Sunday, October 16, 2011

Root cellaring

In Fairbanks, there is a...well, an entity called the Cold Climate Housing Research Center. It's affiliated with the university without (I think) really being part of it. But they have a small library, and they've asked us to do the cataloging for them. So that's been one of my projects recently. What the CCHRC does is try to figure out the best method of home building and housing for life in Alaska. What's the right ratio of insulation to ventilation? Can solar work up here, when we get less than 3 hours of daylight for part of the winter? What can people do to make their homes more efficient? Naturally, it's the kind of resource I love. And the books are right up my alley, too. Curbing my natural enthusiasm, I have only checked one book out so far. The one I chose is called "Root Cellaring" by Mike and Nancy Bubel. It was written in the 70s, but it's astounding how relevant it is today. If it wasn't for the fact that the book looks kind of old (the mustard yellow color used for the cover hasn't been popular since the 70s) I would have thought that it was more recent.
I haven't found all of the information as helpful as I would like it to be. For one thing, the couple who wrote it lived in Pennsylvania. They write about conditions as far north as Maine and sometimes Canada, so it's still useful. But as with a lot of things I would have preferred it if it had been written solely by and for Alaskans. Conditions are just so different up here. They talk about keeping crops in the ground until a hard December. We get the kind of super-cold conditions they warn against by the end of October. And when I read the part about doing a second planting with the intent of storing those crops, I laughed. There's no such thing as a second planting around here. We get one shot at everything. If we're very, very lucky (and if you have a greenhouse or some type of cold frame) the outdoor planting season is May to mid-September, not March to November.
That being said, some of the information has been quite useful. They talk about which crops can be frozen and are still edible (although it's not recommended to freeze them--it's more of a side note in case your root cellar doesn't work as well as you'd hoped) and how cold to keep crops. My potatoes sprouted in the garage last year because while the humidity is nice, the light which the neighbors continually leave on and the heat from the nearby furnace were too much for them.
So we're trying something different this year. The second bedroom in our apartment gets remarkably cold. Cold to the point that I wonder if there's something wrong with the baseboard heater in there. We've closed off that room (we don't want the cold leaching into the rest of the apartment!) and it's what we're now referring to as the root cellar. Shane laughs when I say it, but I can already tell a difference in the potatoes. They're just as hard now as the day I gathered them. The turnips I originally stored in the fridge during our honeymoon, so they're a bit softer than would be hoped. But I'll cook them anyway, so it doesn't really matter. We've also started keeping carrots and parsnips in there. Onions prefer a warmer spot, so they're in a kitchen cupboard.
The second bedroom is also a great place to store beer. Shane's brewing his own again, and the second bedroom is a bit colder than it should be for proper fermentation. But we have it hanging out in the hallway next to that bedroom's door so that it stays warm but is out of the way.
Next weekend we're going to cut open the enormous pumpkin that's sitting on our table. Some of it will go into a pumpkin spice beer that Shane and our friend want to make, and the rest will go into soups, pies, and pumpkin bread. Yum! Sooo much better than canned pumpkin from the store.
It snowed again today. The last snow didn't actually stick, which disappointed me severely. This one's not sticking, either, but I think it's the primer snow. It's getting the ground ready so that next time the snow will actually stay. I hope it's this week! Or even better, tonight.
A chilly, snowy day. I already took the dog for a long walk, so I'm thinking it's time to mull some cider, bake some bread, and make that yogurt.

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