Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

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Under The Stairs

11/5/2013 11:00:00 AM

Tags: root cellaring, food preservation, Bethann Weick, New Hampshire

Our cabin, as you might imagine, has neither cellar nor long-term food storage.  During the warmer months we eat fresh from the garden and supplement with dry goods.  Perishables are a treat, and eaten quickly.  A cooler dug into the ground is our closest approximation of a refrigerator.

Cabbage en route to the cellar

After a prolific season in the garden, storage became our major question.  In prior years, when the harvest was small, produce could be stored in baskets and boxes in the yurt and eaten before the freezing cold or the decomposition of time could lead to the food’s demise. This season we’re lucky: With the arrival of my parents in Dorchester, we quite conveniently have access to a full cellar with space to fill.  Potatoes, therefore, are laid out on and under cardboard, while root vegetables, such as turnips, carrots and beets, are buried in buckets of sand, and cabbage heads are stuffed into containers of compost. 

At this point of the September harvest, however, even the cellar was a tad too warm.  Cabbage leaves were losing their life too quickly, and turnips and carrots were trying to sprout. 

This was worrisome, but not a problem for long.  The direct exit from the cellar to the outside sits between an insulated door and the bulkhead hatch.  Upon removing the stairs from this exit, we cleverly created a nook that was insulated from the house heat, and readily cooled by its thin exterior storm door and shaded location. 

Winter squash

So, voilá! We have a grocery store under the stairs.  What a pleasant adventure compared with the average shopping routine!  Every day or two, with basket or bucket in hand, I trot down to the darkened cellar and enter this makeshift root cellar.  Headlamp affixed to my head, I plunge my fingers through layers of damp sand and newspaper.  I retrieve sweet Scarlet Nantes carrots, large Purple Top turnips, and Detroit Dark Red beets.  Red and white skinned potatoes, green cabbage, and more than half a dozen winter squash varieties (stored upstairs as they prefer drier conditions) round out the options for each meal. 

A good scrubbing is required, but then gleaming vegetables are piled high, their bright colors and sweet, earthy flavors satiating both our eyes and our palettes.  No lines, no check-out counters, no price tag – just some dirt under our nails, very generous parents (they get vegetables, too!), and a little bit of planning.  The thrill and satisfaction of a garden continues well after the cold season has arrived. 

For fall clean-up in your garden or landscaped housefront, please contact Beth via

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