Why does it have to be boring? A neat twist on drying stuff like apple chips and pineapple and ginger and rhubarb and other interesting flavors is candying which combines drying them to around 20% moisture content and then sugaring the foods so that remaining surface moisture is bound up in sugar crystals which micro-nasties have a hard time getting into. Sugared fruits in dry storage can last years but they generally get eaten pretty quickly so I really can’t say how many years. Delicacies are very nice to have in long term storage. Candying is similar to brining in that the food goes into a completely saturated solution so the mineral (salt in the case of brining and sugar in the case of candying) is literally crystallizing around the surface of the food.
Dehydrated foods are the survival food of the 20th century. The choice of backpackers for it’s light-weight and low volume, it’s long term shelf life and the ability to create pre-prepared entrees with multiple ingredients including meats, vegetables and dairy, dehydrated packaged foods were the rage.
Dehydration could have been talked about along with drying and desiccation but it’s kind of held to a certain standard these days. Drying is anything drier than the food was at harvest. Food which has been dehydrated is held to be at very low moisture levels. We manage to preserve higher nutritional values in food desiccation stored for the long term with dehydration than with other methods. It is possible to dehydrate food on your own using solar, fire or other heat source but in some areas, the ambient humidity is just working against you every step of the way. From handling food in atmosphere to the containers you put it into, some places are just too dang soggy. That could present some challenges.
Dehydrated foods offer many advantages. We can have almost anything in dehydrated food: eggs, cheese, juices, meat, prepared entrees, any kind of plant crops, they just have to be “rehydrated” for use after storage. However, it’s important to note that most dehydrated long term storage foods are packaged as “single-foods”. In other words you will likely be buying large packages or cans of peas and that’s all there is in there. It’s generally not pre-packaged entrees like we get with a lot of freeze dried survival foods. Ultimately a well planned store of dehydrated foods such as are found in the commercial packages offers more options for long term sustenance. Dehydrated food is also cheaper, it’s about the cheapest (or low-cost, rather) food you can get. I generally favor dehydrated and dried foods for long term storage for all of these reasons.
Obviously there’s scientifical instruments to get precise measures but at home we combine measurement with observation. Your basic “dried fruit” at around 20% moisture content is still flexible. Down around dehydration levels, 3%, it’s brittle and snappy (apple chips! Yum!). Dried fruit has, for lack of better description, a desiccated look to it. Properly sundried peppers should make a “tap” sound when bounced off a surface. Beef Jerky at around 12% is still flexible. Weighing food is a good method of calculating how much H2O is gone if you have a scale because we calculate H2O content in food by weight rather than volume but when you have several tons of food, this can be a heck of a chore.
For grains and stuff like dried beans, moisture content becomes pretty crucial. Experience is the old mountain method, but there’s a bit of hedging of bets going on. With drying of seed grains, moisture content massively effects their viability so we’d pull seeds from drying in batches, marking how long each batch had dried on the paper envelopes we kept them in and from what dates so we kind of had a bracket. At least some of the seeds were reasonably sure to be just about perfect. Oddly, preserving seeds, which are food for a germinating young plant, is pretty much like preserving our own food even though in much of this discussion, seeds are our food. Moisture, heat, sunlight are our mutual enemies as far as long term seed storage or even preservation until next season.
However, with weight we can do a decent job of determining moisture content in our food as it’s drying, and we can extrapolate by comparing it to the rest of our stocks by observation of color, texture, smell and flavor. And we can continue to “bracket” our drying to further insure our protection.
To roughly determine moisture content of your drying foods, we can use the following method.
- Weigh a portion of the food before drying.
- Immediately start drying this portion to whatever point you think is good.
- Weight it again.
- Subtract the dry weight from the wet weight, divide this by dry weight and multiply the result by 100.
- This will be the moisture content in %.
- So the percentage of water in a food is ((wet-dry)/wet)*100.
- From here you can use your senses to determine your rough moisture content by comparing color, texture and weight for
the rest of this type of food for that drying session.
- Be aware your drying times will vary from day to day (or day to night) depending on humidity.
Scales for determining moisture content of long term food stores and commerce.
It becomes pretty obvious that some things like grain grinders or mills come in handy for long term storage foods. Scales are really handy too. Keep your eyes peeled for old, still functional scales. Obviously the big ones we want are getting hard to find. Smaller scales force us to weigh a single shipment or harvest multiple times leading to increased inaccuracy. Take care to clean, lubricate and calibrate your scales or you’ll be running around in circles. For commerce, barter and packaging we also have to be accurate. For measuring H2O content we have to be really accurate. Postal scales were designed to be accurate to within 1 gram and should be calibratable. These come in many different sizes.
Drying of grains and beans for storage is historically done in the sun. Grains are dried in all kinds of indoor or other drying apparatus. Historically, some grains such as corn are allowed to dry on the cob, beans and other berry grains are dried whole, such that they can be preserved for seed crop. However, whole grains tend to preserve a lot of moisture and fat content. De-hulling grain berries for storage and separating components like germ can enhance the storage life term. For this reason, white rice is preferred by many for long term storage; the oils in brown rice tend to rancidify more quickly. Drying can be done in bins and it can be done under cover and with the benefit of heat from various sources. Grain storage silos themselves are big controlled drying storage units, and are ventilated and heated by solar or other means. Think of a silo as a big thermal tube that gets air moving vertically up through it from the bottom.
Desired moisture content levels for dried grains are below 15% for any period. In long term storage and for preservation of seed stock we want those moisture levels down to 10% or below. This can take a couple weeks and if you are in a humid climate you might have a hard time getting there. Air flow and temperature are important factors here. Once a good low moisture content is achieved, however, we want to get that grain into stable 60-65°F temperatures immediately for long term storage. From here, maintaining those levels of moisture and temperature are key. Our desert experience suggests that low humidity is more important than temperature, at least for very low-fat grains and beans.
Air flow remains important to the long term storage of grains in normal atmosphere. This is why burlap and canvas bags were often used for their storage. Folks buying grains specifically packaged for long term storage don’t need to worry about this until the packages are opened. In general, packages are removed from dry storage areas upon opening for use in the household.
Any of these can be hybridized which means you can mix and match power sources. You can start stacking drying racks, just make sure that air can flow through and between your racks. Rotate your racks and product from top to bottom or however necessary to maintain even drying. With all foods you dry, the more uniform or even the shapes and thicknesses or the food, the more evenly it will dry. Feel free to experiment! Drier foods last longer, less dry foods have all kinds of variable textures and “rehydrate” faster when needed.
Wired food dryers.
The easiest way to get started drying foods is to pick up a little commercially bought unit. These are almost always electrically powered and have a little circulating fan. They can be found in thrift stores for a couple of bucks. Commercial dryers are all electric these days. You could easily design your own with a blow dryer. However there’s no point in not investigating alternative heat sources.
Solar food dryers.
Solar food dryers are dandy. If you live where it’s sunny. The work marvelously in deserts that’s for sure. Solar dryers can just be a baking pan out in the sun or a string of chillies hanging or it can be a boxed-in, glass-topped affair. With a fancy solar food dryer, we design it to draw fresh, dry air up from the bottom and hot air vents from the top. Naturally, the fancier dryer is hotter, so you are rotating and moving more product through.
Fired food dryers.
Using fire to dry things like meats and fruit is pretty ancient and it speeds things up bigtime. We can dry a lot more product in a smaller area using fire (and electric for that matter) since we can stack our drying racks vertically as tall as we like. With fire you are keeping very busy rotating drying racks and keeping the fires even.
Drying foods for long term storage.
Drying is one of the oldest methods of preservation. In drying, we’re making life more difficult for the micronasties by removing water from their park. And for a very long time, humans have relied heavily upon the drying power of the sun which was widely recognized as having a monopoly on the heating industry. Sun-drying works on a wide rage of things: meat, fish, fruit, grains, vegetables and insects. Indeed, every insect I have ever eaten either did or would have tasted better for sun drying. Or maybe it’s a textural thing. I prefer “crunch” as opposed to “squirt”. Drying goes by a lot of fancier names these days like dehydration and desiccation but the basic methods and utilities are still available. Spread food out on a rock in the sun and wait.
Something to remember! normal food when harvested is between like 90% for fruits and down to like 20% for lean meats. “Drying” is thus a pretty gross term and it means any less moisture content than present when the food was harvested. For practical purposes, dried fruit is somewhere around 15-20% moisture content but it only gets harder then crunchier the lower you go. In desert environments we can get things pretty dry, almost to the level we know call dehydration which is around 3% for fruits and vegetables.
Did you get that last point? Mostly we can only conventionally dry things as dry as the air in which we are drying it. Using a heat source, we can dehumidify an area around our drying food, but let it sit out in the air and it will start re-absorbing moisture. You folks in damper regions know this when your bag of potato chips is stale one day after opening. If you are drying to below-ambient humidity levels, you have to package the food fast just like they seal up your potato chip bag at the processing plant.
Drying meats is kinda different because a lot of moisture is contained in lipidic state, in fats in the meat. It’s possible to totally dessicate meat, it can be dehydrated but it’s generally not all that nice to eat. Meat is totally not supposed to go “crunch”. But for practical purposes, simple drying down to around 7% delivers a longer lasting food source in the field. The new techniques such as commercial dehydration and freeze-drying take this a big step forward.
Moisture content of “raw” foods.
Let’s just think in terms of basics and not list off 100 foods. Water is 100% moisture content (duh, I know) and it’s where our table starts. It ends with freeze dried food under 3%.
|Cantaloupe, cauliflower, celery, most lettuce||90%|
|Apples, cherries, potatoes, grapes, apricots||80%|
|Beef, chicken, fish, bananas, sweet potatoes, ginger||70%|
|Some nuts||10% and lower|
|Dehydrated and freeze dried foods||3%|
So we see most of the fresh foods we eat are in that 70-90% moisture content range. I suppose from the table above, nature is telling us it’s long term storage foods are honey, nuts and grains which is no secret to bees and squirrels and the myriad grain-eating creatures that store up for winter.
Ice chests were great things. But they were kind of a rich man’s (or wive’s) convenience. Ice, formerly being a strictly seasonal type of product, was wickedly expensive in summer and it’s harvesting was time and labor intensive. What we used to do was wait for a lake or pond to freeze, walk on out to the middle, drill a hole and begin cutting with saws that looked very much like one-man buck-saws with smaller teeth. Ice was sawn into blocks, loaded onto sleds and drawn for storage in ice houses. If you see old buck saws and ice saws at garage sales, buy them and stop calling them antiques. They really come in handy.
Now the ice houses, big surprise, were often a lot like very large root cellars, there are examples of them being located in caves, but they were often basically barn-like structures. The one thing you were sure to find around ice houses was huge amounts of straw. Above-ground structures required lots more straw. You can store ice under straw right on the ground in straw until spring when you can move it into your root cellar. Packing straw thick and tight on all sides of the ice did so well that New Englanders started shipping it all over the world! And this was with wind-driven craft, sailing ships. Ice was an international industry until refrigeration came along. Imagine being the lucky guy that got to work in the ice house all summer back then eh? Nobody wanted to hear how bad your day was.
Now straw is a really awesome insulator having high mass and low density. Ice houses were packed with it, the ice was packed in it and shipped in it. An ice-box isn’t that well insultated but it wasn’t your only cooling mechanism. Strawboxes are the intermediary. Strawboxes are really big boxes made of wood with drain holes on the bottom and you put down a good foot of straw in the bottom and lay your block ice in nice and tight and put a foot of straw on the sides and on top of the ice. It usually has a lid that hinges down shut on top. The thickness of straw here is arbitraty, the more straw, the more insulation.
So this is where the root cellar can hit the next level. A really cool root cellar can have a massive strawbox in it, there’s ice in it and things we want to keep extra cool stay in there. We’ll use the ice to preserve cooler temperatures in summer as needed or to chip away at for cocktails or to make ice cream in late summer if our stocks hold up well. You want to have some sort of provision for melting water for this.
Now here we go with the hybrids. Don’t worry about finding an icebox at the thrift store, modern coolers work better and that’s your daily household ice supply which you take from the strawbox in the cellar.
A final tip on straw boxes, they are good for more than just cooling. Insulation is pretty indifferent about what temperature it’s maintaining. It keeps in heat too. So let’s say you only have a bit of cook fuel and a big pot of rice. Make your fire, boil your rice as much as you can, when the flame dies, transfer the covered pot to a strawbox, cover it over and wait. Be patient. Let it go about twice as long to check on it and I’ll bet your rice will be done enough. Yup, you knew horses ate straw but you didn’t know straw was so helpful to you eating did you? Try the same trick in a thermos for dehydrated or freeze-dried food, it’s a great field-technique.
Don’t worry poor man, I’m always on your side too. Grab a fridge, strip off all the cooling gear (you don’t want chemicals in the ground and around your food), drill some holes into the back for drainage and sink it right into the ground where there’s some shade. Used refrigerators come in handy for all kinds of things. The big thing about using a fridge as an ice box is that you want it on it’s back with the door on top so you are reaching down into it. Cold naturally sinks, and when you open a strawbox or cooler, you access it from the top so all your cold air doesn’t just literally spill down onto the floor.
Evaporative cooling and food storage.
Like many of our environmental factors, evaporative capability is a regional thing. It only works in dry environments, low humidity environments. However, evaporative coolers or “swamp coolers” are used to great effect here in the desert where they do the job of air conditioners at a fraction of the operational cost. I don’t know anybody who’s doing it but there’s little reason not to try it to help root cellars stay cool in hot summers. They do introduce moisture into the air, but air dry enough to benefit from evaporative cooling is dry enough to tolerate some moisture as I mention elsewhere here. Evaporative
cooling can be used in a humbler capacity. We have these butter boxes, a sort of open wooden cube that wet cloths are draped over and you put a stick of butter down in the middle and the evaporative action will probably keep your butter from melting. How do they work? Well in dry air, water evaporates pretty easy. The air is “thirsty”. But converting that water into vapor is a physical change of state and that requires energy. So simply put, heat is the energy that is expent to turn the liquid water into vapor. The heat comes out of the air. The cooler the water, the more heat energy is exchanged with the air to turn the water into vapor. The result is cool air. Or cooler air. You can generally get 20 F below ambient temp with a swamp cooler, more with a more expensive one.
Obviously our examples like the butter might seem trivial, however this is a short-term tool that might help you save your stash one day. In a dry climate, water can help you control the temperature of the air. I’ve made a “butter box” out of a whole RV that was roasting by hanging wet towels all over the place.
The springhouse and springboxes.
Any cool running stream is a great boon to food storage. An icy spring is truly a miraculous thing. The very first thing we can do is make a “springbox” which is a box with holes in it. Milk crates work just fine. We settle this down in a shady part of the stream (or ideally a nice cold spring) and put cans and jars and bottles of food and milk in it to keep cool. Make sure you weight the bottom of your springbox with rocks and tether them to a nearby sapling, they have a tendency to want to migrate downstream. A slightly evolved version is an actual house or structure built over your springbox. Generally these are low-roofed structures with an earthen, stone or gravel floor and they have only minimum venting to keep their moisture and coolness inside. They tend to be small and have low roofs. Things might be kept right in the springbox such as milk or on shelves such as canned goods.
Sand storage of foods.
OK so we’ve seen how we can create particularly cold parts of our root cellar with straw boxes and ice. We talked about a certain level of humidity being good but some foods like to stay a bit dry while they are staying cool. Root food like potatoes, carrots, parsnips and the like really like being kinda medium-dry. So we as we recall using gravel on the floor to assist drainage and evaporation in a root cellar. Moisture coating the gravel increases it’s surface-volume, exposing more of the water to airflow and thence helping with evaporation which produces cooling. As well as giving your feet something to walk on besides mud. We use the same trick with tubers. This includes potatoes, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips and stuff like that. A favorite trick is to store them buried in buckets of clean, dry sand. This increases air flow across the tubers themselves and helps wick moisture away from their surfaces but it doesn’t let them dessicate. Keep an inch or two layer of sand between it’s neighbors and the sides of the bucket. Now put the buckets higher up in the cellar where it’s likely to be just a bit warmer. This will tend to keep them dryer and will keep old mold at bay. That’s “dry storage” they only teach in the mountains.
Hanging and stacking foods in storage.
Herbs, plants and flowers do fine hanging upside down in storage. Dried flowers and herbs maintain much of their flavor in oils, and by not breaking down or chopping them, we preserve these oils in the freshest state we can so they are “virtuous”. We generally want herbs and flowers to dry slowly and the cellars can be good places to start, and we start them up high where our temperature is higher and the moisture is lower. Other oily things such as cheeses and hams tend to do well hanging because their oils will tend to bleed out onto whatever surface they are sitting on. Hanging these types of food in storage eliminates all the issues of cross-contamination with surfaces. Be aware that hams and cheeses (and other things) can sweat and drip on whatever is below them so you don’t want much of anything below them. Some people say to stack your apples high and close to vents. The explanation goes that apples and fuits will emit chemicals as they ripen which can trigger other vegetables and fuits in storage to spoil faster.
Of all the awesome innovations of time, the root cellar stands out as something available to both rich and poor. If you got a shovel and you can dig a hole, you are on your way to a storage environment that costs basically nothing to operate.
Root cellars have a few properties we want such as being cool and dark. Additionally, they tend to be stable in terms of humidity although moisture is pretty much the number one thing to be on the lookout for in a root cellar. But they have another incredible virtue.
Where I grew up it was quite common to keep refrigerators and freezers outdoors in winter. The idea is that the Earth produces plenty of coldness in the winter in most places so paying to heat a house in a cold planet and paying more to keep a part of your warm house cold on a cold planet made no sense atall. The trick was to make the door-activated light switch a manual-activated light switch (or even wire the switch in reverse so a low-watt light bulb burned with the door closed instead of open) so you could keep the light on at night and not have everything freeze. Kinda ran them in reverse in winters. Light bulbs are cheaper to operate than refrigerators in hot houses.
Root cellars keep things from freezing as well as from getting hot. And as we know from previous chapters, there’s lots of food like milk and cheese and eggs that we’d rather not have frozen because it reduces their palatability and pleasant character. So a lot of this thing is gonna be about root-cellar evangelizing. I’m anointing each of you to practice and spread this gospel: the root cellar, ancient friend of man, has returned to us in our hour of need.
How to build a root cellar for food storage.
The most basic version is a hole in the ground. Any amount or depth of hole will help but in most parts of the country, you get about 3-4 feet of dirt on top of you and you enjoy year-round thermal stability. In other words it will always be between 40-60°F in a good root cellar no matter what the air temperature is. So we tend to make them elaborate holes in the ground.
Root cellars are often dug into hillsides for convenience, and in this configuration often have a regular door on the front, leading city people to believe that hobbits live nearby. But basically, a root cellar is a room with a floor and walls and a ceiling and about 3-4 feet of dirt on top of the ceiling and outside the walls. The floor is really important in root cellars, often have a central drainage ditch cut into the earth and a deep layer of gravel forming a flat surface on top. This floor drain system is our number one method of controlling moisture in our root cellar. We also usually have vents in the wall near the floor and others up by the roof or whatever top covering you have. This helps you regulate temperature as well as moisture. Ideally, cooler air flows in the bottom vents and warmer out the top.
The moisture issue is huge. In rainy parts of the country, any hole will tend to fill up with water and root cellars can be quite damp, inviting in all kinds of microscopic meanies like bacteria but fungi really love a nice damp dark root cellar. Things like blackmold might force you to abandon a cellar altogether if it gets out of hand. And in drier climates it can be just the opposite. There’s people in the desert that bring cans of water INTO a root cellar to keep things like dried fruit from becoming entirely desiccated. Contact with dry air will seep moisture out like a huge dry sponge. A very patient and huge dry sponge. But in most places you are mostly concerned with the thing filling up with water. So we always find shelves in root cellars and seldom do we see foodstuffs stacked on the ground or floor of a root cellar. And it’s why it’s not uncommon to see temperature and humidity gages inside a root cellar. This is why it’s important not to let your city friends into your cellar to do a magazine photo shoot.
The walls and roofs of root cellars vary. Sometimes they are just dirt. Sometimes the walls are stone or brick or concrete. Sometimes the walls and roof are simple boards which inevitably rot away and become subject to fungi. Stone, brick and concrete are obvious choices for obvious reasons: they resist rot, they can be made seamless barriers against larger biological threats and they are strong enough to where your root cellar can double as a fallout shelter. Wood is often the material at hand, so we try to waterproof the exterior, and for this reason a lot of root cellars end up being boxes that are buried in the earth.
We don’t like pressure treated woods in root cellars. They outgas nasty stuff. Many modern composite materials such as particle boards may also outgas nasty stuff. I know the temptation is to find a rot-resistant material. Cedar and redwood are naturally rot resistant. We’ll talk about some other stuff as we continue.
Root cellar hybrids (& illustrations some day).
There are kind of hybrid designs as well. The hillside root cellar has one problem: one of it’s walls is in direct contact with the very hot or very cold outdoors which reduces it’s effect. In some places this isn’t such a big deal. In some places the Earth is cool enough to where you can have a sunken room with a normal roof on top. Plus you can use environmental factors such as shade trees or placing your door on the north side of a hill for a hillside cellar so it never gets direct sunlight.
Some houses have actual cellars underneath them, as in basements, particularly where it’s cold enough to freeze the Earth itself on top. These make handy root cellars.
Why skimp if you can afford it?
Some really smart people with some bucks at their disposal take a shipping container, apply waterproofing to the outside, dig a big hole and just lay her right in. Fashion an entryway, cover it all over with dirt and now you have a combination root cellar, storm cellar and you are half way to having a bomb shelter to boot.
At any rate, root cellars aren’t really about insulation as they are about thermal massiveness which is kind of the opposite of insulation. Insulation is a barrier between one heat zone and a different heat zone. Thermal massiveness soaks in heat or cold and let’s it go very slowly. There’s this huge interaction between the Earth and the air. The Earth itself emits warmth in winter and soaks it up in summer. It soaks up cool in winter and releases it in summer. This effect is obviously different from region to region, but the more extreme the temperatures, the deeper you want to go. One way to tell is to measure the temperature in your cellar using a thermometer. These rare scientific instruments can only be obtained from such exotic purveyors such as Walmart. Want to know what the soil temperature itself is? Get a meat thermometer, dig a hold and jab the thermometer in at various levels. Don’t wait too long between the digging and the thermometering because the exposed soil is either soaking up heat from or loosing heat to the air, but it will give you a much clearer idea than guessing. The rule of thumb is once you are under 3 feet of dirt, you are temperature-stable pretty much year round. I guess there are places with such a thing as permafrost and maybe a reader from Alaska will tell us how they manage their root cellars. In most places, once you are under 3-4 feet of dirt you are around 50-65 °F. year round. That, incidentally, is the minimum depth range to protect you from the radiation of a thermonuclear detonation. If you are one of those lucky people outside of the immediate blast radius (in which case it’s better to be outside in a lawn
chair because you probably want to be vaporized instantly) but inside the reach of it’s waves of penetrating radiation, this might be of some comfort to you. If you have a good way of sealing off all your vents or even using them for air filtration, you have a pretty nifty fallout shelter coming together. If this is a glum topic, be encourage by the fact that for a while, global nuclear warfare is not our greatest threat. Now it seems to be terrorism or natural disaster, each of which are local or regional in scope. Basically this means if a nuke goes off near you, you have a hope of riding out the initial period and then making it to someplace that’s not as bad effected. In other words, you might actually make it if you are prepared. But this site isn’t about nukes, it’s about food.
Even more tricks! More micro climates inside your root cellar!
By playing all the tricks together we can in effect induce our own micro-climates in storage. The first ones we have if our cellar is well ventilated top and bottom, is that it’s cooler on the floor and warmer towards the roof. I also once saw a cellar that had two rooms, one after another, and the first room had a concrete floor and was pretty dry and the rear one had a dirt floor and kept moister. Just by hanging and shelving things at different heights in one room or the other allowed the owner to really dial in on what balance of temperature and moisture different foods did best in. That was impressive.
Contagion, quarantine and purging of root cellar foods.
I hate to leave my fave topic on a down note, but as I mentioned, a root cellar can become hopelessly colonized by fungi and other stuff. The fungi have microscopic spores that are almost impossible to clean from a root cellar. If your cellar becomes overrun you might develop allergenic sensitivities to it that can make your life really miserable. Some studies seem to show a linkage between mold and childhood respiratory diseases and immune system insults. If this happens, you will be happy if you are one of the few with the sense to have two root cellars to at least half of your provisions will be safe. In any case, you will have to evacuate the overrun root cellar. DO NOT BRING ANYTHING FROM THE CONTAMINATED ROOT CELLAR INTO ANY OTHER STORAGE SPACE. All contents of the compromised root cellar are quarantined. If you think you can still use the contents of the canned good, leave them outside. Pour their contents into bowls to take inside and cook. Don’t even stack the compromised food upwind of a good root cellar. The spores are airborne. A breeze will blow them for miles.
The outsides of non-permeable containers can be washed in bleach and left to dry in the sun and the food in the sealed storage containers is probably fine. Don’t worry about the negative effects of sun this time, this is a salvage operation. Everything else is probably compost.
When a root cellar gets overrun like that, mountain wisdom says it’s over. Purging with fire is one often tried method. Or it was anyway. You’d burn the cellar and all it’s contents. Or just filling them in with dirt. Or sometimes they just got locked and left as an empty space full of memory until some kid finds his way in there. There was some sense of never going back, turning your back on that piece of dirt or hole where the dirt used to be.
Along with natural (and other types of) disaster comes the possibility that you’ll have to defend your food and yourself to keep it. Not letting anybody know you have it is a good start but this might not do it. A combination of active defense such as pitbulls and passive defense such as barricade or fortification are prudent. Caching is another method in which we hedge our bets by distributing emergency food and supplies in different places so hopefully you don’t loose everything at once. So along with nature and man’s assaults on our stored food, we might think in terms of “store some high and store some low”. Keep some high and dry and some buried deep. Keep some here and keep some there. Keep some on your land and some off it. Keep some with friends and some on the way to friends. If you have multiple homes, keep them all stocked. If you have a motorhome or a camper, keep it stocked and ready to roll.
Author’s note: since the publishing of V8.0, lots of folks have said they would love to speak more clearly to defense in martial terms. We don’t feel this is the proper place for us to talk about that. For one thing, it freaks some people out and for another, there are lots of places on the internet to discuss those things. With respect, this is neither the time nor the place for us to discuss these things. It’s just not where we’re going with this thing.
There’s really no limit to how many types of natural disasters (or any other kind) that might strike. There’s usually the direct effect, like an earthquake and the secondary effect is a whole lot of people need help at once and the infrastructure that was there to help them isn’t operating too well. Long term food storage is all about helping with the secondary effects of disaster. Most environmental threats are regional and most advice on any topic has to be adjusted regionally or locally.
I don’t doubt there’s places in Alaska where a “root cellar” might translate to “walk in freezer” a good part of the year. In humid places, you open a bag of potato chips and a half hour later they are soggy. Altitude makes a huge difference to things like boiling point which is pretty important when canning: above 10,000 feet, boiling water isn’t hot enough to sterilize things! Remember that next time you are canning yams on top of Mount Ranier. I guess the point here is there’s no one set of rules. You have to adapt everything to your climate and bioregion. Remembering the pueblo example, we see that deserts can be great for storing grain. We can see that polar regions are great places for storing wooly mammoths. We can see that both environments call for some tweaking to the plan.
By now it’s pretty much clear what the planet has in store for us, we can get deluged by water, burnt by wildfire, choked by volcanos, rattled by earthquakes, smashed by asteroids, smitten by plagues, all that good stuff as well as the manmade disasters as outlined in the first chapters. Coming up with a contingency plan for each of these is a bit tricky.