Portage River Farm

  (Pinckney, Michigan)
Notes on our struggles and successes on our family farm in rural Michigan.
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Thinking About Root Cellars

If necessity is the mother of invention, then not planning ahead is the mother of necessity. About a week ago we had a very hard frost that killed just about everything in the garden. What remains are the cold weather crops, the winter squash, and the root vegetables. As the nights have become progressively cooler it has begun to worry me that I have no good way to store our winter vegetables!

Most root vegetables need temperatures in the range of 32-40 degrees F. Our home has an unheated garage that could be used for storage, but it is far too cold in our Michigan winters that routinely reach 10 degrees below zero. We also have a basement but it is far too warm. With an eye to the ever cooler weather forecast, I have been casting around trying to figure out what to do before everything freezes and is wasted.

In my long-range plan for the farm, I had been assuming we would dig a proper root cellar outside the back door. This is obviously too much of a task for me to begin now if I am to have any hope of completing it in time. Given how miserable the winters can get here, I also have my doubts how much we would actually venture out there and shovel the several feet of snow away from the door to retrieve something. It seems more likely that we would eagerly stock it full in the fall and then mostly waste everything inside due to lack of use.

That has led me to begin thinking about building a root cellar inside our unfinished basement and cooling it with air from outside during the winter. We have been planning to make a project of finishing the basement over the next few years and even have drawn up plans. In those plans there is a 7'x12' storage room that seem perfectly suited to the job.

I searched the Internet and came across a great article from the December 2004 Mother Earth News by Steve Maxwell that seems to be exactly what I had in mind. As you can see from the illustration, it involves building a little room in a corner of the basement, insulating it from the warmth of the house and using an exterior window as a source of cool air.

After seeing this, I am on the verge of launching into yet another project. Nevermind the fact that I have so many others half-finished! Unless Janet grabs me tonight and shakes some sense into me, I think I'm going to pull together a materials shopping list and set off on yet another ambitious project that must be completed before the snow flies. You can either wish me good luck or wish me more common sense, that choice is up to you.
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