In the Root Cellar
We got a freeze on the farm this past week! This means I was running around trying to bring everything in so that it would not get ruined. When we purchased the farm 4 years ago, I was most excited that there was a large root cellar located under the garage! We have never had a root cellar before so I started doing some research. I think most people know that you store vegetables in a root cellar for the winter because it stays cool. One thing that I didn't realize is that a root cellar is not the best place to store everything! Some items need humid conditions and some need dry conditions. A root cellar has cool and humid conditions. One of the first things I put into the root cellar was onions. What I didn't know is that onions need cool and dry storage conditions. The onions started to get some mold on them. Also, the onions started sprouting because we have 2 windows in the side of the root cellar and light was coming in. That problem was easy to fix and we covered the windows with boards. Then, as mentioned in the last blog, we ended up putting an air conditioner in one of the windows and we use that to keep it at 40 degrees and because it is built partially underground, it has a good amount of humidity in our root cellar (it is at least 80% humidity).
Onions, garlic, squash, and potatoes need to be cured before storing. I am pretty sure I did not properly cure my onions that first year either. Curing involves leaving the vegetable in a warm, dry place for a couple weeks to allow the skin to thicken and toughen. Potatoes should also be stored in a dark place so that they do not sprout or turn green because of the light. Potatoes like cool and damp storage conditions. After curing, I like to put the potatoes in a box with layers of shredded newspaper to allow for some ventilation and then I put that box in the root cellar.
We store a lot of squash to feed to the chickens and the ducks in the winter. I have been surprised to find that summer squash actually store pretty well. Squash needs cool and dry conditions for storage. I let them cure and then put into bins and place in a storage room of the house that we do not heat.
Once I get the container full, I put the squash on a shelf in a room of the house that stays cool. I also have the onions and some sunflower heads here on these shelves. In a perfect world, I would have the onions in a dark container so they cannot get too much light. I will have to get some more containers...but we do have the windows blocked in this room too so not much light gets in.
|Top to bottom...sunflower heads...summer squash...onions...on the right side you can see a bag of garlic hanging there...|
Here is a pic of some of the winter squash that we will be eating this winter...I was mostly running around bringing these and the green tomatoes in from the garden last Tuesday. From top to bottom are spaghetti squash, butternut squash, delicata (not sure all these are "ripe"...the unripe ones will be for the girls), also some banana squash and then buttercup squash...not pictured are a couple Baby Blue squash and pepito pumpkins...this is a good harvest...we have plenty of squash this year!
Root vegetables are easy to store and need cold and very moist conditions. Root vegetables do not need to be cured. In fact, it is best to pull them out of the ground and store them immediately. I like to put them in layers of damp sand. I have read that damp sawdust also works well. I store carrots and beets this way. One of the first years I grew beets, I canned some. This was fine but it seems much easier to me to just store them in the root cellar now. Side note: the wet sand gets very heavy...I had to ask Henry to bring this in to the cellar after I filled it up in the garden. Seriously thinking about switching to sawdust next year...
It is best to store larger root vegetables but the carrots just did not grow very big...if the small ones become rubbery, we will just use them for making broth...Joshua LOVES roasted carrots so I have a feeling that they will not last long...
I am experimenting with drying down some sunflower heads for seeds for the chickens and the ducks. It is challenging to get them to dry down all the way. They need to be completely dried or they will mold. I looked at them today and noticed that some were getting a little fuzzy so I turned them over so the underside could dry out. I think they would be best to dry on a screen but I don't have a huge screen to put them on...I will have to think about it a little more for next year...even though we got a good amount of sunflower heads, they will be used up in the next couple of weeks...the girls LOVE their sunflower seeds!
Speaking of seeds, I diligently saved some pea seeds a month ago when the plants started to dry down. Luckily, I opened the jar the other day and noticed that they have weevils! I guess the bugs must have been in the seed when I put them in the jar. I picked some more pea seed and this time, I put it in the freezer for a week to keep any weevil eggs that may have been in there from hatching. I am glad I decided to save some seed early in the season and realized my mistake...
I bought these special root cellar storage containers (to the left of the celery in the pic). As you can see, it is mostly burlap and this allows for good ventilation. I put the carrots and beets in these containers. I dug up this celery from the garden and kind of "replanted" it in this large pot...it should be good for a few weeks...I like to dry it (when I have time) and can add it to soups this winter...
I have some apple wine in the root cellar. I don't really want to store fresh apples long term. Our apples have a LOT of insects so they are not ideal for storage. I try to can them into applesauce or apple pie filling or dry them as we pick them so I am storing apples that way. Also, since apples release ethylene, you have to be careful and not keep them near your potatoes or it will make your potatoes sprout.
I also store heads of cabbage in the root cellar. They don't really need any special treatment...I just put them on the shelf and grab one when I need one. You just have to peel off the outer layers of the cabbage because they will brown and dry out a little...the inside is all good. I also put the watermelon in the root cellar but we will be eating these ASAP! They will not keep more than a couple weeks.
I also store my ferments in the root cellar/cold room. I have some dill pickles and fermented salsa in there right now. Also, I just got finished making some cordita which is a mexican sauerkraut. This is something new I am trying, along with cabbage, it also has shredded carrots, onions, and oregano in it.
I tried to stay on topic...this is mostly what I store as whole vegetables in the fall...summer and winter squash, potatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, beets and cabbage. I have heard of people storing tomatoes in the root cellar and wrapping each tomato in newspaper but I just can/ferment most of the tomatoes into salsa and sauce.
Busy busy time of year! Have an eggcellent day!