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How to Preserve and Abundance of Fresh Foods in Wintertime

Several people have asked about the earth pits we used in Idaho to preserve various vegetables throughout the very cold winters.

These were simple pits that we dug by hand with a shovel that were about two feet wide, five or six feet in length, and three to five feet deep. Our soil was easy to work with and we could dig these holes quite rapidly. We filled each hole with the foods we wanted to preserve through our cold winters, such as carrots, potatoes, onions, beets, and so forth. We filled them until the food reached about six inches to a foot or so from the top of the hole. Then we covered them with insulation of some sort. We always used straw topped with a blanket; however any quality insulation will work. 

When the snows came they would cover the blanket and create greater insulation against the harsh cold. The ambient temperature of the earth would keep the produce warm enough to keep it from freezing. This worked well for all root vegetables. In principle, it probably would have worked well for squashes, apples, pears, and all the various Fall harvest crops too, but we stored the fruits and squashes in our pump house for greater convenience. 

We always used a blanket on top because it made it so much easier to move the snow aside to get into the produce. Then when it was time to cover things back up, we weren't adding snow to the straw. We would just lay the straw back in nicely, cover the straw with the blanket again, and then pile the snow back on evenly.

Whether we needed more carrots, potatoes, or onions we would remove a couple weeks worth of produce, and then would cover it all back up again. During the several harsh winters I lived in Salmon, Idaho I don't recall having even one piece of produce freeze when stored in this manner, nor did we have any that rotted. The key was to always keep things dry in the pit and to keep it well insulated.

It is a practical and affordable way to use the ambient temperature of the earth to preserve food throughout the wintertime. If you want to do something similar, I would call the Ag Extension Office in your area and discuss food storage earth pits based upon your area. I've shared the basics with you here, but those basics may need to be adapted to your location for depth of the pit. Weather factors can change the outcome. In our area, even though it was very cold and we had plenty of snow, it remained dry in the ground all winter. A wet drippy climate might require a modified approach.

For emergency preparedness and practical living suggestions, this is a simple and affordable solution to share with friends and family.

Jim 

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Did you ever have trouble with insects getting to the produce? We have so many creepy-crawlies here in the soil - ants, grubs, etc.
Did you line this pit with anything? I am just thinking about Spring or late Winter when you get some icy rain, wouldn't that seep into the ground and get things damp?
Our pits were unlined and covered only with straw and a blanket. Insects were never bothersome; however, these pits were only used during the wintertime. In the spring we emptied the pits and used up what was left of the Fall harvest. I suppose had we left the food in the ground as the bugs and creep-crawlies became more active we might have encountered infestations of insects. This did not occur. We never had the type of rains you mentioned. When we lived in Seattle, I'm sure we would have had to use a different approach; however, in Salmon it was never an issue. This is why I mentioned that the basics of what we did should work everywhere, but may need to be modified according to unique conditions of the area in which you live. I would call the Agricultural Extension Service in your area and speak to the resident expert in these types of matters. She/He will be tuned into the specific challenges of your area. The principle of using the ambient temperature of the earth to preserve food will remain constant from area to area, but the particulars menioned by Kirsten and Mary may need to be addressed uniquely as per location.
We also leave carrots in the ground at the end of the season. When they become mature, we pull them out as we need them and then what's left we leave in the ground and cover with leaves or garbage bags filled with leaves, laid on top of the carrots. As we need them, we clear off some of the leaves and dig them out. We do that all winter long. It brings peace of mind too that we have something fresh if there was a major emergency. I want to try your pit idea too when we get back to Utah.
A friend of mine saves the woven plastic bags wheat comes in and puts her root vegetables in them before burying them in this type of pit. Each bag contains a variety of root veggies, so she can dig out one bag at a time and have various items inside.
This is another good example of using the earth's ambient temperature to preserve root vegetables. The principle is based upon a simple fact, during each season of the year, the ambient temperature of the earth varies very little compared to the atmospheric temperature.

I haven't heard about a refrigerator truck box, however I have heard of people burying old refrigerators or freezers in the ground with the doors up.  I don't know how this would work in the south.  With a refrigerator or freezer you leave the door exposed and you don't need to insulate or put a blanket over the top.  This may solve problems with insects and rain and ice.  I've never tried this myself, so I don't know if you would need ventilation holes or not.  This could be a problem with a completely sealed unit.  If you do this make sure to install a hasp and a lock to prevent kids from being trapped inside.

 

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