Live Food Storage
Feeding Ourselves - It is all about nutrition and how to provide it, year-round, every day, multiple times. You can either:
- Eat things in their freshest state, which means for us means straight from the soil
- Store things that are still alive, in a state of "suspended animation", the focus of this page
- Preserve things through the one-time use of as little added energy as possible (solar drying, steam-canning, steam-juicing)
- Or you can use some continuously energy-sucking appliance to slow food's inevitable nutrient loss, a choice we would like to help you avoid
Of course, food that is fresh is best, but our Minnesota winters challenge that approach. The next best thing to harvesting just before your meal is to have food that is "live stored" - food that keeps itself. All you have to do is provide the right micro-climate for the veggies and fruits that have this hibernation factor built into their biological cycle. We recommend reading "Root Cellaring" by Nancy Bubel for inspiration on building and using a root cellar. Our own methods rely heavily on insulated picnic coolers (owned by most folks but unused in the winter months) which are stored on the north side of the house, then moved to our sauna (not in use in the early fall), and eventually to an insulated in-ground tank in our garden shed or our pantry's below-floor "pit" when really severe winter weather threatens. The handout from the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair shows temperature and humidity conditions for a variety of vegetables/fruits. "Root-cellaring" is for more than roots! You can find a free Adobe PDF file download of this hand-out here.
This may not look like the classic version of an old-fashioned root cellar, the spacious, underground, walk-in food cache that was ubiquitous on many American homesteads in the 19th and 20th Centuries. But the equally ubiquitous, insulated plastic picnic cooler works in the same way, buffering stored foods from temperature and humidity extremes.
Root-Cellaring and Low-Tech Food Preservation - Cost saving ways to eat locally grown foods
In the fall, before these coolers full of food go down into the actual root-cellar, they usually sit on the north side (the shady side, here in the northern hemisphere) of our house. When nighttime temperatures are above freezing they are closed during daytime and opened a bit at night to allow them to cool down as much as possible. Later, as temperatures at night get below freezing, they are open during daytime and closed at night to keep them cool but prevent nighttime freezing. When daytime temperatures start to get down to freezing they go into the root-cellar.
But if you can find a partner to help dig a large hole under your porch, a traditional root cellar becomes more possible. Here we see Larisa carving out a four by seven foot pit, about five feet deep, while Bob uses the 5-gallon plastic bucket to move the subsoil to another spot.
And here is Bob in a further stage of the construction process. 1.5-inch thick concrete patio blocks were tamped into place over a bed of about 2 inches of coarse crushed rock. Treated wood 2-by-6-inch frames were assembled with stainless steel screws and the assembled sections were dropped into the hole. The hole has been lined with water-permeable landscaping fabric. The space between the fabric and the treated wood was then back-filled with more crushed rock.
And here you can see the final framing of the upper edge. Extruded polyethylene foam has been around the edges and under the lip of the horizontal treated wood near the top. Braces have been added at the bottom to resist soil pressure that might bend the boards, and bracing has been put on top to suspend a heavily insulated floor and hinged hatch. Foam insulation was also laid flat 2 feet wide around the perimeter, since every foot of horizontal insulation corresponds to 2 feet of vertical insulation. Our average winter frost depth is around 6 feet, meaning that freezing temperatures could only be found at the bottom of the uninsulated floor, assuming there was no mass of food in the cellar to stabilize the internal temperature.
This is the insulated lid, shown inverted, with its treated 2-by-6-inch flooring installed over treated 1-by-6 sides. The insulation consists or 2 layers of 2-inch extruded polystyrene and 3 layers of "Reflectix", an aluminized mylar bubble-wrap. The right side is angled to allow such a thick door to easily clear the adjoining floor edge and hinge down into place.
And here is the lid in place, with its large strap hinges and flush-mounted pull rings, propped open slightly so you can see it in relation to the rest of the floor. You can still see some of the foam and Reflectix insulation going into place.
Here is the beginning of the 3-season porch framing that covers the root cellar, including a clear polycarbonate roof and double-hung glass windows.
And finally, here is the porch, looking south, with young plants in clay planters, soaking up the last solar rays of the day. Beneath them, a few of next year's root crops are sleeping, waiting to generate their crop of seeds. The remaining roots will be eaten and greatly enjoyed over the winter.
Our Latest Book
If you are looking for more detail than can be gathered on our site, check out our book:
Lots of folks have either downloaded or purchased a hard copy of "Pantry Full of Sunshine", Larisa's book based on many of the questions she fielded at workshops about her unique solar food dryer and her other energy-saving food preservation methods, like steam-juicing and steam-canning.
Our latest co-authored book, "Feeding Ourselves", now in its second edition, includes all of "Pantry's" information plus it is greatly expanded to show how food preservation fits into our overall scheme of nourishing ourselves year-round in a fairly harsh climate. And once again it has been updated to better reflect our most recent dietary changes, including entirely gluten-free, whole-food grain recipes and more about harvesting and using local nuts, with additional information on growing and processing home-grown foods of all sorts. If you liked "Pantry", or the first edition of Feeding Ourselves, you will love this one!
From the back cover of Feeding Ourselves: This book came about after many decades of trial and error in the quest for real, homegrown, organic local cuisine throughout the entire year. We've been gardening and preserving food to fuel our off-grid homestead lifestyle since the 1970's, determined to sever our reliance on the petrol-fueled American food system. Some of our explorations led to us to rediscover and integrate old methods, like root-cellaring, into our routines. Other experiments resulted in the design of our solar food dryer. Our approach to this effort is from a vegan, gluten-free perspective. Over the years, Larisa taught workshops on food preservation, including many summers at the Midwest Renewable Energy Fair. In 1997, she decided to write a small book, "A Pantry Full of Sunshine" which she self-published to answer the frequently asked questions that couldn't be covered in an hour-long workshop. Now, over a decade later, this little book's limited scope became evident and we felt that there was much more to reveal about how we put food on our table. This seasonal guide features down-home advice from Minnesota. There is a focus on energy efficiency, both in cooking and food preservation. Whether you want to grow and eat vegetables, fruits, legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, or sweeteners, we hope our approach will inspire you to explore feeding yourself, from the ground up. We intend this book to be merely a source of ideas and food for thought. While this is what works for us, it may not suit you, and is not meant to be a detailed plan of action. Feel free to creatively adapt our ways to fit your circumstances. Enjoy the abundance!
To see an Adobe PDF file of the second edition's covers and table of contents, just Click Here.
- Physical copies of "Feeding Ourselves" (184 pages, spiral-bound) cost $23.50 each, postpaid in the U.S. (please add $1.38 sales tax if you are ordering in Minnesota), or $20.00 plus shipping elsewhere in the world. Contact us for international shipping costs. All others can simply send a personal check, traveler's check, or postal money order to:
30319 Wiscoy Ridge Road
Winona, MN, 55987-5651
- OR: To order a physical copy of "Feeding Ourselves" using PayPal, Click Here. Clicking this takes you (very slowly if you have a dial-up connection) to a new screen with a "Buy Now" button, and this links to PayPal's secure order form where you can pay by credit card, checking account, or an existing PayPal account balance.
- OR: To order a downloadable Adobe PDF file of "Feeding Ourselves" for about half price ($10.00), just Click Here (requires a free Adobe Reader download to read the PDF file). Clicking the book download link takes you to PayPal's secure order form and gives you a link to the PDF via Payhip.com. The file size is over 8 MB so, depending on your connection speed, it may take some time to download.