I like reading other people's blogs because they give me good ideas about what I can do around here. GI Jim wrote about root cellars and cool rooms the other day on his blog. This is a great way to keep produce lasting longer. Before you could find every fruit or vegetable year round at the grocery store most houses had root cellars, corners in the basement, or cool closets for keeping produce and other items. Since I refuse to buy fresh fruit and vegetables from the store other than bananas, pineapple, mangos, and those fruits not able to be grown here, I usually dry, can, or freeze everything to make it so it lasts throughout the year. What if I could make things last longer than just sitting in the fruit bowl on the counter or in the refrigerator?
I've used a zeer pot when the refrigerator has been full. You make this by taking two unglazed clay flower pots, one a size smaller than the other but both pretty big. Plug up the holes at the bottom. Put a layer of sand a couple inches thick on the bottom of the big pot then place the smaller pot into the bigger pot. Put sand in between the two pots. Pack it well. Then pour water into the sand so it's saturated. Put the pot into an area that gets air circulation. Put your food in, cover with a clay lid (the bottom part that holds the overflow water) or even a thick towel. The evaporation of the water will cool the air in the pot down enough to use it to store fruits, vegetables, even dairy.
I've thought about making a root cellar but I can't figure out where I'd put it that would be convenient yet out of the way. The front yard has the septic system and leach lines so the front yard is out even though it's got some good locations. The backyard has the water lines and that's where the kids play. I could put it out near the barns but convenience is important. I think I'd get lazy and go without sometimes rather than making the 200 foot walk out back. So instead I was really interested in the idea of a cool room.
Apples, peaches, plums, pears, and tomatoes will release ethylene gas when you store them. It's best not to store these with your vegetables because they will ripen the vegetables much faster than you'd want. Not only that but some vegetables, such as carrots, will get bitter if they are exposed to the gas. It may be better to can or dry the fruits and store vegetables in a cool room.
When I made my home store I designed it to have a vent from the heater/air conditioner in the ceiling. Even if I don't run the air conditioner to cool the house during the summer I can still run it for 10 minutes and that room chills down. That's great if we have electricity. What if we don't? Redesigning this room to make it a cool room would be easy enough. The most ideal way to do this would be to cut a hole in the cement floor to get the cool air from the ground to enter the room. While ideal, it's not going to happen! The next best thing to do is to cut a hole in the outside wall near the ground. This hole will need to have a good screen on it to keep out the bugs but it will still work to draw cool air into the room. In the ceiling I'll punch a hole and put a vent pipe through the attic to go outside. Jim suggested using a non-electric roof fan that would help pull the air out. I don't know if I'll do that - putting another vent in my tile roof. I will first try just venting it high into the attic but may end up putting in the fan after all.
If the room can't cool down because it's too large I can always put up a divider wall and have half of the home store a cool room and half the same temperature as the rest of the house. It will be a good project for the end of summer.