by Gary Mount
Today was a red letter day. This morning I went to pick up the building permit to start construction on our new barn.This project has been under consideration for the past 20 to 30 years and finally, we are starting.
It might be asked, What is the big deal. People build barns all the time. But my brothers tell me I have a way of making things more complicated than they need to be. I don’t know if I agree, but then this barn has turned out to be more than anticipated. One of the big purposes of building is to store apples. For many – actually many, many years – we have loaded apples on trucks to store at the farm of a peach grower friend in Richwood (southern) New Jersey. Being primarily a peach grower, he doesn’t have as much need for storage space in the fall. Sounds like a good deal, right? Well, it is and we are grateful to the Heilig family for helping us all these years.
However it is not the best for the apples to ride that distance and then that long – sometimes three or four days – to be refrigerated. Each day out of refrigeration reduces the storage life of the apples by one or two weeks. It is best if they are stored at 32 degrees F immediately.Â And then when we need the apples back later in the fall, there is the ride back on New Jersey roads- bump, bump, bump. I have been lucky over the years because John Hart of Rosedale Mills has trucked my apples back and forth.Â We have greatly appreciated his doing so, but it can’t be very convenient for him to stop what he is doing to re-schedule around my apples. But even so, it will be oh so much better to have our own storage.
I have spent a long time learning the best way to store apples. 32 degrees is good, but the storage room has to get back down to that temperature by the morning after the warm apples are loaded in. That takes some oomph! That’s a technical term for a heck of a lot of refrigeration capacity- over twice what it takes to just keep the apples cold after they have reached storage temperature. Then there is humidity. Low humidity will cause the apples to shrivel during storage as they lose moisture through their skins. Ugh! (another technical term). Finally there is atmosphere – the percentage of oxygen. Apples are living, breathing things just like you and me. Fruit ripening, which might be thought of as the changing of starches to sugar, is basically an oxidation process. Controlled atmosphere storages lower the oxygen level.
Controlled atmosphere storage in the US was first studied by scientists at Cornell University in the 1930s. Apples were found to keep much better if they were cold and at a low oxygen environment. To accomplish that these days the cold storage room is constructed to be air tight and a machine is used to remove oxygen and replace it with nitrogen from the outside air. The oxygen level is kept at 2% (normal outside air is 20%). Apples can store, as firm and crispy as the day they were picked, all the way until the next harvest season!
Our barn will not be entirely this type of storage. Only one of the three storage rooms will have technology since most of our apples are sold in the fall. Regular cold storage is adequate for shorter term. Designing the building that will be housing the refrigerated rooms as well as an equal space for dry storage has been fun. Pam and I traveled, took pictures, talked to other farmers and then spent about a year working with Jerry Ford and Jane Wilson of Ford 3 architects. It turns out to be a slow process to evolve your ideas into something on paper that matches your thoughts. Appearance, function and compatibility with the look of the farm were all important to us. We have ended up with a special building design that should look great and serve many functions. The dry storage part will be timber framed, just like our 1800s barn across from the farm store. That includes mortise and tenon with oak pegs. We plan to have a barn raising this spring/summer, so please look for our notices about it and be sure to come.
Not to be too old fashioned about it, the timber framed portion of the barn will have solar panels on the roof which will provide about half of the electrical power needed. So, yes it was a red letter day. Construction should start next week. Walk down and have a look when you next visit us.