Summer is the period of growing food while winter is all about storing it. Given the fact that the prices on produce rise during winter, storing as much as you can earlier is of utmost importance.
Cold storage, commonly known as root cellaring, is one of the oldest and simplest ways to preserve fruits and veggies during the winter months. As a matter of fact, it has found that aboriginal people of Australia have long used this practice to preserve food, but walk-in-root cellars haven’t became popular until the 17th century.
The term root cellar refers to an underground room whose purpose is preserving fruits and veggies for an extended period of time. A root cellar is a place with an adequate level of humidity, cool temperature, and proper ventilation. It can be built in the basement but also placed outside the home.
The appropriate level of humidity is of utmost importance and most produce require high humidity, which is about 85-95%. Although most root cellars are naturally humid, placing a hygrometer in the root cellar is a good idea.
If the humidity level in your root cellar is too high, you should add a few barrels of rock salt or increase ventilation in order to lower it. On the other hand, if the humidity level is too low, you can increase it by packing the veggies in damp sawdust or simply sprinkle some water on the floor.
Cooler temperatures slow down the rate at which produce release ethylene gas, which in turn slows the rate at which they go rancid. After all, this is why we use refrigeration!
In general, the temperature should be 32-50 degrees Fahrenheit, although the ideal temperature depends on the fruits and veggies you are planning on storing.
Besides humidity and temperature, proper ventilation is another factor to your root cellar`s success. Air circulation is very important as it controls the ethylene gasses which are released by the fruits and veggie being stored.
An ideal root cellar should have one inlet vent and one outlet vent, even though you may have more. The inlet vents should be placed low while the latter should be placed high. In cases of extreme cold and heat, the vents should be closed so that the temperature inside stays more consistent.
WHAT FOODS CAN BE KEPT IN A ROOT CELLAR?
As a matter of fact, most foods can be kept in the root cellar, including beets, potatoes, carrots, onions, apples, and many more.
Interestingly, if stored properly, you can even keep cauliflower ( wrap in leaves), cucumbers (in waxed or moist packaging) and tomatoes (stored in boxes in a single layer).
HOW SHOULD A ROOT CELLAR BE ARRANGED?
Given the fact that air circulation is of utmost importance, shelves should be arranged so that there is enough air around the produce. In other words, you shouldn’t keep the fruits and veggies crammed and you should use pallets to raise the food up in case it is stored on the floor.
Those foods which release higher amounts of ethylene gas should be placed closer to outlet vents, including tomatoes, pears, and apples.
Cabbage and other strong-smelling foods should be wrapped in paper to prevent other foods from preventing the smell.
GUARDING AGAINST RODENTS
Rodent infestation is one of the main problems with root cellars. Makes sure you cover all entry points with a wire mesh in order to prevent this.
Don’t forget to inspect the cellar on a regular basis and remove any rotten food so that you prevent bacteria from affecting other food.
Since high humidity levels can cause the lids of canned goods to rust, don’t store canned food in the cellar.