Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Book Review - Root Cellaring

In anticipation of attending the Root Cellar Construction workshop at the Field to Fork Festival earlier this month I decided to reread Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel. It had been a couple of years since I first read the book, and so wanted a refresher before the workshop.

This book seems to be one of the most often suggested books on the topic of root cellars, and I can understand why. It is very well rounded, covering everything from selecting and harvesting storage crops to actual root cellar construction, including alternatives to traditional structures. It was the sections on root cellar construction that most interested me, but I found useful information in the other sections of the book as well.

Some of the alternative root cellar discussed included surrounding and covering vegetables with straw bales, piling them in a mound and covering with soil, and burying containers in the ground, such as a barrel, trash can, or even refrigerator. Anna, over at The Walden Effect has some good info on the buried refrigerator method, and she has recently compiled her experience with that, and other cheap root cellar solutions into the $10 Root Cellar: And Other Low-Cost Methods of Growing, Storing, and Using Root Vegetables ebook, which I hope to read and review soon.

I found the section on traditional root cellar construction to be especially helpful, as it covers important factors such as temperature, humidity, ventilation, and condensation. The benefits of a smooth ceiling really stood out in my mind, and I am now seriously considering a poured concrete roof when we build our root cellar, and would love to be able to make this a rounded roof if possible.

The longest chapter of the book is that on Root Cellaring Experiences, which gives real life examples of root cellars being used in a variety of situations. I found this chapter to be helpful because it provides a glimpse into what works and what does not work, allowing the reader to take advantage of the experiences of those using the cellars profiled.

My biggest disappointment after reading the book is not due to any shortcoming of the book itself, but from what it made me realize about the foods that we eat. Aside from potatoes, we do not currently grow many foods that would be well suited to long term storage in a root cellar. While this hasn't changed my desire to eventually construct a root cellar, it does make me wonder if we need to seriously expand our gardening horizons if we are to take full advantage of the benefits of cellaring. I also suspect that we'll need to construct a separate structure for storing some of my favorite crops such as garlic and chili peppers, which require a warm, dry environment, rather than the cool, damp environment preferred by root crops.

I believe this book is well worth reading for anyone with a garden or who wishes to be able to stock up on fresh in-season vegetables purchased from local farmers. Even if you have no intention on ever constructing a root cellar, the tips in this book for alternatives, including some that require nothing more than an unheated basement, garage, or spare room make this book a worthwhile read.

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