Creating & Building Root Cellars for Year Round Storage

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Setting up a root cellar on your property will help you store root vegetables, fruits, and canned goods. This practice dates back centuries, originating before homes had refrigerators. Root cellars stored the bounty from spring through fall harvests so when the cold months set in, people would have access to these foods.

In some climates, root vegetables can winter in place in the garden, well-mulched before the first freeze.

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.

The Basics of Root Cellar Construction
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 likely 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. These locations vary from a dugout in a hillside to an insulated space in a garage.

Storing Different Types of Produce
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. This microclimate variation is key for preserving a diverse range of produce.

Root Cellar Varieties

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
Materials and Equipment
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
Consider installing lights and fans if electricity is available for added convenience.

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 likely 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.

Root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips and onions
Root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, turnips, and parsnips and onions

With a large root cellar it is possible to find or create a different atmosphere in each corner.

Root vegetables and tubers like potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips and onions

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

root cellar apples
root cellar apples

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 and 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.

Reasons to Use a Root Cellar

Back before electricity, people relied on root cellars. Even my grandparents, with a refrigerator, used a root cellar. My cousins and I referred to it as the “scary cold room”. They grew their own food or bought what they could to preserve and store for the future. This was especially important in areas with harsh winters where seasonal produce was hard to come by.

In more modern times, many homes still have root cellars. Sometimes people moving to rural areas want to create one as a way of getting back to the basics. It is a way to use the land, reduce electric bills, while creating a system for food security.

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5 thoughts on “Creating & Building Root Cellars for Year Round Storage”

  1. I just recently heard of someone who buried an old chest freezer, then put wire shelving in to use it as a root cellar. I thought it was the coolest idea!

  2. Lisa, that is clever–it’s amazing what people can come up with! I really think there’s a way to make a root cellar anywhere. Plus I’m all for repurposing and finding new uses for things that no longer do what they were made to do.
    Marie

  3. Awesome information — we have a root cellar under our porch with a hatch lid and store our potatoes there.

    Thank you for sharing at Rural Thursdays this week!

  4. Nancy–your root cellar sounds interesting! It’s a great use of otherwise unused space. Is the container buried under the porch or above ground? Thanks for welcoming us to Rural Thursdays!

  5. I have an old fridge and am thinking of burying it and using it to store potatoes and possibly pears. Does anyone know do I need to vent it by cutting a hole in door and running a piece of PVC through it and screening it off for bugs?

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