The end of the 2007 season
Yesterday, I cleaned out the root cellar. Doesn’t that sound so very…retro? “Excuse me, but I need to step down to the root cellar.” To even HAVE a root cellar sounds so…foreign. But really. ANY unheated space can be a root cellar, and it needn’t be a cellar, and you needn’t even store any roots! There is one and only one concept you need to understand about a successfully stored root-cellared item. This is the concept of transpiration. All plants transpire: they exhaust their liquids. (Ever wonder why they put that nasty wax on cucumbers, apples and peppers? To keep them from losing moisture.) A root cellar tries to prevent transpiration by being cool enough, moist enough, and well-ventilated enough to keep something from rotting or drying out.
Many things have a leg up on being potential root-cellared items. Apples, pears and quinces have a thick skin, and many heirloom varieties of the same actually improve with storage by becoming sweeter or softer with time. Potatoes, usually white ones, are also thick-skinned things that simply require a dark, not-dry but not-wet, unfreezing place to be stored. Beets and carrots and celeriac likewise can be grown to be stored. Onions, cabbage and winter squash are other candidates. Other veggies and fruits just need other methods of storage, like drying, freezing or canning.
What drives me absolutely crazy is we have lost, through our own disinterest, both the knowledge of root cellaring and many of the long-stored cultivars of vegetables and fruit best grown to be stored. Why this happened is the fodder for books and in-your-face documentaries, and not my focus today. Let’s just say my theory is we were hoodwinked into a “lifestyle” of “convenience.” Well, excuse me if I strongly disagree that, by putting bushels of apples and roots and cabbage on the back steps of my basement, this is not convenient? This is less convenient than me driving back and forth to the grocery store 15 miles away once a week for a whole winter, THAT is a “lifestyle” of “convenience”?
Another indication of our loss is that the cultivars listed in my holy book of root cellaring (named, univentively, Root Cellaring, by Mike and Nancy Bubel) as great storage types are not exactly easy to find. One must then rely on the literature of seed catalogs which were written, of course, to sell seeds. Again, this makes me crazy. My other holy book of vegetables is one that is the 123-year-old English edition of Vilmorin-Andrieux’s The Vegetable Garden: it lists, for example, eleven closely-spaced pages of cabbages: about 100 varieties total. The average seed catalog lists 9, mostly concentrating on today’s “convienience/lifestyle” market of “mini-cabbages.”
Anyway. The picture above is the last of the goodies from the root cellar. The spooky sprouted potatoes got their own corner of a garden bed yesterday. The collection of apples is a motley one, mainly Northern Spys and Baldwins. And yes, I had one more cabbage: this is a Winningstadt.
The other thing to note about growing things for storage I kind of alluded to in the treatise I made about onions: it’s a many-pronged approach. Mostly, I put seeds in the ground for the storage items later in the season. Excepting the leeks, which take forever to grow, I won’t plant the cabbages, carrots, beets and celeriac for storage until the end of June. Any little cabbage babies in the ground today are for summer consumption and sauerkraut and kimchi and the like. Things will get harvested and stored successionally, as they become ready and/or when it starts getting cold. I suppose this sounds like a lot of work. It’s not, really.
And again, I suppose someone could likewise say to me that they prefer NOT to eat a seven-month-old cabbage, a six-month-old apple. Well, in general, neither would I, but just look at that cabbage!
*Note to those interested in the storage varieties I use: I’ve got a running list, including sources, that I plan to upload to the Seeds/Trees tab above. I think with any long-stored item, the “long” in the idea is relative. Some of my long-stored carrots, or beets, I never expect to see in April! December, maybe. So it’s another thing to consider: storage does not mean “forever.”