Saturday, July 11, 2015

Abundance and The Root Shelter

It's been a year with a lot of summer rain. The rain-barrels are brim-full with water we don't need, the garden bursting with produce and more than a few harmful insects. Every time I put down diatomaceous earth to murder the squash-bugs, the rain comes down and washes my powder away. I am using a slurry of 3 tablespoons to a gallon of water, and spraying it over and under the leaves, as well as around the bases of the plants. The pumpkins are coming in early, as a result. The first two are sun-curing in the garden for a few more days before they go into long-term storage.

My canning skills are well honed by putting up about four gallons of tomato sauce annually, so it has been a busy month for putting up pickles. I've a professional pressure-canner for the low-acid foods, and we've been using a simmering or boiling water-bath canner for produce that can be safe with that sort of treatment.

We froze a lot of green peas and now are doing the same for blackberries that grow wild around here. I am going to try to recall all of this abundance when winter arrives. It's easy to forget!

One trick to keeping things going will be our new "root shelter," a dry windowless room in the basement of a building where we store equipment. It's completely below ground.

It's not a true root cellar, since it lacks an earthen floor. The 8 by 8 room, of cinder-block walls was, in fact, a fallout shelter from the 60s. It never got finished, since it has no venting to the outside, which makes it less than perfect for surviving a nuclear attack or for getting air circulating for other purposes.

After I made the old door tight but before it got a coat of paint, I knocked out the panel over the transom and lined it with a layer of hardware cloth (a stout metal screening with 1/8 or 1/4" holes) and also window screen. This keeps out rodents and black snakes, one of which chases mice around our building and occasionally leaves a skin draped over the tractor seat or rafters.

With a drill bit used to bore holes in doors for lock-sets, I bored three large holes in the bottom of the door. Those too got covered with hardware cloth and screen. Shelving is basic: with low-humidity in the room, old 2x6 pine boards and cinder blocks serve us well. A small electric fan blows air out the transom, and that encourages cool air to enter the bottom of the door.

I plan to keep early-harvest pumpkins in there, since we have a local market that will buy all I grow. My garlic harvest, only about a dozen bulbs, and some onions I pulled after curing them in our utility room will also go on the shelves. This sort of "root shelter," as I call it, will store winter squash and sweet potatoes.

A damp root cellar would be perfect for vegetables that need more humidity. With a backhoe, a hillside that faces northwest, and lots of cinder blocks I think this will be a future project for my LLC's harvest. And it will vent to the outside world. No nuclear attack needed.

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