Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Hole

When the idea of starting a garden first was broached to Jules, it wasn't one he immediately enjoyed. Well, that isn't true. He liked the idea of a garden well enough, however, he liked the idea of a yard much, much more. Initially, I'd planted a few fringe veggies around the edges and had a three tomato plants squished into one big pot. The turning point occurred when salsa found its way into the house. Jules LOVES Mexican food. Fresh salsa from our yard definitely made this garden thing a bit more worthwhile.

Now, the garden is extensive featuring seven 4 foot by 9 foot raised beds, a strawberry patch, blueberries, an apple tree, and an herb garden. It is wonderful! I'm bouncy about it whenever something new sprouts or we visit the local nursery. With all that produce we need somewhere to keep it.
Living in only 900 square feet, storage is at a premium. We just plain don't have the space to accumulate much. I quite like it as that means there is much less to clean and it is much easier to keep life simple. The drawback becomes having places to put all our extra bulk foods, canning, and fresh produce. My first thought was the garage, but Jules put a big veto on that one. It was for the best, we have way too much in there anyway. So next came the rather radical idea of a root cellar.

The very words root cellar seem archaic, but it makes a whole lot of sense especially as times get tougher and money gets even tighter. Basically a root cellar is a way to let Mother Nature do the refrigeration for you. Good root cellars both borrow and keep the cold. By digging in the ground well below the frost level the temperature remains as fairly constant 52 degrees and is slow to be effected by the extremely cold surface temperatures. In this way the veggies and fruits have protection from frost, and extra refrideration from the warm house temperatures. You can then emitt the extremely cold night air into the cellar (via vents or windows) allowing for the temperature to cool to between 32 and 40 degrees. With a pan or water for humidity (so the veggies don't crack or wilt) and two air vents to allow cross movement of air to avoid rotting, you're basic requirements are met. This gives you an extremely large, electricity-free, refridgerator. A finished or unfinished basement, an under the stair closet, a corner of your garage, even a hole in the yard can function as a perfectly good root cellar with little to no work after the initial set up. Canning and dry goods can also work well in a root cellar with only a small partition between the foods that need high humidity and cooler temperatures. In this way you can store large amounts of food and be able to "bulk up" when various fruits and veggies are in season and significantly cheaper not to mention better tasting!

Our root cellar is being put in by The Spicy Barracuda and I hauling up one 5 gallon bucket of dirt at a time. We are hand digging it out of what Jules has coined our "Hole." I honestly don't think he took me seriously when I said I was going to dig us one. But shovel and adz in hand the Barracuda and I began digging away. It is just plain hard work, but the exercise is wonderful and all the dirt has done nicely to fill our raised beds in the garden. The cellar is now coming along very well and we are beginning to consider shelving. The space is beginning as a way to hold our canned foods (most of this year's planting) and our dry bulk storage of 2 gallon buckets. As the space widens, and our garden yeilds increase, the Northeast side will become our actual root cellar to hold the cabbage, potatoes, carrots and such. The task has really been good for my exercising, and the Barracuda can now swing a adz like a pro! His arms are becoming very strong and he is really learning the value of watching his hard work patiently turn into a finished product.

Mostly I have been amazed at how simple this process has been. Though the work is physically tough at times, and you definitely get tired, the actual complexity of the project is minimal. You are mainly just digging away. There are many books which have been written on the subject and have helped me quite a bit when I first began and now as the spaces is coming to a point of some really setting up. Mike and Nancy Bubel have written Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables as a guide for anyone considering such an undertaking. The book is complete with plans, explanations, crop varieties, and stories of people from all walks of life and how they have created cellars for storage. Whether you are urban (like us), suburban, or rural there is something in this book which will suit you! My copy came from Powells. As far as I know they will ship just about anywhere!

Even if you do not have a garden or a space big enough to put in more plants than you already grow, help the local farm community at your local farmers' market. The markets are free, full of great family events and street entertainers, and provide you with a sense of knowing where your food comes from. This produce is normally cheaper by miles than the produce in the grocery store because you don't have to pay for the middle man and the enormous costs of all the overhead for the supermarket chains. Can it up, support your local community, and store it away to have great tasting veggies and sauces all winter long!

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