Frugal Green Living: The Return of the Root Cellar


Lovely photography by Leah Nash for The New York Times

The New York Times digs up the dirt on the return of root cellars.

Root cellars have long been the province of Midwestern grandmothers, back-to-the-landers and committed survivalists. But given the nation’s budding romance with locally produced food, they also appeal to the backyard gardener, who may have a fruit tree that drops a bigger bounty every year while the refrigerator remains the same size.

The owner of this particular cellar is particularly committed, having founded a public garden in Harlem and belonging to a CSA farm. She is putting down 20 pounds of potatoes, 20 pounds of onions, 30 pounds of butternut and acorn squash, 10 heads of cabbage, 60-odd pints of home-canned tomatoes and preserves, 9 gallons of berry and fruit wines, and another gallon or two of mulberry vinegar.

One learns that it is not so simple as simply piling food into the basement:

Rules of root cellaring sound more like molecular gastronomy. For example, the ethylene gas that apples give off will make carrots bitter. As a general principle, keeping produce in a cool chamber that is beneath the frost line — the depth, roughly four feet down, below which the soil doesn’t freeze — can slow both the normal process of ripening and the creeping spread of bacterial and fungal rot. These are the forces that will turn a lost tomato in the back of the cupboard into a little lagoon of noxious goo.

New York Times

One doesn't need a basement to cellar food; Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon of the 100 Mile Diet used the bottom drawer of a buffet and closets throughout their apartment. Kathreen showed us how to make one out of a garbage can, although I don't think her design would work in colder parts of the continent.

Rooting around in TreeHugger for more on cellars:

DIY: Root Cellar
Designing a Kitchen Without a Fridge
In the Forum: Plans for a root cellar

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