• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
permaculture forums growies critters building homesteading energy monies kitchen purity ungarbage community wilderness fiber arts art permaculture artisans regional education skip experiences global resources the cider press projects digital market permies.com private forums all forums
this forum made possible by our volunteer staff, including ...
master stewards:
  • Nicole Alderman
  • r ranson
  • Anne Miller
  • Pearl Sutton
  • James Freyr
  • Mike Haasl
stewards:
  • Burra Maluca
  • Joylynn Hardesty
  • paul wheaton
garden masters:
  • Greg Martin
  • Steve Thorn
gardeners:
  • Carla Burke
  • Jay Angler
  • Mike Barkley

root cellars in southern climes

 
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been seeking ways to decrease our need for refrigeration. I live in zone 7b, with hot summers and frequently mild winters. Consequently, I store a lot of stuff in the fridge that really doesn't need to be there. The first alternative that comes to mind is a root cellar. However, I've been told that root cellars don't really get cold enough in the southern US to be effective. Building one would be a huge undertaking, so I'm turning to the experience of others. Does anyone in a warm climate have a root cellar? How well does it work for you? Suggestions? Advice?
 
gardener & author
Posts: 1796
Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
307
trees food preservation solar greening the desert
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
There is a more stable temperature underground, that starts to get close to the annual average temperature in your area. For example, in my region it is well known that at 3 feet below the surface of the ground, it will not go below freezing so pipes are safe, but it will be nice and cold all winter, so buried potatoes and carrots are safe at that depth. I think in my region I was told that at 12 or 15 feet below the surface, the ground stays a very stable temperature around the year. We are approximately zone 5.

I hope somebody else gives a useful link, but I'm sure there's a website where you can find out the underground temperatures for your region.

I do suspect that a root cellar won't give you enough cooling, especially in summer, but I really don't know for sure. Do you have ground water piped into the house? I guess that should be at the deep ground temperature, and if it is cold enough, maybe you can somehow use it for cooling food.

 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Rebecca, you've given me something to research. It appears ground water temperatures correlate to soil temps, and that's mostly what I'm finding. This page page at Build It Solar discusses soil temp for geothermal systems. The first map is for mean earth temperature which, if I'm understanding this correctly, is below 30 feet under the surface. For my area, that's in the mid-60s F. Compared to a refrigerator that is no where near enough, but for things that can't be refrigerated--maybe? Most root crops I can overwinter in the ground, but that might be adequate for storing sweet potatoes and winter squash.

In some ways it's relative. The only other non-refrigerated storage I have is my pantry. It runs in the 80s in the heat of summer, so anything cooler than that would be an improvement!

I often find myself wondering how folks in the southeastern US kept and preserved food before refrigeration.
 
pollinator
Posts: 1099
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
245
hugelkultur forest garden hunting chicken food preservation bee
  • Likes 9
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Leigh,

We are in a similar climate. I looked at the logistics of a root cellar and found that historically they were not used here, and tried to figure out why. The best answer I could come up with was that the winter temps here you can leave most root crops in the ground, as they are below the frost line. I have a few test beds I have left parsnips, carrots and beets in the ground, and they seem to be fine (but this has been a very mild winter). Potatoes have been a failure. Squash seems to be OK unless it's prolonged below freezing as long as it is dry (its the freeze thaw cylcle that seems to get them).

It just doesn't make a lot of sense to me to make a root cellar given that for winter storage. For summer storage the locals pickled meats (like country ham) but mostly you can eat fresh about 9 months a year. I have fava beans and onions going all winter here (not growing much but will pop up in spring) and thats what people did- they had season extending plants like collards rather than a lot of storage. My biggest storage item is definitely squash, and I am setting up shelves in the barn with a little bit of loose insulation but decent airflow.

The biggest problem with this style is I do get some wire worms, but I move stuff around and the chickens are pretty good at finding them.

I gave up on the root cellar when I realized what kind of drainage pain it would be with the high water table in spring most years and predominant clay soil.
 
pollinator
Posts: 3440
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
54
  • Likes 4
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In many areas, the spring house was the critical infrastructure, especially for dairy. It only takes a trickle of a cold spring to keep a cooler sized container cold.  I am toying with the idea for a spring fed cool box, basically an insulated chest freezer with an inner box to hold the produce.  My springs are about 60 in the heat of the summer so it is a huge improvement over ambient.  I don't think I have enough flow to cool a whole room, though, or I would LOVE a walk in cooler.  It is possible to combine technologies, like the spring water plus a coolbot to deal with peak loads.
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Tj Jefferson wrote:Leigh,

We are in a similar climate. I looked at the logistics of a root cellar and found that historically they were not used here, and tried to figure out why. The best answer I could come up with was that the winter temps here you can leave most root crops in the ground, as they are below the frost line.


Tj, that's the kind of information I am looking for.

My experience echos what you say about leaving root crops in the ground. I have found that I can leave carrots, turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips, beets, radishes, and mangles in the ground and harvest all winter. A good mulch layer of leaves (could be straw) helps. It's never cold long enough for the ground to freeze too solid to dig them up. Like you, no luck with potatoes overwintering nor sweet potatoes. I understand why collards are a southern winter staple; they are hardy! If it doesn't get too cold I can harvest kale, lettuce, and other greens all winter too. I always grow my multiplier onions and garlic in winter. I was pleased that you mentioned favas because I planted them last fall for the first time!

Because I have goats I have a lot of milk, but I've been experimenting with different kinds of cheeses that I can store without refrigeration. (No cheese cave either). The brined Mediterranean cheeses seem to do well, and I've taken to storing them in the pantry in olive oil. It still gets pretty warm in my pantry in summer, so I would wish for a cooler place for them. It would be nice to have a cooler place to store eggs too. In the fridge, they keep for months and months unwashed. On my kitchen counter in summer, they only keep for weeks before they start to fail the float test. Storage temperature makes a difference for longevity.

I understand why Southerners traditionally kept a family hog and ate a lot of pork, Less meat to deal with than a cow!
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

R Scott wrote:In many areas, the spring house was the critical infrastructure, especially for dairy. It only takes a trickle of a cold spring to keep a cooler sized container cold.  I am toying with the idea for a spring fed cool box, basically an insulated chest freezer with an inner box to hold the produce.  My springs are about 60 in the heat of the summer so it is a huge improvement over ambient.  I don't think I have enough flow to cool a whole room, though, or I would LOVE a walk in cooler.  It is possible to combine technologies, like the spring water plus a coolbot to deal with peak loads.


R Scott, having a spring would be absolutely ideal. Years ago I lived on an off-grid farm in Tennessee. They used an old chest freezer to pipe spring water through for storing milk. It worked very well.
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 1099
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
245
hugelkultur forest garden hunting chicken food preservation bee
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

 It still gets pretty warm in my pantry in summer, so I would wish for a cooler place for them. It would be nice to have a cooler place to store eggs too. In the fridge, they keep for months and months unwashed. On my kitchen counter in summer, they only keep for weeks before they start to fail the float test. Storage temperature makes a difference for longevity.



On eggs, we used hydrated lime on unwashed eggs in a tub last summer and it worked fine unrefrigerated for a few months, then we ran out of eggs and ate them. This is a technique few people seem to know. But that is a reasonable option in my opinion. Cheese and cured meat storage are very challenging and I haven't figured it out. I made a bunch of biltong last year and it molded after a few months. This year I am using sealed bags with silica packets (still not refrigerated). Time will tell but it works for dried tomato and dried mushrooms for > one year. The packets can be regenerated and I reuse the bags.

Cheese- in humid climates it seems they rely on wax based on my time in Europe. The wax can be reused and historically was. My bees better get after it, but now we don't have the time or schedule for dairy.

Overall we are eating mostly with the seasons, which means I'm pretty carnivorous in the winter with lots of winter squash and basically vegetarian in the summer with fish. The big winner here in winter is mushrooms- they have been bountiful and incredibly delicious. I am foraging hen of the woods right now and we have wild oysters all over the place. Just found some chicken of the woods but its a long way away and looking for closer colonies (but I stole the log to try to get it started here!)

I love this climate it has been wondrous. I'm from the western US and northern Europe and this is sooo much better.
 
pollinator
Posts: 619
Location: Ashhurst New Zealand
154
duck trees chicken cooking wood heat woodworking homestead
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Tj - we're trying the lime water egg preservation trick this year. So far I've filled one 15 litre bucket and have started on the next. The few that we've fished out have been fine, so fingers crossed this works well long term.
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 3
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Tj Jefferson wrote:On eggs, we used hydrated lime on unwashed eggs in a tub last summer and it worked fine unrefrigerated for a few months.


I'm glad you mentioned liming eggs. Several years ago, I experimented with a number of techniques including dehydrating, water glassing, and liming them. The water glassing and liming were easiest, although water glass isn't so easy to find nowadays. Pickling lime is easier to come by. I found they kept for about four months before developing a metallic taste.

I rely on my freezer a lot for meat and some cheeses, also canning for meat. I'm in South Carolina and find dehydrating a challenge because of our humidity. As soon as anything comes out of the dehydrator and cools, it's already losing crispness.

Mediterranean cheeses such as feta, halloumi, and domiati are traditionally stored in brine, although they get too salty for my taste after a while. So I transfer them to the olive oil. I made four one-gallon crocks of EVOO stored cheese last summer and found they keep very well. We're enjoying them now. I was a little worried about quality because our pantry gets pretty warm, but they are fine.

I still rely on my fridge too, even for things like bread, which gets moldy after just a day in the bread box. I know there are a number of things that don't need refrigeration (ketchup, fermented foods, jams, and jellies, etc) but I keep them in the fridge for longevity's sake. Cooler storage conditions would certainly be helpful, although this discussion has helped point out that digging a root cellar would probably be more work than it's worth. I'd still like to figure out alternatives to refrigeration for cool food storage. Everyone's ideas help.

 
Posts: 707
Location: In the woods, West Coast USA
83
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
We have downsized our refrigerator for meat and dairy since they need 40F at least.    There are ceramic butter keepers that use water that work well.  Yogurt holds well in a root cellar temp of 50F-60F for a few days.  

We used to have a root cellar on the side of the hill, in the shade, that faced an almost constant wind.  The cold air would come in the bottom of it, and go out 2 vents in the top.  

Vegetables do well in a root cellar also because it's dark, and a pretty constant cool temperature.    

 
pollinator
Posts: 2493
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
165
forest garden solar
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
To me a root cellar isn't used to keep things cool/cold. It is actually used to keep things warm, that is not frozen outside up north where it turns into mush once it goes above freezing. People in the north use it to keep food not frozen, people in the sub-tropics/tropics don't really use it to preserve food. Traditionally things in the south were mostly salted/smoked/fermented or dehydrated.

To better help why exactly do you want to have a root cellar?
Store: Root Crops (they survive in the ground)
Store: Spices (they are normally dried&even powdered)
Store: Kale/Collared/Greens (they are better in the ground and overwinter will)
Store: Nut (dried, they keep at room temp for quite a few months in their shell)
Store: Beans (dried is the usual way to go, maybe even fermented then dried)
Store: Grains (dried, maybe even dried & powdered, turned into a alcohol soaked cake, or fermented to beer/etc)
Store: Fruits (dried, fermented, sugared-jam-syrup, soaked in alcohol)
Store: Mushroom (dried, fermented)
Store: Meat (salted-ferment, then smoked-dried)
Store: Eggs (just don't wash them and they last very long at room temperature)
Store: Dairy (ferment, then semi-dry to cheese, then store in oil or salt/lime water at room temp)

If you just want to have a storage room you can just build a room/barn/shed/basement and add 12inch of rigid foam insulation (r-60 for $4000) and you can probably cool the place with just a block of ice once a week.
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

S Bengi wrote:To me a root cellar isn't used to keep things cool/cold. It is actually used to keep things warm. . .


Well, it is all relative, isn't it? Good point!

To better help why exactly do you want to have a root cellar?


Your mention of room temperature can probably best illustrate that. For me, room temperature in summer is about 85 F, so the "normal" parameters and recommendations for room temp aren't useful. For example, I can keep unwashed eggs in the fridge for months, but at 85 degrees they only last for weeks before failing the float test. It's the same with fermentation. I left some kimchi out at room temperature this past summer as an experiment. It didn't take long before it became slimy and developed a horrible odor. I can keep it up to a year in the fridge.

Hence, my original question---would a root cellar in the un-air-conditioned South increase storage longevity for at least some foods? We've modified eating and preservation strategies for our region, but I'd still like to see if there isn't more I can do to decrease my dependency on refrigeration. I have a number of books on root cellaring, but they don't address my climate. I realize 40 F isn't realistic in my part of the country, so here I am, turning to others with similar experience.
 
gardener & author
Posts: 958
Location: Tasmania
466
homeschooling goat forest garden fungi foraging trees cooking food preservation pig wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I want to build a combined root cellar and cheese cave in zone 8b/9a. I'll make a thread about it on here once I've finished it, and might take some temperature readings through the year. My main reason is to age and store natural-rinded hard cheeses, but I'd also like somewhere to store potatoes and apples, and maybe some roots and ferments.

There are a few reasons I can think of to root cellar things even in this climate. Mice and other wildlife can be more active over winter and can eat things if they're left in garden beds, sometimes we might want to harvest a whole bed and sow it to a cover crop in autumn, and also sometimes it's nice to have winter to focus on stuff other than harvesting, and not have to go out in the cold and rain to dig up roots from boggy soil.
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 5
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Kate Downham wrote:There are a few reasons I can think of to root cellar things even in this climate. Mice and other wildlife can be more active over winter and can eat things if they're left in garden beds, sometimes we might want to harvest a whole bed and sow it to a cover crop in autumn, and also sometimes it's nice to have winter to focus on stuff other than harvesting, and not have to go out in the cold and rain to dig up roots from boggy soil.


Kate, you've just breathed some life back into my root cellar dream lol. What you say about winter harvesting is so true. It's definitely no fun digging critter gnawed root crops in the cold rain and mud.

I so wish we had a basement. That would solve my dilemma. As it is, the question is the amount of work to dig a root cellar versus the benefit. I have to convince my husband that the benefit would outweigh the work.

I'm definitely looking forward to your upcoming root cellar / cheese cave thread.
 
gardener
Posts: 1588
Location: Pacific Wet Coast
496
duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Leigh Tate wrote:

I'm in South Carolina and find dehydrating a challenge because of our humidity. As soon as anything comes out of the dehydrator and cools, it's already losing crispness.

I'm much cooler than you, but the humidity issue during "drying" season is a major issue as our overnight dew is a main source of water for plants at certain times of the year. When I remove food from my dehydrator, I put it onto metal cake pans and put them in the fridge to cool for a good few hours. Then I remove the pans and pour the food into a glass jar with a metal lid (a canning funnel helps with this!). In a humid environment, plastic will not keep the humidity out. I will occasionally add a dehydrating packet as well, but usually that hasn't been necessary if the food is "fridge cool" when I jar it. For some things that I do in small quantities, I will put the food in small baggies, but then I put all the baggies in a glass jar.

I totally agree with the not digging half-chewed veggies in the winter. I also agree that there's a big difference in food storage when temps are in the 80's than here where the ocean cools everything at night even if it is hot during the day. I also agree that convenience is *everything*. So I'll back up the idea of needing to find a convenient way to lower the temperature of your stored food from the 80+ range to at least the 60-65 F range - there are lots of things "modern" people tend to store in the fridge that would be fine at 60-65 F, better at 55 F, but certainly don't require fridge temperature. Looking at that excellent link above, a cellar will need to start at 5 feet down and go deeper to do you much good. Would the terrain of your land allow you to dig into the side of a hill to help? If you do try to build something, I'd plant lots of shade in layers above it! Plant evapotranspiration has been shown to reduce temperatures more than non-living shade. Hmmm... combination root cellar and hugelculture? You could start a trend!

The other aspects no-one's mentioned are the natural water table height (winter or summer) and the flood risk. Both of those are moving targets with some of the weather-weirding that's happening, so if I was going to the trouble of building something, I'd chose to err on the pessimistic side so I wouldn't loose my food at exactly the time I might need it the most.

Have you looked at the double stoneware jar with wet sand between them trick being used in some hot countries? I don't know if they'd have the same effect in a humid environment, as I think they've been proposed for hot dry climates. That said, coupled with a deep cellar, it might give you a few more degrees.
 
gardener
Posts: 274
Location: In view of the Chiricahua Mountains, AZ
113
dog duck forest garden fish fungi chicken cooking bee greening the desert
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
It looks like people have covered a lot of ideas.  Here are a couple more.  First is one that I don't know if it would work in an area with high humidity - it's basically a huge, walk-in version of the "pot-in-a-pot" method described by Jay Angler just above.  It is not refrigeration, just a cooling chamber.  The directions and video are here: Access Agriculture Making a Cooling Chamber for Tomatoes

The way Access Agriculture is recommending it be used is to cool down a crop that was just picked in the hot sun, so that the crop will last to market.

Another possible option...you can make a cold-as-you-want-it refrigerator quite easily out of a chest freezer and it uses roughly half of the electricity of the freezer.  We have one set up and we just use a simple kegerator thermostat  - no wiring or drilling or modification necessary.  You can do it cheaper, I believe, if you are willing to play with wiring.  But we didn't want to permanently change that chest freezer.  

Here are directions and how it works at the New Life on a Homestead website How to convert a chest freezer into a refrigerator

I've found it incredibly convenient.  We have a very small regular upright refrigerator, and the 7 cu ft chest fridge is where we store our vegetables.  This allows us to store about two weeks worth for two people who eat mostly vegetables.  I was surprised that I find it easier to pull out and search for veggies in the chest fridge rather than a regular fridge.

Even though I'm not a fan of plastic at all, it ended up solving a storage issue.  We found that plastic organizers keep mushrooms fresh way, way, way longer than anything else we tried.  Paper bags mold in a chest fridge...  I think the chest fridge holds moisture more than an upright one.  Oh, we also have a container of zeolite in there, to help absorb the gases that make plants mature/ripen/rot.  

Two things I learned about chest freezers... only a few brands will warranty their freezers in high temps, like up to 110F.  Be sure to read the warranty before buying!  And second, many Danby chest freezers have a 5 year warranty.  That seems to be the longest we found for a regular chest freezer.  Chest freezers I've had in the past tended to last a really long time anyways, but most have a 1 year warranty.



IMG_0148.jpg
[Thumbnail for IMG_0148.jpg]
Chest refrigerator using a simple kegerator thermostat
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Jay Angler wrote:I'm much cooler than you, but the humidity issue during "drying" season is a major issue as our overnight dew is a main source of water for plants at certain times of the year. When I remove food from my dehydrator, I put it onto metal cake pans and put them in the fridge to cool for a good few hours. Then I remove the pans and pour the food into a glass jar with a metal lid (a canning funnel helps with this!). In a humid environment, plastic will not keep the humidity out. I will occasionally add a dehydrating packet as well, but usually that hasn't been necessary if the food is "fridge cool" when I jar it. For some things that I do in small quantities, I will put the food in small baggies, but then I put all the baggies in a glass jar.



Jay, I will definitely try this idea. I've taken to over-drying (if there is such a thing) items to rock hard, thinking the bit of moisture they pick up won't be enough to be a problem. Mostly, that works. After they're cool, I've been vacuum packing them in canning jars. That keeps things dry and also keeps out pantry moths! (another big problem for me)

I also agree that convenience is *everything*. So I'll back up the idea of needing to find a convenient way to lower the temperature of your stored food from the 80+ range to at least the 60-65 F range - there are lots of things "modern" people tend to store in the fridge that would be fine at 60-65 F, better at 55 F, but certainly don't require fridge temperature.



You're talking my language, lol. My goal is always to keep it simple.

Looking at that excellent link above, a cellar will need to start at 5 feet down and go deeper to do you much good. Would the terrain of your land allow you to dig into the side of a hill to help? If you do try to build something, I'd plant lots of shade in layers above it! Plant evapotranspiration has been shown to reduce temperatures more than non-living shade. Hmmm... combination root cellar and hugelculture? You could start a trend!

The other aspects no-one's mentioned are the natural water table height (winter or summer) and the flood risk. Both of those are moving targets with some of the weather-weirding that's happening, so if I was going to the trouble of building something, I'd chose to err on the pessimistic side so I wouldn't loose my food at exactly the time I might need it the most.



Lots of good ideas here. I'm in the northwest part of the state, so no worries about water table height. Our house is on a slope, so it's possible we could dig into a hill somewhat. Just not sure if it would be deep enough. My husband thought about digging out the crawlspace under the pantry.

Have you looked at the double stoneware jar with wet sand between them trick being used in some hot countries? I don't know if they'd have the same effect in a humid environment, as I think they've been proposed for hot dry climates. That said, coupled with a deep cellar, it might give you a few more degrees.



A Zeer pot. Yes, I have. Our humidity is too high, however, so the dampness in the sand was slow to evaporate and I couldn't get much of a temperature difference.
 
Posts: 338
28
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
the root cellar that came with my place in tn is extremely humid at certain times of year and is full of mold and spider webs, I think it needs to be deeper in ground with water proof floor, but I'm no expert. only good aspect is it does not freeze in there even when 20 degrees outside.
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Kim Goodwin wrote:It looks like people have covered a lot of ideas.  Here are a couple more.  First is one that I don't know if it would work in an area with high humidity - it's basically a huge, walk-in version of the "pot-in-a-pot" method described by Jay Angler just above.  It is not refrigeration, just a cooling chamber.  The directions and video are here: Access Agriculture Making a Cooling Chamber for Tomatoes



Very interesting. The video does make it seem like they are in a dry climate, though. I mentioned I couldn't get a Zeer pot-in-pot to cool much, so I'm guessing it would be the same with the cooling chamber.

Another possible option...you can make a cold-as-you-want-it refrigerator quite easily out of a chest freezer and it uses roughly half of the electricity of the freezer.  We have one set up and we just use a simple kegerator thermostat  - no wiring or drilling or modification necessary.  You can do it cheaper, I believe, if you are willing to play with wiring.  But we didn't want to permanently change that chest freezer.  
. . . .

I've found it incredibly convenient.  We have a very small regular upright refrigerator, and the 7 cu ft chest fridge is where we store our vegetables.  This allows us to store about two weeks worth for two people who eat mostly vegetables.  I was surprised that I find it easier to pull out and search for veggies in the chest fridge rather than a regular fridge.



YES! A chest fridge is one of the things I am planning to do! My current set-up is that I have a chest freezer and second fridge in my pantry. That doesn't help my situation because they produce heat. We're in the final steps of moving the freezer out to our enclosed back porch where we'll set it up on solar. We just have to finish the wiring and make sure the battery bank is fully charged. Then we can plug it into the inverter.

Then we'll add a small 5-cubic-foot freezer to convert to a chest fridge. My second pantry fridge is old and a real energy guzzler. I'll get rid of it.

The root cellar, then just seemed like the next step for intermediate temp storage for potatoes, winter squash, apples, sweet potatoes, etc. Also my crocks of olive oil stored cheeses. Jay's right in that there are so many things that don't need refrigeration. I'd love to get more things out of the fridge.

Even though I'm not a fan of plastic at all, it ended up solving a storage issue.  We found that plastic organizers keep mushrooms fresh way, way, way longer than anything else we tried.  Paper bags mold in a chest fridge...  I think the chest fridge holds moisture more than an upright one.  Oh, we also have a container of zeolite in there, to help absorb the gases that make plants mature/ripen/rot.  

Two things I learned about chest freezers... only a few brands will warranty their freezers in high temps, like up to 110F.  Be sure to read the warranty before buying!  And second, many Danby chest freezers have a 5 year warranty.  That seems to be the longest we found for a regular chest freezer.  Chest freezers I've had in the past tended to last a really long time anyways, but most have a 1 year warranty.



Lots of good tips here. Thanks!
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

bruce Fine wrote:the root cellar that came with my place in tn is extremely humid at certain times of year and is full of mold and spider webs, I think it needs to be deeper in ground with water proof floor, but I'm no expert. only good aspect is it does not freeze in there even when 20 degrees outside.



Hmm, The spiders and mold definitely don't sound good. But from what I understand, root cellars are supposed to have 90% humidity (?) Did your root cellar come with ventilation?
 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 1099
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
245
hugelkultur forest garden hunting chicken food preservation bee
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator

Kate Downham wrote:I want to build a combined root cellar and cheese cave in zone 8b/9a. I'll make a thread about it on here once I've finished it, and might take some temperature readings through the year. My main reason is to age and store natural-rinded hard cheeses, but I'd also like somewhere to store potatoes and apples, and maybe some roots and ferments.

There are a few reasons I can think of to root cellar things even in this climate. Mice and other wildlife can be more active over winter and can eat things if they're left in garden beds, sometimes we might want to harvest a whole bed and sow it to a cover crop in autumn, and also sometimes it's nice to have winter to focus on stuff other than harvesting, and not have to go out in the cold and rain to dig up roots from boggy soil.



In my limited experience trying to make a cache (a very simple root cellar), nothing will attract rodents better than a root cellar kind of setup, which is cozy and out of the weather. Protection from rodents would be very challenging in a root cellar- they will get in there. I have a cat that has access to the garage/barn, and since the cat moved in it has been fine, they tore up my dry seeds last year. If I could figure out how to make a root cellar with a kitty door it might help. We have voles and mice and squirrels and rabbits here as thieves. The rabbits seem to care very little for anything but carrot tops and wierdly they love love love shallot tops. Haven't been a big issue with anything else. Deer will eat the tops of parsnips carrots and onions here. Squirrels dig up my onions initially then havent been bad. Mice and voles don't seem to damage much left in the field (most of my "beds" are silvopasture rows maturing) The other ones haven't been a big issue this winter which is the first big planting I just left in the ground.

I would think a cave would be very useful for cheese and slow curing of meats as is traditional in warm mediterranean area. Mice probably won't bother those products. Cheese in my understanding is not prone to dangerous cultures.  I would think other product that already have an established culture like kimchi and maybe keifer or kombucha would store as well for a while. I would think fermented veggies would last as well, that is traditional in many parts of the world to bury ceramic pots in the ground.  

I get the idea about having a cooler area compared with the kitchen especially if you are using the kitchen in summer, but honestly we just eat fresh stuff all summer until we just want a frozen pizza to break up the monotony. In terms of storage I agree with S Benji that the traditional ways reflect that list based on my discussion with people who grew up out here before electricity. To my knowledge no one tried ice houses as most years there wasn't enough ice to make it viable. We had one of the coldest years on record last year and the lakes didnt freeze enough you could cut ice.

look at the design of root cellars from Sepp, he has a detailed diagram in his book with an intake pipe that is long and runs underground and slightly upward, allowing condensation to form and run back down. He has a small "chimney" to allow a draw through the cool pipe. Spiders are a given. My issue is that periodically the groundwater stays very high in clay soils and the humidity will be from that and not air. Unless you are building a boat, you are basically reliant on essentially a Mike Oehler underground structure with appropraite drainage, which is a lot of work for a storage area.  
 
Leigh Tate
author & pollinator
Posts: 120
Location: Southeastern U.S.
38
goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
  • Likes 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
When I was researching food storage temperature and longevity, I discovered that the food industry has a formula for this. Called the Q10 temperature coefficient, it's defined as the measure of the rate of change in a biological or chemical system for every 10°C (18°F) change in temperature.

Starting with a baseline of "room temperature" or 22°C (72°F):
  • For every 10°C (18°F) increase, shelf life is halved.
  • For every 10°C (18°F) decrease, shelf life is doubled.

  • You can see why storing even canned and dehydrated goods at cooler temperatures is important. My pantry averaged in the 80s°F last summer and reached 90° when the outdoor temps were over 100°F. This has been a motivator in trying to figure out better food storage conditions.

    Our plan is to first get the freezer and extra fridge out of the pantry and set up on the back porch on their own solar power source. The next step will be to see what we can do to get the pantry cooler: better windows, window coverings, and insulation, etc. If we could manage to keep the pantry at room temperature, that would make me extremely happy.

    The last step will be trying to figure out storage somewhere between room temp and refrigeration, for the many items that would be happiest in those conditions. That's where I'm thinking a root cellar might fit in.

    I love that this discussion has included input from such a diversity of experiences and viewpoints. All of those really help me in trying to figure out what would be best for our situation because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to food storage.
     
    Jay Angler
    gardener
    Posts: 1588
    Location: Pacific Wet Coast
    496
    duck books chicken cooking food preservation ungarbage
    • Likes 2
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator
    Leigh Tate wrote:

    Our plan is to first get the freezer and extra fridge out of the pantry and set up on the back porch on their own solar power source. The next step will be to see what we can do to get the pantry cooler: better windows, window coverings, and insulation, etc. If we could manage to keep the pantry at room temperature, that would make me extremely happy.

    Many people don't make the connection that Fridges and Freezers are Heat Pumps! Their job is to pump heat from their insides to the air surrounding the outside. The hotter it is outside, the more that equipment has to work to do its job. Keeping the fridge and freezer in places that can be kept cool in the summer and where they won't heat up *other* food you're trying to keep cool, makes a heap of sense.

    The problem is to try to adapt those mechanisms to the environment. When camping, I used to keep a wet towel over the cooler to use evaporative cooling to help conserve the ice. That doesn't do much good in a humid environment unless there's air flow to help out, and if the air one pushes into the area is hotter than the air already there, it's easy to get a "net sum gain" or sum such thing. (pun intended) One of those power consumption testers (we have a "kiloWatt" version) might be useful. For example, if you put a small fan to augment the air flow over the fridge coils, would the decrease in power consumption of the fridge over 24 hours be less than the increased over-all use of power when the power to run the fan was added in? In my ecosystem, 95% of the year the answer would be no. But in the summer when hubby needs to freeze his meat chickens all at once and the freezer doing the job is running 24 hours a day for several days, a box fan moving that warm air out of the barn makes a huge difference and is well worth the power needed to run the fan.

    Leigh has stated that she also has plans to insulate the pantry better. Insulation slows down the transfer of heat, but it still requires attention paid to where and when the heat is from. Many traditional homes had windows set up so that there were low windows on the "summer breeze" side and high windows on the downwind side to get a chimney effect. In other words, insulation helps with status quo, but if the goal is to keep that room cooler than the surrounding area, having a way to let cooler night air in, then shut it up during the heat of the day to trap that cooler air as long as possible, would make sense to me. Alternatively, the room needs a "source of lower temperature mass". For example, if you had an uninsulated water tank in the pantry that then fed into the hot water heater, you'd get mild preheating of the water while cooling the pantry - but in a humid climate, it better be on a drained tray as it would have plenty of condensation on it! I'm amazed how much condensation our toilet tank gets if it gets flushed too often under certain climactic conditions.
     
    Leigh Tate
    author & pollinator
    Posts: 120
    Location: Southeastern U.S.
    38
    goat cat forest garden foraging chicken food preservation medical herbs writing solar wood heat homestead
    • Likes 1
    • Mark post as helpful
    • send pies
    • Quote
    • Report post to moderator

    Jay Angler wrote:Many people don't make the connection that Fridges and Freezers are Heat Pumps! Their job is to pump heat from their insides to the air surrounding the outside. The hotter it is outside, the more that equipment has to work to do its job. Keeping the fridge and freezer in places that can be kept cool in the summer and where they won't heat up *other* food you're trying to keep cool, makes a heap of sense. The problem is to try to adapt those mechanisms to the environment.


    I confess it was only when we stopped using air conditioning that I realized how much heat the freezer and fridge were producing, which added to the conditions in the pantry.

    Jay Angler wrote:Leigh has stated that she also has plans to insulate the pantry better. Insulation slows down the transfer of heat, but it still requires attention paid to where and when the heat is from.


    I think about this a lot, and understand that better insulation will help, but that eventually the inside will rise to equalize temperature with the outside. Our daytime highs usually get into the 80sF around April and stay there until September. 90s to 100F is common for us in July and August.

    One idea we're entertaining for the pantry is a "California" aka cool cupboard. This is basically a screened shaft with a cool air intake under the house and a hot air vent out the roof. They used to be used for food storage with wire shelves inside. Possibly, if we buried the air intake under the house we could conceivably draw in cooler air and maintain a better food storage temp in the pantry. There is one in Australia where the folks did this for their refrigerator, to carry the generated heat from the compressor out of the house. The link to photos and more information is here.

    Jay, lots of good food for thought in your comment.
     
    And then we all jump out and yell "surprise! we got you this tiny ad!"
    permaculture bootcamp - learn permaculture through a little hard work
    https://permies.com/wiki/bootcamp
    • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
    • New Topic
    Boost this thread!