October 18, 2010

In the Root Cellar

I decided to dig my carrots and beets yesterday, although I probably could have waited longer; I suppose I'm ready for garden chores to be finished. After leaving them on the ground outdoors for a few hours so the dirt could dry and be brushed off, I brought them into the cellar, where they will be stored until spring or until they are all eaten. I thought it would be interesting for those of you who've never seen an old house cellar to get a glimpse of mine. My 1821 house has a stone foundation and a dirt floor in the cellar, usual for this period of house. The sills are huge granite slabs. About a third of the cellar is blocked off by a stone wall, behind which is granite ledge. The dampness associated with dirt and stone is perfect for storing vegetables, as they are less likely to dry out.

I had a wooden wall built to block off the root cellar room from the rest of the cellar because I have a furnace down there, which I use occasionally. Because of the furnace, and because the room is on the south side of the house, it is not as cold as it should be for beets and carrots, but is perfect for potatoes and cabbage. In the photo above, you see the right side of the room, where cabbages, carrots and beets are stored. The planks of wood are there because the floor is very irregular, with rock poking through here and there.

I put the carrots in a large wooden box, left here along with the potato box by the previous owners, layering them and covering them with sand and peat moss. I layer the beets in 5 gallon buckets and use peat moss, which is easier to obtain than clean sand. From time to time I sprinkle some water on the vegetables, so they won't dry out; covering them with plastic also helps.

The potatoes you see here are seed potatoes that I chose from this years crop to use for next year. Hidden under three layers of newspaper are cabbages, which amazingly last until May in very good shape (they are storage varieties of red and green cabbage).

And here in a very large box, for which I made a divider, are my potatoes; French Fingerlings are on the left, with the few Red Norlands remaining; on the right are Carola and Purple Viking. I love potatoes, so am happy to see a pretty good crop stored up.

This final image is of old shelving outside the root cellar room, that was in the house when I moved here. Narrow tree trunks are the uprights and cross braces holding the rough wood shelves, so this must be very old construction. I use the shelves to store my preserves––jams and canned tomatoes and applesauce, which are in the cardboard boxes to keep them dark (there are small windows in the cellar)––and lots of other stuff. On the left are my recycling bags.

I feel very lucky to have this wonderful old cellar, full of character and quirks, such as: a stream runs through it during wet springs so it has a channel wandering to a drain pipe. To me, it's so much nicer than a clean, bright cement floor.


  1. this cellar of yours is an oddly mysterious place, half civilized and half wild,where things live " indoors" , protected, yet allowed to maintain their own form, unpackaged, unwashed...

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  2. I'l love a peep into your preserves LOL I've been dabbling a bit with jams and pickles recently and love to see what everyone else is up to (I'm pickling a red cabbage at the moment after some 'not so subtle' hints from my partner's dad)

    My nan used to perserve fruit and I'm keen to try it at some stage too... though this year I think I'll be just Jamming and freezing.

  3. rappel, I love your view of the half wild cellar. It is like moving into another place and century going from bright kitchen to the gloom of the cellar.

    Claire, I've never tried pickled cabbage, though I've made cucumber and green bean pickles. Making jams is such fun, isn't it? You can see some of my jams when you click on the "recipes" label; I've got posts on Green Tomato, Raspberry, and Rhubarb jams.

  4. I love seeing this view of the house and your life; makes me feel like a wimpy city kid. Mark's parents' former house had a root cellar his dad had constructed. It was built into the side of a hill. Their house was halfway up a bluff above the Mississippi in western Wisconsin.

  5. Linda, I can picture the house above the Mississippi; it must have been a lovely spot. I recently visited a friend living on a small farm and they were building a gorgeous root cellar into a small hill; it was like walking into a small chapel.

  6. I am like Linda: a WCK. But this gives me hope if we ever move to my husband's family home in Sweden. The root cellar is there and his mom still makes lingon and black currant jams that are especially good with moose...not too many vegetarians in that neck of the woods.

  7. Julie, the home in Sweden sounds like something to look forward to. I spent a short while in Norway and didn't have moose, but some delicious reindeer, a traditional holiday meal.

  8. Whast about mice and bugs...dont they get into your food???

    1. No, they don't, Catherine. Never any bugs; occasionally I'll see a few mouse bites in a potato, but I have cats and they keep the mice away.