Letter Re: Questions on Root Cellaring

Hi Jim,
I don’t recall reading a specific article about root cellaring, specifically long term storage of vegetables. Is there a point and time when potatoes go to sprout that you can no longer safely eat them? What about the best overall temp to store in and yes or no to burlap bags? What about other veggies?
Another tidbit was on Fox and Friends house call portion of the show they talked with an expert and outlined the extreme benefits of eating broccoli and broccoli sprouts with their extreme cancer killing properties and the vitamins in the vegetable. On a side note, I did not realize that broccoli ounce for ounce contains more calcium than milk! Can broccoli be kept in a root cellar for an extended time?
What about rodent control in the root cellar? Is there an optimum humidity level for the cellar?
(on a personal note, have you ever done or heard of anyone whom has bought a Bison brand hand pump? The company is located in Minnesota. They offer a pump that goes into the existing well casing without removal of the original pump.) Was curious if these were quality. www.bisonpumps.com
Thank You So Much – The Wanderer

JWR Replies: To start, I highly recommend the book Root Cellaring, by Mike and Nancy Bubel.

In answer to one of your questions: Broccoli and cauliflower do not generally store well in a root cellar unless the ai temperature is in the 30s, and even then, it storage life is limited–perhaps a few weeks at most.

In a root cellar, root crops, nuts, and fruits such as apples store the best. The temperature should be as low as possible, without dipping below freezing. The ambient ground temperature will dictate the cellar’s air temperature. Unless someone lives in Alaska or inland Canada, I recommend digging root cellar quite deep (with at least three feet of soil for insulation) , putting it on the shady side of your house, and installing a double set of (“airlock”) type doors with plenty of hard foam insulation.

Fairly high humidity (90 to 95%) is actually a good thing in root cellars. Without it, many stored food will gradually desiccate. Very high humidity is not a major issue unless it high enough, and the temperature low enough for the air to condense each time the door is opened. In places where the humidity is that high (near 100%), it is probably best to have the entrance to the root cellar inside a house (by way of an interior basement door, rather than an exterior entrance.) In many parts of the country, you will want to supplement the natural humidity by placing a thin layer of gravel on the floor, and a occasionally sprinkling it with water. You should monitor both the temperature and the humidity (the latter with a hygrometer) in your root cellar.

I don’t have any personal experience with the Bison brand pumps. Perhaps a reader that has used one would care to comment. OBTW, they should be available from Lehmans.com