I’ve been gardening for about 15 years now. I’ve gardened at home, at a neighbor’s house, at a community garden, in full sun, in half-shade, in the ground, in raised beds, in containers of all sizes, in a small greenhouse, on the windowsill, under lights, and in the weedy strip between two parking lots. I’ve gardened for joy, for science, for security, for reducing my carbon footprint, and for taste. I have explored all kinds of ways of extending the homegrown food season, from lights to row covers to that greenhouse I mentioned.
And what is the #1 piece of equipment I recommend if you are serious about growing your own food? A cool storage space, like a root cellar.
Why? Root cellars:
- allow you to eat locally-grown food pretty much all year long
- are very low-maintenance – much less work than a greenhouse
- are perfect storage for high-calorie, nutrient-dense crops like root vegetables
- if you have a bad garden year, you can stock them with food from the market
- unlike a greenhouse, they let you take the winter off from gardening
- unlike canning, prepping food for the root cellar takes very little time and energy
- zero ongoing energy costs for storage
Ways to do cold storage
Cool storage, for winter squash, sweet potatoes, and onions, can be up to 50 degrees, so a cool corner of a basement can work. But true cold storage, for root vegetables, apples, and cabbage, needs to be around 35-40 degrees, but can never freeze. This space will need to be vented to the outdoors (this assumes your winters get down to freezing). Some options include:
- Large buckets or tubs layering crops between peat moss or wood shavings, stored in an attached garage or unheated breezeway
- Wall off a corner of the basement that has a window that can be opened/closed as needed
- Bury a fridge (with a vent installed) in a hillside – see instructions in Anna Hess’s book $10 Root Cellar along with some other DIY ideas!