FREEZER SHOPPING TIPS or Channeling my Crazed Squirrel

Sunday when I was sitting outside enjoying a potluck picnic at Tom Brantmeier’s farm near Monroe WI, the blustery wind was keeping the flies at bay on a balmy, cloud-scudded, 72 degree afternoon.

The wind picked up, and that night a pounding rainstorm quite literally poured cold water on the summer weather.  Tonight’s low is predicted to scrape right above freezing at 34.

Fall always flips the switch like that around here.  Oh, we’ll have more warm sunny days before winter (and I will treasure every one), but that cold snap was like flicking the lobby lights to remind us that Winter Wonderland is about to resume.  That snap has activated my crazed squirrel, and this is the year I am going to freeze enough broccoli, and every other vegetable I can still find at the farmers market to become a true winter locavore.

....Must freeze corn indoors before it freezes outdoors!

....Must freeze corn indoors before it freezes outdoors!

I have dreamed for years of having a chest freezer in my basement stocked with summer’s goodness to see me through the winter.  But buying a freezer seemed like a very big deal, and something I was kind of putting off till we build in 2012.

That plan was changed by Mark Bittman, who has some great practical advice for home freezing (check it out here) .  His article emphasized what you can do with the freezer sitting on top of (or beside) your fridge, and mine is now bulging at the seams.

I have even maxed out the freezer compartment of the old fridge sitting in the basement.  Yes, I know that old fridge is a terrible energy sucker, but it came with the house, and I have been using it as my root cellar, storing farmer’s market overflow and long-term items like potatoes and prairie seeds.

......No vacancy!  (Besides it's an energy sucker.)

......No vacancy! (Besides it's an energy sucker.)

The plan now it so replace that old and ailing fridge with an energy-efficient freezer, and then put the fridge in our unheated garage.  We will decommission it’s working parts and use it as an sort of root cellar for squash, taters and such in the winter. After all, when turned off, it is basically a giant ice chest, and I think we can put it to some use as such.

So the stressful freezer search is on.

Sears nudged us forward with a sale that drew us into their showroom last Thursday.  Having further checked out Menards and Home Depot while gathering materials for our greenhouse growing boxes, we are starting to sense the local market.

On to the internet search:


This seems clear.  Chest freezers are much more efficient.  Food can be jammed in more compactly because they don’t have shelves, and less heat is lost when lid is lifted than when an entire vertical wall is swung wide.  The only downside is floor space, but we have enough of that.


I found a great resource in , Keeping the Harvest.   It said you need 3-4 cu ft of vegetables per person, and if you freeze meat you should up that number  to 6 cu ft per person.  (Wasn’t that nice of me – an avid vegetarian – to consider meateaters?)

More advice urges me to overbuy freezer space rather than underbuy because it will be costly to replace a too-small freezer.  But I learned something on last year’s Solar Tour, when I saw a house with two smaller freezers rather than one giant one.  That way you just use one till it is full, and as your stock goes down in the spring you can again return to just using the smaller one.  We will lose 3.8 cu ft. when we decommission the antique in the basement.

So we are looking at 8.8 cu foot as our ideal.


I am surprised to find myself asking this question.  I would normally just choose the Energy Star model without further thought. But I’m not so sure here.  When you are buying an energy hog like a sidebyside refrigerator/freezer — the choice seems very clear.

Two Sidebyside Refrigerator/Freezers



Cubic Feet

Kilowatt hours per year

Frigidaire $2150 22.6 687
Kenmore ENERGY STAR $2000 25.6 580


Two compact chest freezers

Kenmore $330 8.8 294
Frigidaire ENERGY STAR $400 8.8 264

That’s not so much of a difference.  It’s a tougher call.  I suspect there is just not that much of a way to make a chest freezer more efficient unless you go to some model with super insulation, which I have not found easily available to me.

So we are still mulling this moral dilemma.  Is Energy Star our mantra and mandate?  Or is the difference so slight that the pocket book can decide this time?

....the energy star 8.8

....the energy star 8.8


This at least seems clear.  Freezers that defrost themselves use more energy, and I’m more than willing to defrost it myself.  It won’t be that hard.  Here’s what I learned at the Keeping the Harvest site above:

Wait for a cold day later in the winter when the freezer stock is low.  (Definitely before summer freezing begins.)  Then turn down the freezer as far as possible overnight so the food is as cold as you can get it.  The next day turn off the freezer, unload contents into coolers packed with ice.  Open the freezer door, turn on a fan in the interior or put pans of hot water inside.

After defrosting, wash the interior with warm water and baking soda and wipe dry before reloading.

Half inch of frost indicates defrosting time.


Treat your chest freezer like a grocery store, and “shop” there once a week, transferring what you will need to the freezer in your fridge.  That waythe chest freezer will stay cooler and build less frost.

Keep an inventory taped to your freezer and check off what you take out.
I hope I can do this.  That way you know what you’ve got left and won’t waste food that you forgot about in the bottom.  It seems like a great mindfulness exercise, and I’m looking forward to it.

A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one, so as the freezer empties annually, just add bags of ice or freeze old milk cartons full of water to top it off.  If you put your filler ice on the bottom, it will make it easier to find your remaining cache.

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