Root Cellar Diary, Part 3: Getting Down the Basics

We're double-checking that we have what we need to store food responsibly

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By David Hammond

Last week, we started storing food in our root cellar, and Rob Gardner, Editor-at-Large of had a few questions for me.

 “What,” Gardner asked, “are you doing to make sure you have enough humidity in the air?”

Humidity is required so that vegetables don’t get all dry and funky, and because we’re using  a converted darkroom with running water, my plan is to periodically fill the sink so the air stays moist and the vegetables stay fresh-tasting.

“Are you sure it’s going to be cold enough down there,” queried Gardner.

Our former darkroom/current root cellar used to be in a brick basement stairwell, so it gets pretty damn cold down there. Actually, a big problem may be that it can get hit freezing temps, which is, of course, also bad for vegetables.  However, if we leave the door open from our laundry room to the root cellar, it warms up in there fast. This is not an ideal situation, and it requires regular monitoring, but it will have to do for now.

After answering Gardner’s questions, I had one for him.

His wife, Sheila, who works at Tomato Mountain at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market, had told me that they’d found some great deals on bulk food at a few Wisconsin markets, so  I emailed Gardner, “If you would, I’d like to tag on to some of your purchases. We have a pretty large household now, so we can handle volume probably comparable to your household. We’d like to get apples, potatoes and carrots. If you buy any of these items in bulk, could you double your order and get some for us?”

Gardner emailed back, “Three words: Ca-pu-to's. Last week they had several varieties of Michigan apples for 39 cents/lb. They had tons of local winter squash for low prices--actually whole foods had local fancy squash @ good prices too--we also recently got beets @ caputo's. “

Gardner has never steered me wrong, so we’re planning to go to Caputo’s next weekend to see what kind of high-value produce we can put by in our cellar.

We’re also planning on keeping some herbs going in the house this winter; there are still a lot for sale at the Oak Park Farmers’ Market at vendors like Ted’s Green House.


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