Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Winter Food Storage Experiment

Hmm... I need a catchier name than, "Winter Food Storage Experiment." Something like "Root Cellar Survival" or "The Art of Winter Storage." lol I'm open to reader submissions. :-D

So, I want to try an experiment. As such, the dates I choose are mostly arbitrary. In the past Americans would store from the end of their growing season to the beginning of the next. Most didn't choose to live in zone 4 Iowa though. :-D :-D If i was to use those dates for my experiment I'd need to go from Oct 11-April 20th. Waaay too long for my first trial run. (While searching for those growing season dates I stumbled across this tidbit: "Your frost-free growing season is around 148 days." Wow, so short. I've seen it though, the squash I planted didn't even have time to set fruit and it's already dieing back from the cold nights we had last week.)
So, since I'm going with arbitrary dates anyway, I've decided to run this experiment from Nov 1st through the end of March. 5 months, roughly 20 weeks.

I'm going to pick 5 items to stock in the root cellar and try to store enough of those things to last us through the winter. I will be trying to get storage conditions right so they'll last through March and amounts right so we don't run out too soon.

What's my goal here, some of you may be asking, what's the point? Well, as I hinted above, Americans used to do this as a matter of course. (Let's not be ethnocentric here, many peoples back to the dawn of time have done this; NOT storing winter food is the oddity, historically speaking.) Unless they lived in one of the more prosperous cities on the east coast, supplies came when the weather was good and very little moved during the winter. A family that didn't store enough or store it properly went hungry in the spring. Fast forward a hundred years and during WWII, victory gardens and canning/storing pushes were seen as a way to feed families back home and thus allow as much as possible to be sent to the troops fighting overseas. The prosperity following WWII saw much of that get pushed to the back burner. Cheap oil, the green revolution and just-in-time delivery networks encouraged Americans to trust their local grocer to have every possible fruit and veggie, fresh dairy and baked goods all year round. The danger is that grocers don't store food anymore either. It's now estimated that grocery stores carry an average of 3 days worth of food. If anything shuts down the JIT delivery network, lots of shelves will be bare, rather quickly. You've probably already seen this, ever tried to find milk and bread on the 2nd day of what's forecasted to be a 3 day blizzard? That's a localized example of the distribution network shutting down. Massive earthquake, flooding, blizzards, ice storms, etc, any of these could happen and cause trucks to halt delivery and then the clock starts ticking. On a national scale, it would take something like a flu pandemic or a massive spike in oil prices or some sort of attack either nuclear or biological. None of these are likely options, but at the same time, they are all possibilities.
My purpose with this experiment is to explore the food needs of my family over a winter. I realize that our needs will never be stable, kids grow and need more food, an empty nest will need less, but a rough idea will be more valuable than the complete question mark I have now. Knowing those food needs will allow me to store food every winter to cover any emergencies that halt the JIT delivery network. (In the summer my garden serves that role) Knowing our food needs will help me more accurately plan the crops that I grow, and help me invest in bulk food purchases with more precision and confidence. Practicing the storing, and approaching it in an intentional way means I can record successes and failures and learn more quickly from them, lessening the losses in subsequent years.

Here are my calculated-guesses for amounts I'd like to store. As this is my first year, I can only guess at our usage of these. Some guesses will be more accurate than others, but that's what this is about.

Apples --5/week x 20 weeks = 100

Onions -- 4/week x 20 weeks = 80

Garlic -- 1 head/week x 20 weeks = 20 heads

Potatoes -- 4/week x 20 weeks = 80

Sweet Potatoes -- 2/week x 20 weeks = 40

What I have stored as of today:
Apples: 51
Onions: 58
Garlic: 30 heads
Potatoes: 65 + 10 pounds of Reds + whatever I get from my red potato harvest
Sweet Potatoes: 8

So, I need another 50 apples, (wow) and another 20 onions and 30 more sweet potatoes. Apples I think are very doable, there are still good deals on new crops, onions are probably doable, we'll see. Sweet potatoes might be short, it's hard to find them, and we can certainly survive without them if we run out halfway through the experiment.

You can see the setup I'm working with in the picture above. (not bad if I do say so myself)
There's a little thermometer on the top shelf that still reads 60 degrees, and I need to work this weekend on getting some cool air flow down to that little room. Ideally the apples and potatoes need temperatures in the 30's. Ideally I need to seperate my apples and potatoes too, as the potatoes will give off a gas that will quicken the spoilage of my apples.

I also need to get all my jars of food counted and a list hung up in the kitchen for reference.

More on all of that as it progresses. Lots to do, but I'm please with the progress so far.


Jess said...

What a great start you have figuring this all out, and LOOK at those wonderful colorful shelves!

I have so much of this in my head... how much I need, how much I actually grew, how long it will store, what I need to do differently next year...

Now you've motivated me to actually write it down!

Jennie said...

I tried the in-the-head method, and it just drives me crazy. (crazier?)
Not only is it hard to keep it all straight in the middle of fall harvest, but then during the winter it's hard to remember what's down in the basement that needs eating.

Plus, I'm totally a list sort of person. As long as I have a list that I can put near the food in the kitchen, I will plan meals with the root cellar veggies in mind. Without something visible in my kitchen I forget to plan meals with them, (I blame my goldfish-like memory.) After a week of forgetting to make meals with them, I'll graduate to forgetting to check on them, and then things just start to rot. :-P