Clarification: It took more than a day.
You will think this is one of my made up excuses for another long delay between posts, like that time I didn’t really try to invent antibacterial yogurt, but I assure you it’s not. For sure building a refrigerator is an excuse, just not a made up excuse. I admit that I built a refrigerator is such a wacky claim--kind of like, I invented the internet or I am married to this amazing Irish woman named Kelly--but the pictures will convince you.
I did build a refrigerator. You are probably thinking, “Yeah right.” No, really, it’s true. So now you probably imagine some clever science project, like a makeshift dorm room fridge from re-purposed Styrofoam coolers, salvaged computer fans and dry ice, but, no, not that either.
My refrigerator is a 350 cubic foot walk-in cooler, which now occupies the back bump-out section of my garage. Not a big walk-in cooler, but big enough. For reference, the fridge in our kitchen is about 25 cubic feet.
Why build such a thing? For trees. New ones. Saplings. Two feet tall sticks with roots and potential to dominate a landscape. I ordered a bunch of them through my farmer consultant, Peter Allen. Some of the trees are actually berry-producing shrubs, but I call all of them trees so I don’t have to write trees and berry-producing shrubs all the time.
Not long ago I thought Peter had ordered 12,000 trees on my behalf, but that’s because the columns got misaligned on the spreadsheet. There are only 3400, which is still a lot of trees. The 12,000 was dollars, which is a lot of dollars.
Trees are dormant when shipped. If kept cold, they stay dormant, but if stored at 50 degrees or warmer, the buds will start to open and the trees must then be planted as soon as possible. Otherwise they will die, which reduces their potential to dominate the landscape.
Official planting day is May 16, when my next vacation is scheduled. Most of the trees are supposed to ship two weeks before that. Except for the surprise 500 that came in early April. Nothing like $1500 worth of trees warming up in the garage to motivate a fridge builder. (Peter, my friend Tim and I planted the first 500 trees last Saturday.)
Months ago, when I learned I would need to keep my trees cold, I said, “O.K., I will figure something out.” It is a good exercise to force oneself into action. Once the order was placed, I no longer had the luxury of failing to be resourceful. I started looking for cooler space to rent. I asked people in the restaurant business. Dead end. Put an ad on Craigslist. No leads. Searched the web. Found one option to rent a mobile cooler that could be parked in my driveway. $1200/month plus the cost of an electrician to wire a new 220V outlet.
Then I wondered: Why not just build one? I have asked myself that same question many other times, leading to countless DIY projects: shelves, tables, desks, benches, functional but inelegant cabinetry, workshops, fences, trellises, garden beds. Once my friend, Craig--an industrial arts teacher--and I built a bathroom and office in the basement of the first house Kelly and I owned.
So I knew I could build room. How hard could it be to insulate it? Could I rig an air conditioner to stay on longer than it thought it should? I was stuck on that last detail until I mentioned my crazy plan to Peter. “Oh, are you gonna use a CoolBot?” Um, well, yeah, why wouldn’t I? I couldn’t wait to Google CoolBot.
Sure enough, some farmer guy had invented a gadget that attaches--in minutes, according to the hype that was actually true--to a standard window air conditioner (with some size and brand limitations). The Bot, tricks the AC into staying on at lower temperatures. Genius. The CoolBot web site is robust. It includes plans and tips for building coolers. There is even a section called, “Who should not buy a CoolBot.” Studies have shown that an air conditioner is more efficient than a cooler compressor, or something like that. The CoolBot wasn’t cheap--about $300, but it was definitely cool--literally and figuratively--and much cheaper than losing thousands of dollars worth of trees. And I no longer awaken at 4:30 a.m. wondering how I am gonna keep my trees cool.
Favorite parts of the project: 1) I got the door from a neighbor’s curbside junk pile. Snuck it in under cover of darkness. 2) I used to large once highly annoying pieces of thick foam cut out of an old hot tub cover to insulate part of the ceiling. See, Amazing Irish Woman? I do use some of that seemingly useless stuff.
Now that I have the design figured out, I could probably build a cooler like this in a long day, which DIY enthusiasts know means longer than that. The experience is good because with a lineup that includes 350 apple trees, I will likely need cold storage on the farm. I put everything together with screws so I can take the materials along when we move.
The day I finished, I told my friend Dan about the project.
“You know what that means?” he asked. “It means when the world tries to end, you’re gonna be one of the poor suckers who survives.”