Our basement has been a source of aggravation for me for awhile now. It's not finished, has a very low ceiling and a cement floor, and somehow, a full bathroom. It also contains a boat load of junk, enough cardboard to function as a shipping company, our laundry machines, chest freezer and other various house necessities, like the furnace and hot water.
We also try to store food down there - not just our canning preserves and a few shelves of alcohol - but produce like squash, onions and garlic. Since we have lived in this house, we've just put the produce downstairs, thinking it was a cool, dark place and that it would just miraculously function as a root cellar, preserving the veggies for a long time.
Well, it hasn't done that. We lose a decent amount of produce to the compost pile - squishy squash and soft, moldy onions. Something isn't right down there when it comes to the storage of veggies. So I made two goals:
1. Finish the simplifying project I started last fall by finally doing a complete overhaul of the basement's contents as well as a new layout that optimizes the space and gives us room for food storage, laundry, general storage and a work area for Mark.
2. Figure out what the heck is stopping us from being able to use the basement for storage of whole vegetables and rectify it. (Is it the produce? It is something I'm doing? Is it the temperature or humidity or light?)
I ordered a book from the library called Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel, which seems to be the go-to text in the world of root cellaring and homesteading. It's comprehensive enough that I'll probably purchase a copy myself.
It covers everything from digging an actual classic root cellar into a hillside to modifying small spaces and awkward city basements. I am considering the option of turning our unused basement shower into a makeshift root cellar/cold storage for produce. (For the record, I would not remove any of the functionality of the shower for any future owners of this house, since I'm banking on the dream of having land of our own some day.) There are other options, such as building cold boxes to surround basement windows and using the steps between the basement and the dorothy doors out to the yard. Once I see what kind of space we're working with when the extraneous crap gets removed, we'll know better what option works for us.
I also realized that I need a hygrometer as well as a thermometer to determine what the humidity levels are in the areas where I'm going to store produce. Since the authors correctly point out that produce is always changing and undergoing its biological processes, heading toward rot and decay, it's important to make sure the environment around the vegetables does everything to retard that process that it can.
I'll probably also use this book as a guide for exactly how to store what type of vegetable or fruit. I think one of my big mistakes is grouping everything together, when each item has an optimal storage method, etc. I will also look into using those white styrofoam picnic coolers to create sand boxes, essentially, for some of the foods. Might be kind of fun to go down to the basement in the dead of winter with a little sand shovel and go digging for a turnip.
Have you ever experimented with cold storage of produce or root cellaring? If you've got any tips, share them in the comments. I can use all the help I can get!