I find myself inspired to write about root houses and coolers: the cold, damp, dark places where we store potatoes and arguably the most important feature of a food farm.
On a hot day like today you donít need a house, you need a cooler.
Had she known this, mom would have for certain built a root house before the house but there you go, she didnít. Luckily, it is a log house which tends to stay cool in hot weather, and so she got to use it for potato storage for several years. Summer storage was at a neighbourís root house which was available until his own harvest began in the fall at which time our remaining 50lb boxes were rolled up a ramp through the front door and piled high around the perimeter of the living and dining areas. Pretty sure mom misses that. Seriously.
Our first root house was built in 1999 and featured log walls, a dirt floor and 1,000 feet of water line pinned to the ceiling and flushed through with six-degree well water Ė a theoretically nifty cooling system appropriate for potatoes.
It was not ideal Ė the condensation was so severe that it was almost raining in there. Potatoes need high humidity for good storage and we were on the high end of the recommended range. Also, it was impossible to get the room temperature down to an effective single digit. The water was coming out of the well at a good temperature, but much was lost in the process. Every morning at dawn, the door was opened to take advantage of all that cooler air outside.
To boost cooling power, a radiator was mounted on the back wall, hooked up with well water and fans behind to blow the air out into the room. It sounded like a jet turbine in there. And it was still raining.
The second root house was built with the same hopeful, theoretical and low consumption cooling system, with an extra powerful fan. The vibrations gave us all nervous twitches, and that door too, stood open every dawn.
It was manageable until a heat wave a few summers ago, when by 8 a.m. in the morning it was 30 degrees. We had to carry on with the harvest and the potatoes went into the root houses warm with considerable field heat and damp from the washing.
The stinking, rotten, un-saleable potatoes prompted us to abandon optimism as a coolant and install an expensive, modern, technical and proper mechanical cooling system in one of the root houses, which we shall now call a cooler.
We really said goodbye to the old ways when it was decided to pour concrete on the precious dirt floors. As the root-house manager I was thrilled to bits and I am pretty sure that that the smooth, hard rolling surface has prolonged my useful farming life by several years.
Not only that, we can fit a lot more on a concrete floor. Now I can stack the bins 12 high. Of course, I wonít be doing that when I am 80 but I digress.
I wanted to make sure to point out that the concrete floor has a six-inch gap around the perimeter, which is enough dirt to maintain humidity.
Thank goodness for modern farming.
Anna Helmer knows that there might be hotter farmers in the world.