You’ve spent hours selecting the right mix of plants and seeds promising luscious, nutritious produce which will require weeks of TLC as they are planted and tended until the crops reach their peak of maturity. At that moment, gardeners are rewarded with an avalanche of vegetables that are all ready at the same time. In the fall when it’s time to put the garden to bed for the winter, there is usually an abundance of root vegetables still awaiting consumption. Why not invest a bit of time now when gardening tasks are minimal to prepare a cold cellar to extend the consumption season for those hard-earned garden rewards?
There is no source of food more local than produce from our own back yards or our local farmers’ markets Cold cellars provide an inexpensive, low-tech way to store root crops, winter squash and preserved goods long past their harvest using the natural cooling, insulating and humidifying properties of the earth.
Most crops prefer a relatively high humidity, so a damp spot in your basement is a good location for a cellar. Ideally, cold cellars are situated next to an exterior wall below grade, preferably on north or east facing walls to provide exposure to outside soil temperatures. The interior walls should be insulated to keep the heat out.
To function properly, cold cellars require ventilation to delay spoilage. To achieve natural ventilation, two pipes should be installed that penetrate the exterior wall to allow for cool, fresh air from the outside to be drawn in and to allow the escape of stale air.
For maximum efficiency, a root cellar must remain at a temperature between the freezing mark and up to 8º C and hold a humidity level between 80 and 95 percent. Cooler temperatures slow the rate of decomposition by reducing the emission of ethylene that feeds the microorganisms causing decay. The high humidity slows the rate of evaporation, reducing the pace of dehydration as evidence by withering produce.
Strategic placing of your items also helps extend their season. Root crops prefer colder, more humid conditions and should be stored on lower shelves which are surrounded by air that is more cool and moist, while higher shelves will be warmer and dryer. Store your onions and garlic along with pumpkins and winter squash on higher shelves where it is slightly warmer and drier, and leave the potatoes closer to the floor where it is more cool and damp.
Whether you stock your cellar with ith crops from local farmers, a root cellar is an inexpensive, hydro-free location to store produce and enjoy the fruits (and vegetables) of your labour well past harvest time. KG