My son Sean has provided a lot of help and advice in getting our farm going. One of the things he continually recommended to us was to build a "coolbot". It's a low-cost, efficient, cold storage unit, he told us. It's one thing to grow a lot of nice veggies, but if you don't store them well, after they are harvested, there is a lot of waste. We could tell right away that the home refrigerator and ice chests weren't going to cut it. The cold storage unit finally worked its way up to the top of the worklist, and last week we built it. Actually, with harvest and sales coming on strong, it didn't just work its way up, it vaulted to the top.
Always encouraging us to arrange everything on the farm to minimize wasted effort, he said that we should locate it near where produce was loaded into vehicles (either our own to take to market, or customers', where they picked up). Initially, we planned on building it right beside the garden, to minimize steps from the garden to the coolbot. However, we changed our minds, and came up with what we think is a better idea, for a number of reasons. We located it inside our garage, right at our produce sales and pickup area, which is under an attached portico roof right outside the door to the coolbot. Building a room within an existing building minimized the cost because we didn't need to weatherproof the outside, and we already had a slab to build on. We also didn't have to run a new power line to it. Additionally, we already had a utility sink right outside under the portico, to clean our harvest and prep it for storing until pickup. Finally, keeping it out of the sun and weather should not only help it last longer, it will reduce cooling requirements.
While doing research prior to the build, I found out that a "coolbot" was not actually a walk-in cooler. It was merely the name of an ingenious electronic device developed and manufactured by a company called Store It Cold. It is a brain that turns a window air conditioner into a refrigeration unit. Full-blown walk-in refrigeration units are quite expensive, both to purchase and to operate. Window air conditioners are a lot cheaper, both to purchase and to operate. The problem is that window units are design limited to only cool down to 60-65 degrees F. The Coolbot bypasses the internal limit of the window AC unit, and allows it cool all the way down to 35 degrees. So all that's necessary is to build an inexpensive room, insulate it with at least 4" of styrofoam, and install the window AC unit and Coolbot. And even though I personally enjoy electrical wiring, there was none necessary for the installation. Hooking up the Coolbot was easier than cabling up a new computer. The company sells the units for any purpose that requires cold, but not freezing temperatures. Their website says "farmers, florists, meat processors, keg coolers and restaurants." I don't think I'll tell all my hunter friends about it. I'm not excited about hanging a deer in it. Stocking it with a keg of beer doesn't sound like a bad idea though.
We are quite pleased with how it's working so far, especially since summer finally arrived this week. The forecast is calling for continued hot temperatures and no rain all week. The ground is finally starting to dry out. Looks like we may even need to eventually irrigate, after all. Time to start setting up the sprinklers.