Sunday, March 14, 2010

Garden Variety Leftovers

I got a little carried away last fall.

Throughout the growing season, our veggie CSA gives you the opportunity to purchase certain items in bulk. This is a real perk for those of us who love pick-your-own operations but are unable to patronize them due to our toddler’s wanderlust in the orchard. I was, therefore, quite happy to buy raspberries by the flat, peaches by the peck and tomatoes by the ton, all summer long. (Just kidding. I only bought 20 lbs of tomatoes).

The CSA also offers items for winter storage in bulk. With visions of a well-stocked root cellar dancing in my head, I bought a bushel of apples, a bushel of butternut squash, 25 lbs of carrots, 5 pounds of celeriac, 50 pounds of cabbage, 10 pounds of parsnips, 50 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of onions, and a half-bushel of sweet potatoes. I told you, I got carried away.

Lugging all that food into the car and into the house was an exercise in, well, exercise. I didn’t attempt to store it all – most of the apples were shortly turned into applesauce (which was frozen), a third of the cabbage was sliced up for saurkraut, and ~12 lbs of potatoes were drafted for emergency duty at Thanksgiving. Still, I had a lot of food on my hands.

The CSA website has some good ideas for stashing veggies around the house. I’d also read Root Cellaring (a book that makes me drool and wish for a real root cellar) so I had some ideas about where to put what. I’d already established that the unheated closet room on the north side of the house was ideal for squash. Root Cellaring recommended that the sweet potatoes be kept in a relatively warm & dry spot, so they went to the top of the cellar steps; the onions prefer cooler conditions and so rested at the bottom of the same steps. That left me with the Four Vegetables of Cold and Wet Conditions: carrot, turnip, celeriac and parsnip.

I set up a veggie storage area inside this scary-looking closet in our cellar:

I suspect that this cupboard was originally built to be a root cellar. (We tried using it as a wine cellar but we kept drinking up all the wine). It’s not quite cold enough in there for carrots – the temp never gets below 40 degrees F, even in the dead of winter. Still, I thought it was worth a try. I’d read that carrots and the like can be stored in damp peat moss, so I bought some cheap styrofoam coolers, loaded 'em up with veggies and covered it all with peat moss. Then, every week or so I poured some water over the peat moss to keep it moist.

Here’s what the setup looked like (this pic was taken a few weeks ago):

How did it work? The veggies kept surprisingly well. I think they would have kept even better had we not experienced unseasonably warm temperatures in November, right after I loaded up my cellar with produce. It was over 50 F in the closet for several weeks before things finally chilled down outside.

I could not fit all of the carrots into the big cooler so some of them went into a plastic bag in the fridge; surprisingly, the carrots stored in the peat moss held up better over time. Another surprise was that the mice that live in the cellar (the house is 130 years old; there’s going to be mice, people) didn’t eat the veggies at all.

You may have noticed - the carrots have begun to sprout. I think this was again due to our warm fall, and the approaching spring has hastened the process. So I am in a rush to use everything up. But what’s everything?

The potatoes are pretty much gone, as are the onions and turnips. I’ve already told you what happened to the squash. What I mostly have left is lots of carrots, parsnips, and celeriac. They are still edible, though the quality has suffered a bit since they’ve been stored in a too-warm area. I don’t want to throw it all onto the compost heap, therefore I am making a really BIG batch of vegetable stock.

Will I do this again next year? Probably. When the coolers are empty, I’ll bring them out to the garden and use the peat moss to mulch my blueberry bushes. I suppose I could re-use it in the cellar but it seems safer to recycle it and give the coolers a good cleaning. I’ve learned that 25 lbs of carrots is entirely too much, so I’ll try to grow them myself instead of doing the bulk order. Also, bulk sweet potatoes AND squash is more beta-carotene than my family can consume, so I’ll grow the squash and order the sweet potatoes. Unless I can convince my hubby to build me a real root cellar, of course.


Val said...

Very cool, Karen!! No pun intended. ;-)I love seeing the photos.

Kate said...

Extremely impressive. Also, I think J should get on that root cellar, stat.

Sarah said...

That is so cool! I wish that I had the space for something like that. Alas...800 square feet of living space...doesn't really work!!