• Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Editor’s Note Winter 2008

    Although this magazine is young, we who put it together each season are beginning to notice a thread running through it: that of the old. In many of the stories that have appeared in our first three issues, there are references to our Vermont farmer ancestors and to the various agricultural pursuits and culinary experiments they engaged in. To be honest, this wasn’t planned.

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  • Biodynamics and Me

    Biodynamics and Me

    I have never thought of myself as a “spiritual” person. Although I have much admiration for the values and ethical traditions associated with the secular Judaism I was raised in, I have tended to eschew the organized aspect of religion. My secular upbringing did not prevent me, however, from noticing that the world around me was spectacularly complex and beautiful. The littlest things (a spider’s web!) inspired my utmost appreciation and respect. Later, I channeled this appreciation in the direction of science, trying to understand life processes through the study of biology and botany, microbiology and biochemistry.

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  • Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    Is Local Food a Frugal Choice?

    If you’re reading this magazine, you’ve probably seen one of those lists that explain all the great reasons to buy local food. I’ve seen them so many times I can recite the reasons by heart: local food tastes better, it keeps family farmers in business, it’s better for the environment. But here’s an item I’ve never seen on one of those lists: local food costs less. That’s because many people—myself included—assume that buying local food means spending more money per item. We believe there must be a higher cost to something that represents an investment in our health, the environment and the local economy.

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  • A Community Buys a Farm

    A Community Buys a Farm

    Robin McDermott is gazing towards the Mad River across a field dusted with early November snow. The frozen grass crunches beneath our feet as we walk past an old milking barn, standing huge and empty now for 40 years. Several acres of good agricultural soil, once carefully maintained, now lie fallow. “We need more farmers here,” McDermott says simply. As a founding member of the Mad River Localvores, she should know.

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  • Pete's Good Eaters

    Pete's Good Eaters

    In the garage-sized farm stand where summer customers palmed pudgy tomatoes and grabbed up bunches of basil, the red manure spreader was parked for the winter. It was mid-November, and the plumes of celosias and sprawling nasturtiums that had been growing on the farm stand’s eye-catching “living roof” were a black, tangled thatch. But despite these concessions to the season at Peter Johnson’s farm in Craftsbury Village, there was lettuce growing in the greenhouse, workers making sauerkraut in the barn, and purple sacks on a cart, waiting to be picked up by local CSA members on their commute home.

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  • Beyond Maple Syrup

    Beyond Maple Syrup

    On Sunday mornings during my childhood in Burlington, my father would make heaping stacks of pancakes on the wood stove. My sister and I eagerly awaited the moment when we would pour dark amber maple syrup on our plates to make our doughy boats float in a pool of sweetness. As a child, I took for granted that maple syrup, that quintessential Vermont ingredient, was an important part of the culture in my state. But today, a shift in ecological conditions thought to be triggered by global warming is pressuring ecosystems to move northward. If the southerly range of sugar maples migrates northward into Canada, a vital part of Vermont’s culture and economy will relocate with these valuable trees.

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  • Three Square—Winter 2008

    Three Square—Winter 2008

    Growing up in Vermont, I ate chokecherries, dandelions, venison, and tempura day lilies. When I returned recently, to live here full-time, I began to notice how often the conversation in Vermont turns to food. What’s for dinner? For the next few issues of Local Banquet, I’ll visit a variety of people at home, peer into their iceboxes, and find out what they’re eating and why. And because these can often be personal subjects, I’ve omitted last names.

    Mike likes to eat everything. “Meats, potatoes, vegetables. I like all vegetables. Me, I’m not a fussy eater.”

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  • Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Good Bye Rubarb Pie

    Before I moved here, I always thought of Vermont as Holstein cows dotting a green rolling hillside, dairy barn in the middle ground. Say the word “Vermont” and I could smell maple syrup. Before I ever set foot in the Green Mountains, I associated them with food. Good food. And now, as I prepare to leave Vermont, my home for the past three and a half years, it is food I will miss.

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  • The Underground Garden

    The Underground Garden

    My good friend Robert King, who lives on Putney Mountain, built a root cellar in the 1970s on the hillside just south of his home. Easy access came from the gravel road, where he could drive his truck right up to the root cellar. The site was protected from the north wind and snow drifts. The door opened to the east, not the south where it would have received too much sun. Robert used the Scott Nearing simple stone construction method. First, pour concrete footings and then, using movable wooden frames, fill them with cement and rocks and let them dry. Then move the frames above the first-poured section and start again. It’s simple and practical.

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  • RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    RAFFL, Loca, and Raw Milk Legislation

    Raw milk cheeses aren’t the only “live” foods getting attention in Vermont these days. In January, Rural Vermont, a non-profit working for economic justice for Vermont farmers, plans to introduce legislation in the Statehouse that would enable farmers to sell more than 24 quarts of raw milk a day.

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  • Survival of the Rawest

    Survival of the Rawest

    Sometimes the food world offers bona fide drama made for “reality” TV. Survival of the Rawest is the working title for my imagined submission to the networks. This virtual “hit-show” is actually in production right now on small farms in the Northeast. And the subject is the clash of live foods with dead ones.

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  • Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Farmers' Kitchen—Better Be Beets

    Beets are one of the mightiest of all vegetables. Steamed, roasted, pickled, or raw, beets add color, flavor, and nutrition to any meal.

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The Underground Garden

Robert King's Root Cellar

Written By

Ron Krupp

Written on

December 01 , 2007

Elliot Coleman, in his book Four-Season Harvest, says, “I think of my root cellar as a secret underground garden into which I spirit away many of my crops when winter threatens.” Many gardeners used to have root cellars; I am afraid it is becoming a lost art.

My good friend Robert King, who lives on Putney Mountain, built a root cellar in the 1970s on the hillside just south of his home. Easy access came from the gravel road, where he could drive his truck right up to the root cellar. The site was protected from the north wind and snow drifts. The door opened to the east, not the south where it would have received too much sun. Robert used the Scott Nearing simple stone construction method. First, pour concrete footings and then, using movable wooden frames, fill them with cement and rocks and let them dry. Then move the frames above the first-poured section and start again. It’s simple and practical.

Externally, the root cellar was seven feet wide and 13 feet long, which translated to five feet wide and 11 feet long inside. Robert built a framed, flat tar roof and used orange foam board to give the structure additional insulation, then filled in the sides with soil. Before you entered the root cellar, there was a mud room that provided an air-lock space between the outside and the cellar. This was why the structure was so long and why Robert could enter the root cellar with ease in the winter. Two half-doors swung in, then the main insulated door with two barrel bolts kept it shut. For ventilation, a four-inch aluminum pipe went through the top of the cellar. The pipe had a damper, just like those used with a wood stove. If it was too moist, the damper was opened all the way.

Timing is critical when using a root cellar because the temperature has to be cool enough to protect the vegetables. You don’t want carrots ripening in September when the cellar is still too warm. The key is to grow crops that ripen late in the season when the cellar has begun to cool down. The way to do this is to start opening up the doors in the evening and closing them in the morning. A rhythm of lowering the temperature starts in October and November. On a cold November day, a decision is made to harvest the root crops and fill up the root cellar, which now is the correct temperature.

The right root varieties are also critical. For example, Robert grew the ‘Lutz Winter Keeper’, a variety of beets, and Burpee’s ‘Short and Sweet’ hardy carrots. He couldn’t grow the longer, thicker winter keepers like my two favorites, ‘Nantes’ or ‘Danvers’ carrots, as his soil had too much clay. Carrots have difficulty penetrating heavy clay.

The root crops were stored in plastic milk crates found at the Putney dump. During the coldest times in winter, when there were seven days of sub-zero temperatures, a candle was lit in the mud room that kept the thermometer at 33 in the root cellar. If it had been colder, you know what would have happened.

In November, Robert made the last batches of apple cider. He would fill glass gallon containers to within 1/4 inch from the top and capped them. The sweet cider was unpasteurized. By then the temperature in the cellar was down around 35 degrees and the cider would keep all winter, believe it or not. Apples were not stored in the cellar because they gave off gases that affected the root crops, but they did store a five-gallon wooden apple barrel of vinegar.

Maybe we can all meet this winter in Robert’s Underground Kingdom. It would be a great place to see the many bins of potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, and cabbage, and perhaps have a sip of sweet apple cider.

(This piece is excerpted from Ron Krupp’s “The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening”, a Vermont organic gardening book published in 2000.)

About the Author

Ron Krupp

Ron Krupp

Ron Krupp is the author of the Vermont organic gardening book The Woodchuck’s Guide to Gardening. He will be coming out with a new book this spring called Lifting the Yoke–Local Solutions to America’s Farm and Food Crisis. The book focuses on Vermont.

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A quarterly magazine devoted to covering local food, sustainable farming, and the many people building the Vermont food system.

Vermont's Local Banquet Magazine illuminates the connections between local food and Vermont communities. Our stories, interviews, and essays reveal how Vermont residents are building their local food systems, how farmers are faring in a time of great opportunity and challenge, and how Vermont’s agricultural landscape is changing as the localvore movement shapes what is grown and raised here.

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