10/15/11

How to Make a Simple Root Cellar


Squirrels may ravage my garden, but I do appreciate they're ability to store for winter. My ancestors did too--storing their harvest in self-dug root cellars. Here in Massachusetts, our winters are too chilly to keep crops in the soil, covered with straw, as they did in England. So the American colonists watched the squirrels put their acorns in holes and promptly did the same.

Root cellars make use of the consistent temperature and humidity present just a few feet beneath the soil.  Most cold weather vegetables thrive in these conditions, thus allowing them not only to be stored throughout the winter, but remain alive, with all of their nutrients intact.  Why buy plastic-tasting vegetables that have been shipped thousands of miles when you can have your own fresh, living ones just a few feet from your front door?

Root cellaring is essential for eating seasonally.  It is one the cheapest methods of food storage, and is arguably even more effective than a refrigerator.  Root cellars are also adaptable to any terrain or budget.  They can be as large as an underground room, complete with ventilation shafts and shelving, or they can be as simple as a hole dug into the ground with a bin put inside.  The latter is the route that I took for my own project.

Materials

  • Large Bin or Barrel
  • Rocks (preferably flat)
  • Hay or Pine Needles
  • An Old Door
  • Something to Store (like potatoes)

Tools

  • Tape Measure
  • Shovel
  • Pick
  • Wheelbarrow

Method

First, choose a location that won't flood and that you won't mind trudging to in the middle of the winter. I chose a clearing in the woods just fifty feet from my front door. Remember, if your root cellar isn't convenient, you'll never use it.

Next, start digging.  The size of your hole will depend upon the size of the box or barrel you plan on burying.  Dig a hole larger that the box on all sides, and make the depth at least five or six feet from the surface.  You'll go through a few different layers of soil, but hopefully, you won't hit any heavy ledge.

Don't dig too deep or you'll find yourself with a well rather than a root cellar. And take care not to leave your hole unoccupied or uncovered.  You don't want anyone getting hurt.


After your hole is clean and square, fill the bottom of it up with about six inches of large rocks or crushed stone.  This will give excess water somewhere to go so that you do not make vegetable soup prematurely.  The stones will also draw cool air up from the soil and further insulate your crop. 


At this point, you need to begin preparing the vegetables you intend on storing.  Since your root cellar can be accessed at any time, you can always add to it.  However, some vegetables must be stored differently than others, so this must be a consideration when you are planning what to put in your bin.  Information on how certain vegetables should be stored can be found in many different books.

In my own cellar, I stored my potato crop. Unless you're storing massive quantities of potatoes, you can keep them in bins without any special treatment. After digging, allow them a day or so of curing outside.  Use up any potatoes that you accidentally nicked or bruised rather than storing them because they'll rot.  Beware squirrels, along with excess sunlight, which can turn them green and poisonous.  Once the skin of your potatoes has thickened up, you can carefully add them to the bin.

  
When you're confident with your hole and veggies, gently place your bin or barrel onto the rocks.  It's not a bad idea to fill in around the barrel with more crushed stone, but since I didn't have much on hand, I decided to forego it.


Now cover your bin with straw or hay. Since I had neither of the two, I used pine boughs, which worked the same and were actually easier to remove when I needed to get in the bin. 


Finally, you will need to cover the hole with something solid.  I happened to have an old barn door lying around, but you can use anything from an old car door to a big sheet of plywood.  Just make sure that it covers the hole completely to prevent water seepage and critters from venturing down there.  If you're really crafty, you could even put a whole door with the frame on top so that you can just open it rather than having to flip the door over. Either way works.

Also, you may want to leave a tiny crack for air flow, but cover this loosely with some pine boughs or hay.  And when the cold weather really rolls in, throw a couple of hay bales on top of the door to fully insulate the cellar.  Remember, we are trying to preserve that steady cool that exists naturally beneath the earth.  Any hot or frigid air from above might disrupt the environment, spoiling or freezing your veggies.


Check on your root cellar every once and a while, and remove any spoiled produce.  One bad apple truly does ruin the lot.

Happy storing and winter eating!

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16 Comments:

At January 22, 2013 at 9:19 PM , Blogger Tara Woodruff said...

I love this!

 
At August 14, 2013 at 9:34 PM , Blogger Al Greco said...

This is one of the worst root cellars I've ever seen. Sorry.

 
At August 18, 2013 at 10:09 PM , Blogger Nicholas | Living the Rustic Life said...

Thanks for the constructive criticism, Al. This was an attempt to show how one can make a viable food storage cubby with simple, on-hand materials.

It ain't glamorous, but it does work. I made plenty of meals throughout the winter with root veggies stored in there.

I'd be very interested in seeing your cellar, however. Care to post a pic or link?

 
At August 20, 2013 at 9:17 PM , Blogger AmyLee Hennaut said...

I think its a great and simple idea. @ Al didn't your Mom ever teach you that if you can't say anything nice not to say anything at all?!

 
At August 20, 2013 at 10:05 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have ant instructions on making a cold room in your basement?

 
At August 21, 2013 at 8:24 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ii like the simplicity of it. If u dont like it .. just choose to say nothing. Wisdom of a Grandmother

 
At August 21, 2013 at 12:40 PM , Blogger WVOquailWVO said...

Al, Do you have any better suggestions on how to do it?

I'm sure there are bigger and better ways, but this is much better than nothing and it will get the job done. It reminds me of the one dick proenneke used for decades.

 
At August 22, 2013 at 9:52 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This message comes from Sudbury area (Ontario Canada) where the winter temperature can dip to -35 to -40 for weeks during January and February. I always wondered how the ancestors did this on the family farm... there is an area dug out in the side of a sand hill containing remnants of a storage area (old rotting logs). The wisdom has been lost to the coming of freezers and indoor cold cellars. People are now interested in surviving "off the land". Thanks for the info.

 
At September 11, 2013 at 8:36 AM , Blogger Gary Hall said...

Yeah, Al reminds me of a dick too.

 
At September 11, 2013 at 9:28 AM , Blogger Gary Hall said...

You catch that Al? You're a dick. A little, insignificant, worthless dick. Sorry. (See how it's all better now that I put "sorry" at the end?)

 
At September 12, 2013 at 3:22 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very primitive root cellar, I think that's what some of the readers don't understand. I guess they can hire and architect to construct something better this served our pioneers just fine. Ok they didn't have plastic bins, just old barrels.

 
At September 20, 2013 at 4:10 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

stored in plastic? isn't there a better way, something more breathable too?

 
At September 20, 2013 at 5:40 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I ♥ How you don't have to buy anything and How fast it is to do! Great for fixed, little, to No income! I adore it!

 
At September 21, 2013 at 12:34 AM , Blogger LoneWolf said...

I Knew someones (about 30 years back) who used am old refridge (with a latch door) they got at the dump. They dug into the hill side and used old logs for additional support of the sides. The refridge was gutted (compressor and such) and altered with 1/4 inch screening added for ventilation in the bottom. Straw bails were placed in front and an old barn door placed on the outside. It stored potatoes and other veggies in the winter and in the summer months they use to keep their moonshine, too ~LOL~. One last thought for something larger would be to bury an old horse trailer, camper or even a shipping container, but you will have to add roof support for these to prevent cave ins.

 
At October 13, 2013 at 12:12 PM , Blogger k33t0n said...

Notice the title of the article as well?

Simple... Root.... Cellar.

Some people just need the basic theory, to know that you can dig a hole in the ground and save your food is new to me. And now that I have some new info I can look it up further if I choose and build an elaborate cellar, or maybe I just want to go dig a hole in the ground and throw some potatoes in there too.

 
At October 21, 2013 at 9:13 AM , Blogger Crapburger said...

I'm from nova scotia and root cellars were common here as were cisterns. If you live on a hill or have a bank in your yard you might want to dig into the side of that for your cellar as that make for a great cellar.

 

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Living the Rustic Life: How to Make a Simple Root Cellar

How to Make a Simple Root Cellar


Squirrels may ravage my garden, but I do appreciate they're ability to store for winter. My ancestors did too--storing their harvest in self-dug root cellars. Here in Massachusetts, our winters are too chilly to keep crops in the soil, covered with straw, as they did in England. So the American colonists watched the squirrels put their acorns in holes and promptly did the same.

Root cellars make use of the consistent temperature and humidity present just a few feet beneath the soil.  Most cold weather vegetables thrive in these conditions, thus allowing them not only to be stored throughout the winter, but remain alive, with all of their nutrients intact.  Why buy plastic-tasting vegetables that have been shipped thousands of miles when you can have your own fresh, living ones just a few feet from your front door?

Root cellaring is essential for eating seasonally.  It is one the cheapest methods of food storage, and is arguably even more effective than a refrigerator.  Root cellars are also adaptable to any terrain or budget.  They can be as large as an underground room, complete with ventilation shafts and shelving, or they can be as simple as a hole dug into the ground with a bin put inside.  The latter is the route that I took for my own project.

Materials


Tools


Method

First, choose a location that won't flood and that you won't mind trudging to in the middle of the winter. I chose a clearing in the woods just fifty feet from my front door. Remember, if your root cellar isn't convenient, you'll never use it.

Next, start digging.  The size of your hole will depend upon the size of the box or barrel you plan on burying.  Dig a hole larger that the box on all sides, and make the depth at least five or six feet from the surface.  You'll go through a few different layers of soil, but hopefully, you won't hit any heavy ledge.

Don't dig too deep or you'll find yourself with a well rather than a root cellar. And take care not to leave your hole unoccupied or uncovered.  You don't want anyone getting hurt.


After your hole is clean and square, fill the bottom of it up with about six inches of large rocks or crushed stone.  This will give excess water somewhere to go so that you do not make vegetable soup prematurely.  The stones will also draw cool air up from the soil and further insulate your crop. 


At this point, you need to begin preparing the vegetables you intend on storing.  Since your root cellar can be accessed at any time, you can always add to it.  However, some vegetables must be stored differently than others, so this must be a consideration when you are planning what to put in your bin.  Information on how certain vegetables should be stored can be found in many different books.

In my own cellar, I stored my potato crop. Unless you're storing massive quantities of potatoes, you can keep them in bins without any special treatment. After digging, allow them a day or so of curing outside.  Use up any potatoes that you accidentally nicked or bruised rather than storing them because they'll rot.  Beware squirrels, along with excess sunlight, which can turn them green and poisonous.  Once the skin of your potatoes has thickened up, you can carefully add them to the bin.

  
When you're confident with your hole and veggies, gently place your bin or barrel onto the rocks.  It's not a bad idea to fill in around the barrel with more crushed stone, but since I didn't have much on hand, I decided to forego it.


Now cover your bin with straw or hay. Since I had neither of the two, I used pine boughs, which worked the same and were actually easier to remove when I needed to get in the bin. 


Finally, you will need to cover the hole with something solid.  I happened to have an old barn door lying around, but you can use anything from an old car door to a big sheet of plywood.  Just make sure that it covers the hole completely to prevent water seepage and critters from venturing down there.  If you're really crafty, you could even put a whole door with the frame on top so that you can just open it rather than having to flip the door over. Either way works.

Also, you may want to leave a tiny crack for air flow, but cover this loosely with some pine boughs or hay.  And when the cold weather really rolls in, throw a couple of hay bales on top of the door to fully insulate the cellar.  Remember, we are trying to preserve that steady cool that exists naturally beneath the earth.  Any hot or frigid air from above might disrupt the environment, spoiling or freezing your veggies.


Check on your root cellar every once and a while, and remove any spoiled produce.  One bad apple truly does ruin the lot.

Happy storing and winter eating!

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