Using our root cellar regularly for almost a month, we've gained some insights into its value, as well as its care and maintenance.
It's important to visit the root cellar at least every other day.
Regular visits are critical because it's too easy to forget about what you have in there. It's also necessary to monitor the produce. The sprouting eyes that have appeared on the potato in the picture popped out within the last three days, and some of the apples develop weird rot rather quickly and have to be removed immediately. Because we had a relatively slow start to winter this year, warmer temps in the root cellar might account for the eyes on the potatoes and the wilting apples.
The root cellar is a re-fillable resource.
We're not living in the days before refrigeration when the harvest was put into the root cellar in late autumn and then provided for the household all winter. Given that one can buy local apples and potatoes at Caputo's right now, there's no reason why we shouldn't buy in bulk every six weeks or so and simply replace what we've eaten with new stuff. The food distributors know how to store this food better than we do, so I'd rather let them keep it as long as possible before bringing it into the root cellar.
The root cellar is basically a big refrigerator.
Now that we think of our old dark room as a place for food storage, we're expanding our notion of what we can keep in there. For instance, we bought a case of champagne a few weeks ago that I'm storing, as well as a few bottles of white and red wine. Keeping beverages chilled in the root cellar is a great way to make sure they're always pretty much ready to drink. Even if the bottles need a few more hours in the refrigerator to get extra cold, at least they've had a head start...and we've used free energy from nature to get them there.
The root cellar is a major convenience.
Though initially I thought that storing food all winter would be a chore, it turns out that having a root cellar is really a very convenient way to keep large quantities of food around, which minimizes trips to the grocery store and simplifies the preparation of last-minute dinners.
We eat more vegetables because they're there, in the root cellar.
Knowing that we have a sizeable stockpile of produce in the basement is an encouragement to eat more of the stuff...and there are few people who would argue that we don't all need to eat more of our vegetables.
One downside: mice. I noticed that one of my sweet potatoes had nibble marks on it, and it looks like a mouse (or, likely, mice) crept in when I had the basement door open to move in some supplies. Having all this food around is an invitation to pests.
Still, overall, our experience with the root cellar has so far been very good.