It is likely that expect an article about how you can build a root cellar or something similar here as an alternative to refridgeration. Sorry to disappoint you, but there are people out there who know far more and who have posted it far more clearly in either book or forum form. Perhaps at some point, I may try to refine a list of some sort regarding root cellars, but for now lets just say that there is a book known simply as “Root Cellaring” which covers it all quite well. If you want to do a root cellar, you would do well to either buy or borrow this book as a lovely overview.
So what is this article about you doubtlessly ask yourself. Well, quite simply, it will note two other options that are often overlooked and in some cases can be done with less work by far than root cellars or other forms of alternative refrigeration and green storage. Both of these work on the same basic principle, but each is dependent on a situation, so are less universal than a root cellar. The first is an Evaporation Refrigerator, the other is a Spring House.
In times past, the most simple version of these was made using a tray of water with a frame set in it. Some sort of loose and absorbent cloth such as muslin would be set over the frame so that it trailed into the tray of water and soaked it up. As the water evaporated from the cloth, the interior was cooled slightly. Now I grant you, that is not terribly efficient, but it was a start. Later versions involved clay pots with sand and another tube of ceramic in the center or something similar. Eventually this has evolved into an outer cylinder of one material, any number of fillers and an inner tube of metal set into it all. Water is poured between the tubes and as it evaporates, it cools the metal off so that the interior refrigerates.
Construction of the Evaporation Refrigerator
A simplified version of this can be made with a metal canister set into a larger container made of wood, plastic or ceramic. Pour a material between them such as sand, sawdust or soil to fill up the area and then add water into the now-filled gap. Set it into a warm, dry area where the sun can hit it (make sure to do something to cover the inner tubing such as laying burlap over it) and give it a little time. Check back and see for yourself how much cooler the interior is. Now, this may sound like the easiest and greatest thing since sliced bread, but here is the condition: It requires a dry environment to evaporate the water and thus cool the interior. If it is wet or humid out, this will not do an amazing job of cooling much of anything. As alternative and green refrigeration goes, this can be useful to some in drier climates, but isn’t probably helpful to those in wetter or more humid areas.
Here is a useful website to see what I am talking about in a more advanced form. Take the word ‘invent’ with a grain of salt. She redesigned something that has existed for centuries, but it is still a valid accomplishment.
As the name suggests, these are generally a small, one-room structure built around a spring. Many of them have cement bottoms that include an area for water to pool and a way for water to flow over a shallow and broad area so that it evaporates more effectively. Some spring houses use a zig-zag channel for the water to flow so that it spends as much time as possible inside the spring house evaporating before it flows out to help lower the temperature inside. In the absence of a spring, water from a stream or river can be routed through the structure if needed, though it would need to be done with caution if it is going to remain a green project. This of course is the condition required to make a spring house. You need a source of water that is flowing consistently. Evaporation of water continues year round and in the case of a real spring, the underground travel of the water’s flow maintains a cool temperature in a spring house even if the air is not absolutely dry, so there is always a source of refrigeration. The pooled water allows for dipping out of cool water of course, but also allows for things like dairy jugs to be set into it and other items can be shelved or otherwise stored in the spring house. They are effective for the long-term storage of foods that might normally spoil quickly such as meat, fruit or dairy products.
These two forms of alternative refrigeration are not always as well known as others, but each has served well as a green way to keep items cool on homesteads and in areas where electricity is unavailable. If you have the chance, try making an evaporation refrigerator yourself. Also take the time to seek out an old farm or homestead where you live that has a spring house. See for yourself how well they act as a green refrigerator. Even if you don’t ever use one yourself, it is good to know how they work and that if needed, you now have the knowledge of how to make them work for you.