UFH Challenge # 3 Cold Cellaring

I’ve always dreamed about a root cellar. A cave of damp earth dug into a hillside with a door for access, filled with apples and potatoes and squashes and ferments to get us through the winter. But in Seattle, with clay for topsoil, and hardpan and water table one inch down (not to mention rats the size of cats because of the ever-present access to fresh water, ivy rockeries and garbage cans) that dream is just not practical.

So what can I do to keep from working so hard to make my harvest shelf stable and energy efficient (or neutral)? Well I can still cold cellar! And so can you!

Many receptacles make perfect cold cellars. Ice chests or unplugged refrigerators in cold climates, garbage cans filled with damp sand, bales of straw surrounding boxes of fruit, or even your garden beds. In many cases just a subterranean garage and cardboard boxes will suffice.

It turns out different foods store better under different conditions. Here are my top choices for easy storing produce:

1. Potatoes store easily in an extra fridge, ice chest, cardboard boxes in a temperate garage, or boxes surrounded and covered by hay bales in near or below freezing temperatures. The trick is to keep them in absolute darkness, check them frequently and remove any rotting potatoes. In many climates they can be stored in the garden and dug as needed. Just be sure they are located in an area with good drainage before attempting that.

2. Winter squashes, once properly cured, can sometimes be stored until spring in warm and dry conditions with good airflow around each squash. I don’t even bother roasting, pureeing and freezing pumpkin for pies any longer since I can do it on an as needed basis all winter long (when I would rather the oven were on anyway).

3. Soft neck garlic, shallots and onions, once properly cured, can be stored either hanging from rafters in the garage or in hanging mesh baskets in the kitchen or somewhere warm and dry. One other option is to hang them inside a greenhouse. Garlic is usually ready in July and you can use them to provide shade for tender winter starts or keep fall salad greens from bolting in August temperatures inside the greenhouse. The warmer temperatures inside a greenhouse will hasten their drying time.

4. Carrots and beets need high humidity and cool temps so do best either in a closed bag inside the refrigerator (once the tops are removed) or in a garbage can or rubber storage container full of damp sand. I’ve successfully stored fall beets in a spare refrigerator into February in this manner. In some climates carrots can be stored in the garden all winter long. In colder climates you should cover them with thick leaf mulch or straw so the ground does not freeze lest they be inaccessible when you want them.

5. Cabbages are best made into saurkraut but you can store extra heads in clean, dry straw in boxes, ice chests or spare refrigerators. The outer leaves will wilt but just peel those off and use the inner ones. They won’t be as crisp as fresh summer cabbage but they will roast up beautifully or make perfect additions to winter soups. Some varieties of cabbages, when started in mid summer, store perfectly well in your garden all winter long without special protection. Imagine harvesting dinner from your garden in the middle of winter!

Your challenge: Choose one of these items, buy it from a local farmer, and store enough of it to last your family at least 3 months.

Even if this feels like a baby step – it’s a huge step towards building a local food economy and food independence! You don’t need to grow the food yourself (although bonus points if you did) but buying it from a local farmer – and not from the grocery store – will prove to you that it is possible to make this way of eating habitual. In other words, with enough late summer and fall planning, it’s possible to eat locally all winter long in your climate!

9 Responses to UFH Challenge # 3 Cold Cellaring

  1. Can I get some advice on delicata squash? Some of mine could not be pierced with a fingernail, so I thought they were ready to pick, but they quickly shriveled. I’m leaving the rest on the vine until frost, but I want to make sure I’m doing everything right because I know they will not last as long as larger squash even under ideal conditions. I’ve read they do not need curing. Have you grown delicata, and what do you suggest?
    The large candy roasters I grew last year were much easier to deal with–other than their gargantuan vines–and they lasted at least 8 months!

    • Hi Val – delicata still need to cure but even then they won’t last more than a few months. Wait until they start to turn color and the vines start dying down. That said if you are experiencing wet and damp conditions they may rot yet. There is a reason they are named delicata.

  2. In your old Seattle garage did you just keep winter squash on the ground or did you use a shelf and if a shelf what material was it ?

    • Hi Joanna – I had them up on wooden shelving but it was a wooden wine rack from ikea, so lots of good airflow around them. I know others that keep them just on wooden shelves on top of crumpled up newspaper to help with airflow. Squash want warm, dry condition so if you have room in your main house that would be better. Maybe start your fall centerpiece now, using your squash.

  3. Does one kabocha squash that lasts three months before I remember it, count?

  4. What does “once cured” mean in reference to squash?

    • Julia, once the squashes start to change color (like pumpkins turning orange for instance, or acorn squashes getting a yellow spot on them where they sit on the ground) then cut the stems and put them in a warm, dry place with good airflow all around so that the skins harden up. Be very careful not to nick the skins at this stage or they won’t store as well. Once they are cured you can stack them with other squashes closer together to save space.

  5. Pingback: August UFH Challenge #5: Create an Eating Plan | Sustainable Eats & the Dancing Goat Gardens Communal Project

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