A root cellar for fall and winter storage is a must for any latitude, even in the far south where cold-season temperatures may not reach a cellar’s ideal levels between 32 and 40 degrees F. But, the simple fact is, the cooler one keeps any food (with few exceptions), the longer it will last. And let us suppose that one has a working windmill, which, as is most often the case, barely provides the very basic electrical needs of a home. Wouldn’t it be highly advantageous to place a refrigerator and freezer in the root cellar’s 55-degree winter environment rather than in the 68-degree environment of the house? A 13-degree difference (or more) would translate into a substantial reduction in required electrical output! You may manage to equip your trib’ home with refrigerators and freezers, but what if the electrical source(s) you plan to use will not hold out? Therefore, for bulk storage under such unreliable tribulation circumstances, a large root cellar or two is a very wise choice, especially when they are not much more than glorified holes in the ground (i.e. not very expensive). If cellars can keep fresh foods edible for even a month longer than the case would be without them, while also providing better summer temperatures for canned and dried foods, cellars will be indispensable additions to all our efforts. But in mid-to-northern latitudes, you’ll get a lot more than a month in fall and winter, for many foods.
A root cellar and cold cellar are the same thing. It calls for high humidity of 80-90% in order to keep fresh vegetables from losing their moisture and shriveling up. A damp soil floor provides this condition best. A concrete floor will provide lower humidity, but this is a better condition for some fresh foods, not to mention dry goods. Some root cellars wisely include two rooms, one with, and one without, a concrete floor.
In cold climates, why not include four rooms: 1) for fresh foods that must not freeze: consider using insulated walls and soil floor; 2) for fresh foods that may safely freeze, and requiring high humidity in the warmer fall and spring seasons: consider soil floors and no wall insulation; 3) for fresh foods in well-sealed containers, and for dry foods: consider painted/sealed concrete floors and walls, with no insulation; 4) for fresh foods requiring some, but not high, humidity: consider an unpainted concrete floor. Having these different options will allow you to shift foods from one environment to another at any one time of the year, to achieve better conditions.
Although fresh foods won’t go as far in arid lands, extending the life of dried foods will more than make up for the trouble and expense of building a root cellar there. And since arid regions are ideal for drying foods in the sun, there will be plenty of dried foods to store. Moreover, if you don’s mind wetting the cellar’s floor (and/or walls) from time to time, the cellar can attain some decent humidity levels for fresh foods. Gravel floors provide the best “humidifiers” in such circumstances, especially if the gravel is several inches deep so as to hold a pool of water at the bottom (you walk on a “dry” or unsoaked surface). You won’t have to water as often with the deep-gravel method.
While the ideal root-cellar combination for fresh foods is low temperature and high humidity, the worst situation is not, as we might at first expect, high temperatures and low humidity. The worst would be high temperatures and high humidity because this combination is best for nurturing bacteria, mold and yeast. Therefore, ideal cellar conditions calls for high humidity only for its ability to maintain freshness. Low temperatures (above freezing) are then needed to counter the bacteria/mould problems created by high humidity.
If we arrange to lower the humidity level somewhat and sacrifice some freshness in the process, rot would be reduced also, perhaps creating a better survival situation. Indeed, the best combination for dealing with rot becomes low temperatures and low humidity, exactly what’s desired for dry goods not needing any humidity. But so what if an apple shrinks some? If rot doesn’t set in while it shrinks, thanks be to the cold temperatures, the only thing it will lose is water. The nutrients will still be in that apple! When we are hungry, safe-to-eat shriveled foods will taste mighty awesome! And any dry food can be made wet again by wetting and/or boiling.
Having no lining in the cellar at all (i.e. just soil walls) would net higher humidity than, say, stone walls. But beware. A mere hole in the ground to act as a root cellar will allow rodents to get in and seize your treasures. If you could properly drape chicken wire on the soil walls, that would likely keep varmints out, but not the insects. And you definitely don’t want to use insecticide in your cellar!! Stone, mortared walls are best, I think. Just make sure the walls lean a little outward so that they won’t cave into the cellar during the wet season.
Understand that there is a difference between infected and shriveled. Moreover, there is a third condition wherein the fresh food will deteriorate under its own metabolism, rot or no rot, if not blanched/boiled. This is why foods going into cans or jars must first be boiled, even when going into vinegar, salt or sugar solutions where bacteria are killed without boiling.
For a dry cellar housing dried foods, a cheaper and easier alternative to stone or concrete walls is tongue-and-groove plywood and wood studding. To keep rodents with sharp teeth out, metal screening tacked to the plywood, and overlapped a good distance at the joints, would work fine. To keep the plywood from rotting, it should be sealed with an exterior-grade sealer, preferably the black-tar product used on the basements of homes (driveway sealer might work too). This tar should also keep out the ants and termites, but I’m no authority on that one. Take precautions with the toxic chemicals in pressure-treated plywood/studs; you should keep all dried foods in air-tight containers, anyway, and this will also add protection against mice and ants.
By using the studding method, you can easily insulate between some, or all, studs. If it becomes necessary to altar humidity/temperature. You might buy the insulation and install it anyway, whether you think you’ll need it or not, as you can always take it out at will. But you won’t likely be able to buy it in the tribulation.
The only drawback to the wood-wall method is that water may get in through the joints of the plywood, especially at ground level (near the cellar’s ceiling). But if you build a structure/pantry above the cellar, this threat is much reduced, and even eliminated if that structure is large enough to extend a few feet past the cellar walls. Otherwise, caulk the studs at the plywood joints before applying the plywood to them. Then caulk directly over the joints after screwing the plywood on. Finally, adhere a 4-inch wood strap to each joint using the caulk as a glue, and you should be as water-tight as Noah for the few years that you’ll need the cellar. Frost and humidity in the outer soil can do a lot of damage, so screw everything, rather than nail.
Building a pantry over a root cellar intended for fresh foods will protect from freezing; the more northerly the location, the further out from all cellar walls this pantry (or garage) should span. But if you go too far, soil humidity won’t be able to reach the walls. I would say that pantry walls three feet maximum from the cellar walls ought to be sufficient for the northern US. That is, if your cellar is 8 x 8 feet, make the pantry 14 x 14 (or 14 x 11 if it’s attached to a house). Keep in mind that this building, acting as the cellar’s roof, is an exceptional sun screen as well as a convenient storage area, in cool seasons, for dried, canned, and even some fresh foods.
Create a perfectly smooth ceiling in the cellar. The more protrusions there are in building materials (i.e. joists and beams), the more area there will be for condensation to form. This means more drips and puddles on your shelves and in your food baskets. You want humidity for fresh vegetables, yes, but in the air, not pools in the containers. If your ceiling structure consists of wood beams or rafters, nail unfinished plywood (definitely not pressure-treated) to form the smooth ceiling. Indeed, leave the plywood natural, and clean it now and then, by spraying a bleach and water solution, so that whatever drips do form won’t transport unwanted molds to your foods.
The root cellar needs temperature-control pipes, which are a simple matter to install during the cellar’s construction (not so easy later). Because warm(er) air rises, put an exhaust pipe (6 inches in diameter) at the top of the room, going straight out the ceiling and into the pantry. Or, if that upper room will be heated, run the pipe outside and then upward to avoid the breeze. Screen the top opening of the pipe to keep pests out, and add a solid cover two inches above the opening/screen to keep out bird droppings and rain.
A second air pipe for intake, through a wall near the floor, will allow cold air to enter the cellar as warmer air rises out the exhaust pipe. But as the location of this pipe’s exit through the cellar wall will be underground, the pipe will need to rise through the soil and into the atmosphere.
Of course, this intake pipe must reach the atmosphere outside the pantry, where it can catch cold breezes. Put an elbow on the upper end of this pipe, therefore, so that horizontal breezes come straight into the elbow’s opening. But don’t glue, screw or tape the elbow on; leave it loose so that it can be turned. Point it north to receive the coldest air currents when you need them. Turn the elbow away from the north if you need to warm things up in the cellar, or if you need winds from other directions for cooling. If you position the intake pipe against the south pantry wall so that access to north winds is unavailable, it’ll be your loss.
While in extremely cold or warm spells you can cap this pipe opening (e.g. with plastic film), don’t forget to uncap it in due time because you need the constant air circulation in the cellar to remove air-borne molds. When you build shelving, do not let the rears of shelves contact the cellar walls, as this restricts air circulation around shelves and promotes molds on foods. Leave a 3-inch gap between shelf and wall.
When cold wind is blowing directly into the intake pipe, it will also force cellar air into the pantry if the exhaust pipe terminates there. The pantry will also cool, therefore, which may or may not be what you want so that it would be a good idea to provide a removable cap for the exhaust pipe as well. Or, even better, provide a permanent cap that is an adjustable vent so that you can dictate at any time how much it will be opened or closed. If this exhaust pipe can double as a water drain, for the times that you need higher humidity in the cellar, that’s using your noggin. No need to carry a large bucket of water down the stairs, just pour into the pipe from the pantry–but make sure the water pours onto the cellar floor directly, not first on the foods. Or just run a garden hose permanently into the cellar [duh].
Some root cellars are built into hills and buried on three sides with a normal, walk-in door on the unburied side. Others are completely buried and must be entered by stairs (often) accessed through a door in the ceiling. If maximum coolness is a priority, as it will be in the south, then bury the cellar completely. As an alternative to a ceiling entrance, a stairwell can be dug just outside a cellar wall with a landing at the bottom, where an insulated door can be installed leading into the cellar. Keep that door out of the sun, of course, and away from the hot summer breeze.
Much of the information I am using here is from the book, “ROOT CELLARING” (Mike and Nancy Bubel, Rodale Press). Their latest books can be obtained from http://www.amazon.com. Though not intended for tribulation survival, I have been able to get a good bit of pertinent information. The authors claim that with proper management and air conditions, the following foods (in the upper latitudes of the US) can be enjoyed in the following months:
“fresh endive in December, tender, savory Chinese cabbage in January; juicy apples in February, crisp, fresh carrots in March; and sturdy unsprayed potatoes in April–all without boiling a jar, blanching a vegetable, or filling a freezer bag” (page xvii).
For tribulation survival, it is not necessary that we have “tender,” “savory,” and “crisp” vegetables. Therefore, under the same climatic circumstances, we could have the above-named vegetables one or two months later and still be bouncy-pleased. And if this is the sort of success story that Mike and Nancy got with exposed plants, imagine what we could do with plastic containers, plastic bags, and dried foods in the same cool conditions. We should easily be able to sustain ourselves with crops alone until the next harvest. Yet, we could plan to store foods that last much longer than vegetables in the first place. In all, the authors say that they could keep 33 different vegetables in open storage, and that spells variety on top of survival.
It is important to harvest vegetables at their peak, “neither underdeveloped nor past their prime,” for best longevity results in cold storage. It is also important to treat them all with special care because the slightest bruising invites molds and bacteria, and these then spread to others vegetables. As soon as you see a rotting or molding section of any vegetable, get rid of it. Slice off the bad part and eat the rest, or throw it into the compost heap. Inspect cellar foods often.
For trib’ survivalists, the longer into the winter or spring we can eat our produce, the better. Therefore, it is important to time the final harvest for the latest possible date. As well as planting vegetables as early as possible in the spring to be able to eat them as soon as possible in late spring or early summer, plant a sizable crop later than usual so that their peak arrives only in the nick of time before the killing frost. This late crop will represent your fresh supply of food in winter, so don’t skimp.
Plant lots of cool-weather crops in this later phase, not just because they can survive some frost and thereby last longer in the soil than other vegetables, but because, as any good gardener knows, many cool-weather crops taste better after frost has nipped them. Among these are parsnips, salsify (also called “oyster plant”), kale, Brussels sprouts, collards, and Chinese cabbage.
Moreover, rooted vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots) can safely stay in the ground past the first frosts too. Every vegetable has its unique period of growth, and you’ll need a good book on gardening to know the lengths of each one in order to time their harvests as late as you can. Take into consideration that vegetables planted later than normal will grow slower in the cooler months of fall than the books indicate. Have a garden expert with you in the tribulation!!! Take him on board for free. (All you Christian gardeners without money of your own to buy and build a tribulation refuge, others who are without your skills might give you a room in exchange.)
Some factors in the gardening department add to storage life. For example, potatoes grown in sandy soils last longer in storage than those grown in heavy soils. According to studies, both fruits and vegetables grown in soil with high potash levels store better and longer than others. Wood ashes, which should be in abundant supply for most trib’ survivors, are a good source of potash. Manure is also a good source of potassium. So store the ashes all winter long where the wind won’t blow them away, and any manure your animals provide can be collected at the first thaw, but don’t over-dose your garden soil. You might think that adding fertilizer generously is good, but while you get larger yields, high levels of nitrogen will increase the rate at which some vegetables age, even after they’ve been picked, thus reducing their cellar shelf life.
Understand that by adding plenty of nitrogen to the soil apart from adding plenty of leaves, grass, food scraps, vines, etc., you’re doing more harm than good. The soil’s nitrogen content is required by the bacteria feeding on organic matter, and, if you’re going to give these bacteria a nitrogen feast, it would be very desirable if there’s an organic target in the soil other than the roots of your vegetables!
As organic scraps (compost) in the soil are broken down by bacteria, heat is released, which happens to be the magic pill that makes plants grow (or the overdose causing root burn). For, as the heat expands in the soil, it forces its way into roots. As it does so, it pushes along all the soil’s chemicals dissolved in ground water, and, if the root system can accept the molecules, they will be forced further up by the same heat energy, into the stems and leaves.
The more heat in the soil, the more that water and chemical nutrients enter the root system and pass through the stems, and the larger and more-succulent the plants will tend to grow. Of course, heat may be added to the soil in other ways aside from nitrogen-consuming bacteria. Remember this key for your greenhouse, and keep the soil warm. Elevated tables, off the cold floor, are ideal. If there is not enough nitrogen in the soil, nor enough organic matter, heat production will be stunted, and plant growth will suffer accordingly.
If plants take in too much water in relation to nutrients, they will not last as long in the cellar, stressing the importance of a garden soil that drains well. Don’t over-water. Clearly, aside from root-cellaring information, you must get a book which discusses soil preparation. Many books on vegetable gardening will include a section on preparing soil, but this section is sometimes too elementary.
Cold storage decreases the natural metabolism of fresh food so that it doesn’t age itself into mush. But, of course! For, if adding heat causes plants to grow, removing heat causes growth (all chemical reactions) to be suspended. Aside from infections, fruits and vegetables can be destroyed by their natural respiration process, as the addition of oxygen changes their chemical states into something we don’t care to eat. Darn oxygen! It’s great for life, but also has this thorny tendency to oxidize everything into ruin.
In some cases, vitamins are also lost with the said respiration process. Blanching (dipping in hot water), or other treatments, will retard/stop aging. Peas only require one minute in boiling water to stop the aging process, but corn on the cob needs 10 minutes. Most other vegetables fall between these two extremes. Blanching is a good way to save foods that are about to go bad, when no other preservation method is available to save them. However, if you like fresh carrots and apples as opposed to cooked, or partially cooked, ones, build yourself an excellent root cellar.
Cold weather at the garden site at harvest time is a positive factor because vegetables are prone to store more sugars and starch and less water in these periods. Having a lower water content, they are also have more stuff, and this keeps their water content from evaporating as easily on the shelf. Mike and Nancy suggest leaving the vegetables in the soil as long as possible by covering them with 12 to 18 inches of mulch (dried leaves, grass, straw, etc.) to keep them from freezing. As they can be kept in the ground for two to four weeks longer by this method, not only are they skirting deterioration all the while, as would be the case on a cellar shelf, but they are storing up more sugars and starch so that they last longer on that shelf when ultimately placed there.
Freezing is fine for some fresh vegetables and destructive to others (e.g. potatoes). However, you’ll want to avoid completely, with all vegetables, the repeated freezing and thawing that can take place in root cellars from warm spell to cold spell and back to warm. You’ll solve that problem if you build a section of your root cellar that never freezes during these wavering spells on either side of the winter deep-freeze (i.e. on either side of January/February).
With so much time on our hands in the tribulation, there’s no reason why we couldn’t reap additional benefits by replanting some vegetables in the cellar, after the winter temperatures become too hazardous for their outdoor existence. Of course, don’t replant them in the hardened soil floor, but in cases filled with sand or loose soil. This will keep some rooted vegetables for up to one month longer. Or, you can simply heap the vegetables on the cellar floor and cover them with damp, loose soil. Mike and Nancy bury some vegetables in moist saw dust. When needed, they also drape moist cloths over-top of the bushels or crates of food.
Bring most vegetables and fruits into the root cellar immediately after harvesting. Some vegetables, however, such as onions and garlic, need to be dried in the sun for a week before dry-cellar storage. Squash and pumpkins need two weeks in the sun to develop a hard rind, and they need a warm cellar. Sweet potatoes also need to be cured. If you didn’t know these basic things, then you need an appropriate book before you spoil your first harvest learning the hard way. Go to http://www.amazon.com, and search for Mike and Nancy Bubel.
Do not clean the vegetables before storage as this will risk bruising. Leave them covered in a layer of dirt if that is how they arrive. Shake off large clumps of dirt, of course, but be gentle. To reduce the clumps, harvest in dry weather. Do not cut the tips of roots off or slice any parts of perfect vegetables as this will invite bacteria to form colonies. Cut off most of the leafy stems of root vegetables to inhibit the escape of water, but leave an inch to keep bacteria from getting into the tops of roots. The tops of beets and parsnips are themselves edible, so take advantage.
If 33% or more of the cellar food is spoiling, something is very wrong. The culprit is likely humidity, temperature, or ventilation. A small percentage of waste is expected so that we should plan on it by growing more to offset. As there will likely be a lack of food in the tribulation, eat the foods that are spoiling first. Cut out the bad parts and discard, or cook them if they are merely bruised. You can even make a nice syrup, sauce, or juice by squeezing any fruit/vegetable that is just beginning to go bad. There are fewer cases of food poisoning from vegetable-based bacteria, though dangerous toxins can be produced from some molds. Beware the deadly botulism. 65% who get it don’t live through it. This micro-organism grows where oxygen is absent, and that means there’s a chance that every vacuum-packed jar or plastic wrap might contain it. If the can or lid is bloated, don’t eat it. If it smells bad, don’t eat it. If you’re going to die with glorifying God, try to die peacefully.
Make your cellar 12 x 12 feet if you have the gumption. You might make two of them that large, side by side, one drier than the other. Plan on storing enough preserved foods for two years, and view the fresh produce as a bonus. Initially, consider all “strange” Christians who comes knocking for food and shelter as your friends and fellow-laborers. If they won’t work and be helpful, however, and all they do is eye lustfully at all that you have, why should you feed them? But if they work, then remember that God did not command Israel to care for widows and the fatherless only, but also aliens. Therefore, a “stranger” that is a sheep is your brother or sister that you must care for; it is the foolish virgins that can be sent away.
The following are root-cellar products that are best stored in cold and very moist conditions (32-40 degrees F and 90-95% relative humidity):
Beets, collards, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, carrots, turnips, radishes, rutabagas, parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes, celery, salsify, celeriac, parsley, Brussels sprouts, leeks, and kohlrabi.
The following products do best in the same temperatures but at a slightly reduced humidity (80-90%):
Potatoes, endive, escarole, cabbage, cauliflower, quince, apples, pears, oranges, grapefruit, and grapes.
The following do best in 40-45-degree cellars with a relative humidity of 85-90%:
Cucumbers, cantaloupe, eggplant, tomatoes, watermelon, and sweet peppers.
Reduce the temperature and humidity of the following vegetables (35-40 degrees and 60-70%):
Garlic, onions and green soybeans in the pod.
The following need high temperatures and lower humidity (50-60 degrees and 60-70%):
Hot peppers, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, winter squash, and green tomatoes.
You’re not going to have a separate root cellar for every different category, but you can work around the less-than-ideal conditions in a number of ways. If the temperature is too cold for some foods, take them out and put them in the attic or an enclosed porch. You can also section off the pantry to have two different temperature conditions. Use your wit to create different places around your house which provide the best possible endurance conditions for various crops, and don’t forget you’ll have prayer-power at God’s disposal when all else fails, so long as you make reasonable efforts of your own.
The following list provides the near upper limits of preservation times for vegetables kept in their ideal conditions, so long as they are kept in air-tight wraps or covered with a damp material (saw dust, towel, dirt, etc.). If you know temperature and/or humidity conditions will not be ideal, reduce their shelf life accordingly. Remember that they will often remain edible longer than the times given. Although every case will not be exactly the same, use this list as a guide for determining how many vegetables of certain kinds you will plant.
For example, the guide makes it plain that you should plant lots of potatoes and carrots as they might last 4-6 months, while you wouldn’t plant too much broccoli since it keeps in a good condition only for weeks. Where specific times were not available, I have entered “long keeper” or “good keeper,” and you can plan on growing lots of these with confidence. Leafy vegetables are not included as they are generally not good keepers in their fresh states, not at all meaning that you shouldn’t plant any (you can always preserve them in other ways). Remember also that you can extend the upper limits by keeping them in the garden longer while protecting them from freezes, or by replanting them on the cellar shelf/floor.
Don’t be fooled by writers who give carrots, for example, a mere 7-14 days in the refrigerator, even when wrapped in plastic bags. If your not the queen, you can handle eating carrots after months in a cool spot, and if they are rubbery after a certain time, you can boil or fry them up to gather in their vitamins. You can preserve them as relishes in vinegar at any time if you don’t like how they have come to taste in the fresh state, or cook them in broths/stews.
- Beets 4-5 months
- Broccoli 1-2 weeks
- Brussels Sprouts 3-5 weeks
- Cabbage (long keeper)
- Chinese Cabbage 1-2 months
- Carrots 4-6 months
- Cauliflower 2-4 weeks
- Celery (long keeper)
- Chives (not a root-cellar crop)
- Collards 1-2 weeks
- Cucumbers 2-3 weeks
- Eggplant 1-2 weeks
- Horse Radish (long keeper)
- Jerusalem Artichokes 1-2 months
- Kohlrabi (long keeper)
- Leeks N/A
- Onions (good keeper)
- Parsnips 1-2 months
- Pepper (good keeper)
- Sweet Potatoes (long keeper)
- Potatoes 4-6 months
- Pumpkin (good keeper)
- Radishes 2-3 months
- Rutabagas 2-4 months
- Salsify (good keeper)
- Soybeans (long keepers)
- Squash 4-6 months
- Tomatoes 1-2 months
- Turnips (long keepers)
The following lists give you an inkling as to how long certain vegetables can keep in the garden soil before the cold weather demands their removal indoors. You’ll need a good book on gardening to tell you what their maximum outdoor stays should be. Generally, the less susceptible they are to frost, the longer you can keep the veggies in the ground past their maximums using a 12-18-inch covering of mulch. You might consider building a two-to-three foot wall all around the garden to keep the cold winds off the plants during this period that you are stretching their garden life. This will also keep all your mulch from blowing away, and the wall can even act as a solid foundation for a temporary greenhouse frame that you could quickly erect and drape with inexpensive plastic film, to keep the plants in their garden soils even longer.
Very Susceptible to Frost:
Cucumbers, Eggplant, Lettuce, Squash, Sweet Peppers, Sweet Potatoes, Tomatoes, Pumpkins.
Moderately Susceptible to Frost:
Beets, Broccoli, Cabbage (young), Carrots, Cauliflower, Escarole, Garlic, Onions, Celery, Spinach, Parsley, Peas, Radishes.
Least Susceptible to Frost:
Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage (mature), Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Parsnips, Salsify, Turnips