Q: Where can you build a root cellar?
Q: How do you build a root cellar?
A: We don’t have a root cellar at our place yet–it’s on our to-do list for this summer.
We have done some research though, and to answer your questions, we’ll share what we’ve learned. In some climates, root vegetables can winter in place in the garden, well-mulched before the first freeze. If frozen ground prevents harvest, the vegetables will usually be edible in the spring as long as they haven’t been devoured or damaged by rodents. But for storage of other produce, root cellars can be a vital part of a family’s food preservation system.
Creating and Building Root Cellars
Root cellars are basically locations with fairly stable temperature and humidity where fruits, vegetables, and other foods can be stored for several months.
While root vegetables—like carrots, turnips, and parsnips—are among the best keepers, many other types of produce can be stored in root cellars for anywhere from a few weeks to several months. As long as they are prevented from freezing, jars of home-canned goods will also keep well in a root cellar.
On almost every property there’s a place where a root cellar could be established. The key is to find a spot that will not freeze or become too hot, is neither bone dry nor wet, and gets some ventilation. Some locations provide suitable conditions for all produce to keep well. Others are good for some but not for others.
Root vegetables and tubers like it cold and damp. Cool and dry is ideal for garlic and onions. Pumpkins and squash need a dry spot that’s not too cold. Many people store various items in more than one place. Others store everything in a “happy medium” location.
With a large root cellar it is possible to find or create a different atmosphere in each corner. Here are some examples of a range of root cellars:
- Cave dug into a hill or bank
- Hole dug in the ground outdoors or in basement or garage
- Corner of cool basement, framed in or not
- Crawlspace under house
- Unheated room or closet
- Enclosed porch
- Insulated shed or barn
- Plastic storage bin, trash can, or barrel buried in the ground
- Old refrigerator or freezer buried in the ground or surrounded by straw bales
- Stacked hay or straw bales forming sides and top of a box shape
The root cellar walls, floor, and ceiling can be made of almost any material. Finished interiors are nice, but dirt, concrete, bricks, blocks, stone, and straw bales will do the job. Sand can be used for flooring. Some containers, such as refrigerators and barrels, are completely lined.
Little equipment is required in a root cellar, but here are a few helpful items:
- Temperature/humidity gauge for monitoring environment
- Baskets, boxes, or crates for storage
- Wood pallets for raised flooring
- Pipes or tubes for ventilation
- Wall or overhead racks and hooks for hanging mesh bags of produce, garlic and onion braids
- Sand and straw for insulating in and around containers and separating layers of produce
- Lights and fans, if electricity is available
So now take a walk around your home, barn, and property. Think about creative ways to find existing root cellar options or locations for construction or burying. Be on the lookout for large containers that might be suitable for burying or embedding.
The possibilities are endless. We’ve even seen photos of an old bus partly buried in a hillside, with the front door exposed for easy access. Now that’s creative repurposing!
As we’re planning our own root cellar, we’ve gotten a lot of our info and ideas from a book called Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel.
Another helpful guide is the booklet Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar by Phyllis Hobson. We have not read The Complete Root Cellar Book: Building Plans, Uses and 100 Recipes but it looks good and has favorable reviews on Amazon.