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"Root cellaring" in the hot & humid South.

Living in Southeast Central Texas, as with many parts of the Southern US, offers some real opportunities for long, if not year-round, growing seasons and grazing. Our homeschooling family of six thoroughly enjoys organic gardening here on the northern edge of Zone 8. But due to our indistinct autumns (We seem to go from summer to "winter" here, typically wondering if we will be running the heater or the air conditioner on Christmas Day!), mild winters, warm springs, and very hot summers, we have had to make a lot of adaptations in the way we do things. For example, we typically have our potatoes in the ground by January 15th in order to provide them with the cooler temperatures they need, beat the heat, and get really good yields. Lots of hay mulch and occasional plastic-bucket-cover suffice for getting us through any hard freezes or thick frosts. Fall gardening is difficult here, because, as I said, our autumns are so indistinct, being peppered with 90 [degrees] + days in October, and 80 [degrees] + days in November and even December.

Many of the fall crops do not get the cool/cold they need to flourish here unless we plant them really late in the season (by most people's standards).

One of our challenges here was preserving our potatoes, onions, and other root crops. We did some canning and preserving, but what we really wanted was to preserve our harvest whole. We have read many wonderful books, articles, and testimonials on the wonders of root cellaring, but they are all written by Northerners! Down here in the South, it is way too hot and humid to have a true root cellar. For that matter, we are even "geologically challenged" in being able to build one that will work. (Those of you in the north may be shocked to know that you are hard pressed to even find a home in the south with a basement) Everyone we know who has tried to build a root cellar that works in this region has failed to be successful because of all the reasons listed above.

So we had to do some innovative thinking to come up with a "root cellar" that would work. I primarily credit my wife, Maranatha, for this idea. The two main things you need for a good. root cellar is for it to be consistently cool and dark, right? Well, we live in a 16' x 80' mobile home, and for a number of months of the year we convert part of our hall bathroom into "the root cellar." I custom-built some' shelving which sits perfectly into the bathtub, and there we store up all the wonderful garlic, potatoes, onions, and the like from our garden. Our reasoning was if a 300 pound man visited us and took a bath in our tub, it would hold him, so surely it will hold that many pounds of harvest -- and it does!

We keep the air conditioning on, the lights off, and the door closed (except for quick ins-and-outs to use the lavatory or toilet), and eat from our harvest well into the summertime. Our children take their baths in our master bathroom for this portion of the year, and our "root cellar" becomes a conversation starter for visitors who pass through and need to use the toilet. For overnight guests, we can easily remove everything, relocate it in one of the other bedrooms until they leave, and then set it all back up in minutes. I know this sounds out of the ordinary, but it has worked fabulously for us for years now.
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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