward to it.

I do believe that if we want to be committed to eating locally and seasonally it really helps to have one’s own cold storage.  There is not a great selection of local vegetables in the grocery store in February and March and what is there is seldom organically grown.  Not only that, if you can get bulk winter vegetables from a local organic gardener, you can usually get them for a reasonable price and the quality and taste are just so much better.  Anything that is packaged is always more expensive, so for example I see a bundle of 3-4 Ontario leeks sell for $4 in February, the half bushel I bought in November cost me about $20.

I have never built a root cellar in a finished basement so I can’t offer too much in the way of advice.  I have built two in unfinished basements, both of which had an operating oil furnace at the other end.  Basically you are looking for a cold, dark space that is about 6′ x 8′ in size.  It should be as far away from the furnace as possible, preferably on the north side of your basement.  The floor and the walls to the outside (in my case, stone) do not have to be insulated, but everything else should be, including the ceiling and the door that you build.  You want to try create a space that stays between 2-8 Celcius if possible.

A few other things to consider

  • humidity – traditional cellars were often dripping water from their ceilings.  This is seldom the case in modern houses, but root vegetables can be stored in damp sand and this provides the moisture they need
  • air circulation – the advantage of low humidity is that air circulation is seldom an issue.  As long as you don’t see mold growing on your produce, the natural circulation in your basement is probably all you need.
  • darkness -  this really does need to be total – cracks of light will cause vegetables to sprout.
  • storage containers – you can build wooden bins if you feel inspired.  I use open bushel baskets for leeks and cabbages, 7 gallon plastic pails layered with damp sand for beets, carrots, parsnip, and turnip, and mesh bags for onions and garlic.  Potatoes can go in open baskets but they should also be covered to stop them from drying or out  seeing the light! Cloth or newspaper works.

If you have a space that is less than perfect, don’t be discouraged.  You might be amazed at how well it performs.  Or it may give you a good supply of vegetables for the coldest months and that is certainly better than nothing.  In my converted cistern I am able to keep carrots in sand until late May with great quality.  This was far more than I expected when I first insulated the area – I thought the heat from the furnace would cause far more problems than it has.  Some ideas for other spaces that friends have looked at are under porch stairs and in a garage or shed that butts up against the house, preferably on two sides.  I suggest that they buy some sort of thermometer with an alarm so that they can know if the temperature is approaching zero.  At least until they get a sense of how the space will perform.

Thank you to all who have sent such positive comments – they are greatly appreciated and inspire me to keep writing.  I had tried for every Thursday but it seems to be working out at every second Thursday.  Hopefully that is enough!!!!