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Posts Tagged ‘Root cellar’


Root cellar upgrades & improvements – Entry #127

   Posted by: trobinson    in Building Projects

Storage resizeIn December of 2008 I wrote a series of blogs concerning our experience building a new root cellar here at Timber Butte.  (See Archives for December 08 – Entries 10-13)  I shared how I used old discarded car tires filled with compressed earth for the supporting structure.  I also told the story of building our first root cellar in 1972 on the old original ranch in Robinson Canyon out of granite rock. It is hard to believe that a year has gone by already since the completion of the new cellar but after experiencing its effectiveness through four seasons of use I thought it might be a good idea to give you all an update. 

Exterior & interior doors

Exterior & interior doors

For the most part we have been quite pleased with its operation, especially with its constant temperature but we did run into an unexpected problem with the humidity level.  

During the past year the inside temperatures fluctuated from just under forty degrees in the dead of winter (when outside temps were in the single digits) to about fifty degrees in the heat of summer (when the outside temperature was bumping a hundred).  We were fairly happy with this result but are hoping that by planting shrubs on the cellar roof this fall we may defray a little more of the penetrating summer heat next year.  Not only will the plants help insulate and deflect heat, but the water they require will keep the soil moist and thus cooler as well.  The inside humidity was a different matter. 

Last spring we experienced several huge downpours of driving rain.  I hadn’t anticipated the amount of water that built up on the already saturated ground after some of these cloud bursts.  It was amazing and it enabled some excess water to run down the cellars steps and under the exterior door.  I had constructed a drain between the outside and inside door which ended up clogging with debris thus

Mold formed on canning jar caps

Mold formed on canning jar caps

causing the excess water to overflow the threshold and soak the inner adobe clay floor.  As you might guess this caused the humidity level to rise to 100% which lasted for the better part of the summer; this was even after leaving both doors open in hopes of airing things out for a month.  Mold started to grow on the outside of Nancy’s metal canning lids and the things that were packaged in cardboard were ruined.  It was a discouraging problem that we had to rectify.

In an effort to bring down the humidity and keep the problem from reoccurring again the following spring we made four improvements.  First, I poured a higher concrete curb around the outside stairs to re-channel future runoffs.  I also installed several new outside drains in the yard to trap and carry flood water away from the areas around the cellar door as well as enlarging the existing inside drain.

The six inch vent pipe

The six inch vent pipe

Secondly, we installed a six inch vent pipe through the ceiling to increase air circulation which worked very well.  After doing some reading I realized this should have been done in the beginning.   And lastly, we poured loose pea gravel on the floor about four inches deep.  Gravel enabled moisture to wick off of the clay floor and accelerate the evaporation process. 

Most root crops do best in cellars that maintain about a 60% to 80% humidity level which we have now managed to achieve.  The problem has been resolved and Nancy cleaned the mold off the lids with vinegar and is again canning all kinds of wonderful new things for another winter of storage and eating.

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waterfall-resizeI’ve resisted writing about our latest projects here at Timber  Butte because up until now most everything we’ve done has had some sustainable purpose.  The agriculture projects, building the barn and other outbuildings, the animal projects, the energy and conservation projects have all had sustainable merit but lately we have invested a lot of energy doing things simply for the joy of satisfying the creative longings of the hearts.   

If you’ve been following our blog you may recall that we chose the sight for our home on a granite knob for primarily three reasons; one because it was central on the property and has a vantage point where we can keep our eyes on the livestock; second, because we wanted to situate the house and yard on solid ground where there was good drainage and thus no danger for flooding, and finally because it was the least fertile ground on the eighty acres allowing us to use the better ground for grazing and hay production. This was all great until it came time to do a little landscaping which we have dedicated much of this past summer to.   

Nancy loves flowers around her home and we both really like grass. Grass not only provides a wonderful fire barrier, but it keeps things cooler in the summer and cleaner in the winter.  Up until now we have been surrounded by a yard of decomposed granite which is constantly being tracked into the house.   A good deal of the summer has been given to putting in watering systems, pouring hundreds of feet of concrete curbing  to hold top soil in and building flower beds.  Our good neighbors Craig and Joan again came to the rescue by  giving us three dump truck loads of decomposed cow manure to enrich our granite soil.

waterfall-resize-2Although these projects have taken up the better part of our summer vacation time it hasn’t seemed worthy enough to journal about when the point of my journaling has been primarily focused on sustainable living.  That is of course unless you consider that art projects are an essential part of sustaining the creativity that God has implanted into every human spirit.

Nancy loves the sound of running water.  She has always wanted to live near the sound of a creek or stream, something that living on top of a dry granite knob hasn’t accommodated.  There are two small seasonal creeks on the Timber Butte property but both of them babble far out of earshot from her kitchen window.  For this reason I decided to construct a small cascading waterfall that would run down the side of the root cellar into a catch pond hidden in a flowerbed below.  We gathered large flat thin slabs of lichen covered granite which I arranged in such a way that the water could fall from one to the next.  This not only looked natural, but created the soothing sound of a cascading stream that could be heard from the kitchen window. It was more of an art project than something built for utility value, but sometimes you just have to do things simply to satisfy the creative longings of the heart.

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Entry # 14 – Readiness

   Posted by: trobinson    in Building Projects, Video

Readyness from Vineyard Boise on Vimeo.

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A root cellar is an amazing thing.  Our cellar maintains a constant temperature of 40 to 50 degrees year round – day and night, while holding a humidity level of approximately 95%.   For roots like potatoes, onions and carrots it’s just like being under ground – which it is.  Apples stay fresh and even somewhat crisp well into the winter months. Canned goods keep best in consistent temperatures without sunlight making a root cellar the perfect natural place to store them.  Some might think that a well designed root cellar is an amazing innovative man made invention while in reality it is simply an adaptation of a natural cave.   The truth is, with all of mans technology natural ways of doing things are often superior.  A root cellar requires no outside energy source and is made with all natural materials.  If constructed properly a root cellar provides a spacious food storage unit that doesn’t require Freon, will never wear out and won’t end up taking precious space in a land-fill somewhere.  There is something rich and wholesome about living more organic and natural lives. More and more people are becoming increasingly fascinated and are being drawn back to the land and more sustainable lifestyles.  I am constantly meeting people who are developing small but highly productive garden plots in their suburban back yards.  Our church has a community garden where literally dozens of volunteers gather together and share in the work.  Last season they gave over 24,000 pounds of fresh produce to the poor as well as shared it among themselves. [See] I believe that there is a God given inner drive that draws the human spirit to nature.  When Paul wrote to the Romans he said this; “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and his divine nature – have been seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse [from knowing him].”  In other words, when we look at nature and the natural things around us we are being exposed to the nature of God.  Nature gives us a look at who God is and because of it Paul says, we are without excuse from knowing him.  I think that’s why so many of us love natural things.  In our heart of hearts we know that nature gives us a glimpse of who our creator is and a closer step towards authentic relationship with him.

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 If you have been following my entries this past week you know that I have been sharing about my experience building root cellars.  To catch up you might check out the last two entries before reading this one.  O.K. – We dug the hole, framed the inner room and constructed a short hallway that would eventually connect the outside world to the  storage room.  I wrapped the OSB sheeting with two coats of heavy weight black roofing paper, sheeted the roof with 2X12’s and screwed down heavy gage roofing metal.  As you might suspect the 2X4 framed walls were never meant to hold back the weight of the earth or the moisture that would eventually push in on the wooden structure.  (Note that the framed structure is only in place for the purpose of giving the inside room square plumb walls so that shelving can be attached to them at a later time.)  Next I added the real structural strength and the barrier that would hold back both earth and moisture – old worn out, used up, rejected car tires.  I had read about tire structures before, but had never actually tried to use them.  I was surprised to find out that most local tire stores are more than happy to have people haul used tires off, in fact, some will even pay you a dollar a piece if you promise not to return them.  I filled my four horse trailer two different times with these unwanted beauties and carted them home.  I neatly stacked them in a brick like pattern around the perimeter of my framed structure and filled each one of them to the brim with loose dirt.  I jumped up and down compressing the soil as best I could and continued adding layers until my wall of recycled tires reached up under the 4X6 rafters.  I placed a treated 2X12 across the top layer of tires tightly fitting it under the rafter tails. This gave the roof structure additional support. When I was finished I wrapped the entire structure several more times with heavy gage plastic and began to back fill the entire thing with the earth that had been removed from the original hole.  Some good friends, Duncan and Irene (whom we will speak more of later) joined in and helped build a granite retaining wall across the front.  We built the wall using local rock which I had acquired from our generous neighbor Craig Krosh (See entry #6). When the cellar was completed the outside gave the appearance of an old mine shaft. (I’ll post a video that shows the completed structure on Friday.)  Later on I hung the two doors and built the shelving which would hold Nancy’s canning and other food supplie.

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