Over the years I’ve received many inquires about what above ground root cellar type options might be available for people in cold and warm climates. For those in warm climates – sorry, the physics are not in your favor, unless you have a spring house, but this post will give you some ideas to keep homegrown food on the table year round. For those in cold climates – there are a number of above ground options that may help you store your harvest without processing for at least part of the non-growing season. We’ll cover those, too. First, let’s talk root cellar physics. (Don’t worry, I’ve got a minor in physics to go with my math degree – I’ll get you through this.) [Read more...]
The “Building an Eco Home” series is nine articles that were originally published in The Healthy Independent while we were in the process of building our current home. I have made only minor edits to include links and format for the online publishing. I will be discussing green building and remodeling in more detail in upcoming posts, so if you want to know more about a topic, please make a request.
For those of you who are new to our “eco-home”, let me provide a brief overview of progress to date. Our goal at the start of this project was to build a home that conserved energy and resources, was accessible for family and friends with physical limitations, and had enough acreage that we could fully pursue our interests in organic gardening, orcharding, heirloom plants and livestock and other outdoor pursuits.
Finding the right property in our budget was a challenge, but we did it. (Read more about that in part 2.) House placement and access presented some more challenges, but we finally broke ground in October 2004. Just about everything that could happen to slow things down, did, but we are finally nearing completion. Hopefully by the end of May or early June we will be moving into our new home. [Read more...]
We built a root cellar under our front porch. Typically, if you’re building new your porch floor is formed out of a concrete slab, you need to put a foundation wall under it anyway, so why not put this area to good use? Even if you can’t deal with (or don’t want to deal with) traditional root cellaring (storing vegetables and fruit), you could use the space as a wine cellar, gun cabinet, place to brew beer, a battery room for your PV/Wind system or simply more storage. I highly recommend including a root cellar as part of your emergency preparedness planning if you can, as it’s a great low-cost, no-energy way to store food and extend the shelf life of fresh produce. [Read more...]
Spring has finally arrived. Traditionally, this was the time when winter stores were running low and new growth was not ready for harvest – the lean times. How can we stretch our gardening season so that even in our cold climate we have access to fresh produce year round?
Learn to eat seasonally. Now is not the time to expect sweet corn in Wisconsin. Look for spring greens – young dandelion and nettles are rich in vitamins and are widely available (note: do not harvest greens that may have been sprayed with chemicals within the last year). Many types of garden vegetables thrive in cooler weather. If you started them earlier in the season, they may be available for harvest now. Otherwise, you can directly sow them in the garden now for harvest in a few weeks. Spinach, mache, lettuce, radishes, potatoes, peas and onions are a few of the crops that prefer cooler temperatures.
Second, plan for storage crops. Some crops, like parsnips and sunchokes, can overwinter directly in the garden. I just dug up my parsnips on Easter and they were wonderfully sweet and delicious. They will hold for a while in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator, but for long term storage they must be cooked and frozen. I still have carrots, beets and potatoes in the root cellar. They are starting to sprout, but are still firm and tasty. To extend their storage life, I break/cut off the sprouts as they appear. Shell beans are another “easy to store” crop. I have several jars in the pantry that I use for everything from soup to baked beans. I just cooked up the last of my pumpkins earlier this month and pureed and froze them. This will keep us in pumpkin bread and other goodies until next fall’s harvest.
Four Season Harvest Related Links:
Planning for Storage Crops – How to plan for storage crops in your garden.
The dandelion is a healthful, great tasting weed you can eat – From Backwoods Home magazine, a dandelion primer.
How to Recognize and Eat Stinging Nettles (and what to do if you get stung) – from Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places
Maple Roasted Parsnips from Food Network
2 1/4 pounds parsnips
4 tablespoons melted butter
3 1/2 fluid ounces maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Peel the parsnips and then halve them crosswise, then halve or quarter each piece lengthwise. Place the parsnips into a roasting tin. Pour the butter over the parsnips and mix them well so that the butter covers all of the pieces. Pour the maple syrup over the parsnips and transfer the roasting tin to the oven. Roast the parsnips for 35 minutes, or until they are tender and golden brown. To serve place on a clean serving dish. Makes eight servings.
Note: I also enjoy parsnips roasted simply with sesame oil and a little salt and pepper, especially spring harvested parsnips which are quite sweet already.
Boston Baked Beans from AllRecipes.com
2 cups navy beans
1/2 pound bacon
1 onion, finely diced
3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons salt 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
Soak beans overnight in cold water. Simmer the beans in the same water until tender, approximately 1 to 2 hours. Drain and reserve the liquid. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Arrange the beans in a 2 quart bean pot or casserole dish by placing a portion of the beans in the bottom of dish, and layering them with bacon and onion. In a saucepan, combine molasses, salt, pepper, dry mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar. Bring the mixture to a boil and pour over beans. Pour in just enough of the reserved bean water to cover the beans. Cover the dish with a lid or aluminum foil.
Bake for 3 to 4 hours in the preheated oven, until beans are tender. Remove the lid about halfway through cooking, and add more liquid if necessary to prevent the beans from getting too dry.
Note: I like to use Tiger Eye heirloom beans for this recipe. They give it an extra-rich buttery texture.
Whole Wheat Pumpkin Pancakes from Pinch My Salt.com
1 C. whole wheat flour
1/2 C. cake flour
1 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
1 C. buttermilk
1 C. pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 t. vanilla
2 T. dark brown sugar
In a large bowl, whisk together the first eight ingredients (whole wheat flour through nutmeg). In a separate bowl, whisk together the last six ingredients (buttermilk through brown sugar).
Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and blend together with a wooden spoon until just combined. Lumps are ok, just make sure all the flour on the bottom of the bowl is mixed in. If batter seems too thick to pour, you can gently stir in a little more buttermilk.
Drop pancakes by ladleful onto a medium-hot griddle. Pancakes are ready to turn when the edges start to look a little dry and you can see small bubbles forming on the surface.
Notes: You may substitute all-purpose flour for the cake flour if that’s all you have on hand. You may also use only whole wheat flour, just increase whole wheat to 1 1/2 cups and omit cake flour; pancakes will be just a bit heavier. Light brown sugar or white sugar may be substituted for dark brown sugar. If you have it on hand, 2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice can be used in place of the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
As I start to plant my garden, I’m planning for storage crops to keep our pantry and root cellar stocked. Most folks can grow a tomato plant or two to provide fresh eats in season, but eating from your homestead year round is the real challenge, especially in areas like ours where we’re likely to have snow from November to March (and sometimes longer).
I use a variety of approaches to extend the harvest. Eliot Coleman’s New Organic Grower got me thinking about crops that are more cold tolerant, some of which I hadn’t grown before, or hadn’t used for season extension. I grew up in zone 3 and my mom had a very traditional gardening approach. The ground was worked up in spring with a disk and tractor (we lived on a farm and had a BIG garden) as soon as it was dry enough. We planted in long, straight rows, and pretty much everything went in about the same time, somewhere in mid to late May. My garden is more like a patchwork quilt. I work up bits and pieces by hand or with a tiller as needed. Some of the beds that have been around longer don’t need to be worked up at all (I mulch heavily). This allows me to plant the cold tolerant crops in their areas while leaving the later crop areas undisturbed (I’m working towards consecutive crops). We get a lot of wind, so this cuts down on erosion.
Early spring finds me direct seeding cold tolerant greens like spinach, mache, minutina, and claytonia, along with potatoes, peas, and radishes. Inside, a variety of seedlings that require more heat await transplanting. Last year I also added container tomatoes and cucumbers. These plants stay small and bushy so they live out their lives in the greenhouse or a cold frame, giving me a jump start on my favorite summer veggies. We have a small attached greenhouse and two cold frames that I use to transition seedlings out to the garden.
|Cold frame made from scrap wood and recycled patio door|
When the weather gets a bit warmer, it’s time to put in the rest of the storage root crops. I have had good luck with carrots and beets in the root cellar stored in buckets with damp leaves. I tried sand one year, but it was really messy. Sawdust was pretty messy, too. Not all varieties store the same. My best keeping carrot was Scarlet Keeper from Fedco Garden Seeds. The other orange carrots stored reasonably well, too. The yellow and purple carrots (Yellowstone and Dragontongue) became somewhat dry and lost some of their sweetness. I tried sugar beets last year and was impressed with their taste and keeping qualities (Yellow Intermediate Mangel from Seeds of Change). We had a football sized beet that was still tender and delicious (and fed the entire family). I still have potatoes and onions in the root cellar, too, just kept loose in bins.
|Digging Carrots in Fall|
Some roots crops store best right where they grew in the garden. I just dug my parsnips on Easter, and I still have sunchokes waiting to be dug. Freezing improves the flavor of both. In fall I mulch them both heavily with straw. As soon as the ground thaws in spring, the parsnips come out. If you leave them in much longer they will begin sprouting and become tough and woody as they prepare to set seed. The sunchokes seem to be a bit more forgiving. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of sunchokes, but they come back year after year and are about as easy as can be to raise, so I let them have their corner of the garden and mow around them to keep them in from getting out of hand.
|Digging Parsnips in Spring|
Dried shell beans can keep for years in a cool dry location. I’ve got mine in mason jars in the pantry. They’re easy to keep pure for seed, too, as beans are self-pollinating. I spread mine around the garden, generally with at least one patch of flowers between bean varieties to keep the bees busy. I can renew six to eight varieties per season this way (I think I have around ten at this point). Pumpkins and squash keep for months in a cool, dry location. Mine live in on the floor in my canned good storage room. I just cooked up the last ones this month and put the puree in the freezer to hold us over until next fall.
I highly recommend Mike and Nancy Bubel’s book Root Cellaring for ideas on storing vegetables without electricity. Below is a link to a Minnesota Extension chart on fruit and vegetable storage to get you started. It’s pretty conservative, though, I’ve managed to keep most crops significantly longer than they indicate.
Of course I do quite a bit of canning, freezing and drying, too, but the crops that keep without a lot of fuss are some of my personal favorites.
Update: May 13, 2011, and I’ve still got parts of the garden with standing water. We had a snowy winter and a very wet and cold spring so far – one for the record books. It’s sizing up to be a challenging gardening season, but we’re doing the best that we can.