How To Make a Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two Hours

By Mary December 8, 2016 00:00

How To Make a Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two Hours

Once upon a time, root cellars were the only way people had to preserve their food. These wonderful cold-storage areas became less common when refrigerators became affordable. Houses were no longer automatically built with a root cellar beneath or nearby.

A root cellar is still a great way to store fruits and vegetables, though, especially when you need to store more than you have room for indoors. They will also keep the fruits and vegetables fresh without electricity. If your house doesn’t have one, you can still take advantage of nature’s “ice box.” All it takes is a shovel, a little elbow grease and a trash can.

Related: Living without a Refrigerator – It Can Be Done!

The Basic Concept

Root cellars are built underground, usually just below the frost line. The ground stays cool at that depth but it does not freeze. Some sort of ventilation allows for air movement to help prevent rot, although the vents are closed for the winter. Vegetables and fruits are kept cool under these conditions but do not freeze. They stay fresh and ready to eat throughout the cold winter months.

The Modern Root Cellar

You don’t have to rent a front-end loader and dig a root cellar to take advantage of nature’s natural food-preserving abilities. A very efficient modern root cellar can be made from a hole in the ground and a container. This type of root cellar is actually a bit of an improvement over the old style. You can have a number of smaller, individual root cellars rather than one big one. Vegetables and fruits can be kept separate and you can just access the root cellar you need. You don’t have to go digging through various vegetables to get the one you want.

What You Will Need:

  1. Dirt shovel
  2. Trash can (galvanized steel or plastic)
  3. Drill or hammer and nail
  4. Straw
  5. Rocks
  6. Plywood



The depth of the hole should be adjusted according to your freeze line or how deep the soil freezes in your area. Be sure to dig deep enough for the can to sit on the rocks at the bottom of the hole and still be at or just below the freeze line.opened-diy-mini-root-cellar

Place the root cellars in sandy soil and/or in a slightly elevated area. Do not put them where water tends to saturate the ground and does not quickly drain away. You want some humidity but you don’t want the fruits and vegetables to be saturated. Excess water in the bottom of the can will also interfere with proper ventilation. You want to make sure there will be some air movement from the holes in the bottom of the can.holes-in-diy-mini-root-cellar

Install separate root cellars for fruits and vegetables. They should not be stored together within the same can, even if they are separated with straw. Fruits give off ethylene which will cause vegetables to ripen and rot. They also cause potatoes to

Vegetables that Store Well Together

Many vegetables have similar temperature and humidity requirements.

The following can be stored together within the same can at 32 to 40 degrees F/0 to 4 degrees C at 90 to 95% humidity:nuclear-plans

  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Endive
  • Horseradish
  • Kale
  • Leeks
  • Turnips

Do not store damaged vegetables but do leave them dirty.

Just brush off most of the dirt. Do not rinse them or wash them. Use damaged fruits and vegetables right away. Bacteria and fungus will quickly take hold on bruised or cut produce.

Store onions in a cool, dry root cellar with temperatures of 32 to 35 degrees F/0 to 1 degree C and 60 to 70% humidity after you shock them. Shock them by bending or snapping the green stems 1 month before harvest. You can store peas with onions.

Regular potatoes and sweet potatoes need to be stored separately. Regular potatoes should be kept at 38 to 40 degrees F/3 to 4 degrees C and 80 to 90% humidity. Sweet potatoes should be kept at 50 to 55 degrees F/10 to 13 degrees C with 80 to 90% humidity.

Dried beans need to be kept cool and dry with temperatures between 32 and 50 degrees F/0 and 10 degrees C in 60 to 70% humidity.

Pumpkins and squash can be stored together in a warm, dry root cellar. Temperatures should be kept between 50 and 55 degrees F/10 and 13 degrees C with 60 to 75% humidity.

Store apples and pears in a cold, moist root cellar with temperatures of 32 to 40 degrees F/0 to 4 degrees C in 80 to 90% humidity.

If you notice your fruits or vegetables beginning to shrivel, the humidity level is too low. Try misting the layers of straw with a little water to increase moisture levels. If there is a little condensation or moisture on the fruits or vegetables, you will need to reduce the humidity in the root cellar. Replace the straw with fresh, dry straw and make sure there isn’t standing water beneath the can. You may have to move the can if there is standing water in the hole.

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By Mary December 8, 2016 00:00
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  1. Ron H December 8, 17:09

    Would it be possible to use burlap sacks to separate different veggies to be stored in the same cellar. Thereby making it easier to access only the veggies you want at any given time ? Would each burlap sack need to be partially filled with straw to separate the veggies within the sack?
    Would it be advisable to dig a deep sump hole below the bottom of the cellar to help prevent water rising up into the cellar ?

    Reply to this comment
    • Erk December 9, 03:46

      FYI all burlap sold in the US must have a flame retardant that doesn’t easily wash out. The flame retardant in highly carcinogenic. Don’t use in a bee smoker either

      Reply to this comment
  2. Dean December 8, 17:21

    How do you store potatoes in wormer areas. I live in Texas around Austin.

    Reply to this comment
  3. left coast chuck December 8, 18:11

    Muy plan for a root cellar involved sinking an ice chest into the ground. I see that I would have to drill holes in it if I wanted it to work correctly. I also thought that if there were a complete, more or less permanent power failure, why not bury the refrigerator in the ground? It would require a larger hole, but make for a correspondingly larger root cellar.

    Anyone have any cons to the above plan? Am I overlooking something?

    Reply to this comment
    • DRM December 8, 20:12

      You must have some good friends or a dolly to tote your fridge around, me thinks. Where would you drill the necessary holes? Would holes not ruin your ‘fridge?

      Reply to this comment
      • KT December 8, 21:34

        Google the term “buried refrigerator root cellar” or something similar and you will get a lot of links to web sites and YouTube videos. The idea is to use an old “ready for the town dump” fridge that you strip down and recycle for a second, useful, life.

        Reply to this comment
        • Crzy4Jesus March 10, 11:19

          Just a note on this plan. We almost bought a house in fact we were getting ready to go to the closing. My husband who knew government regs. had called the EPA because the guy had a fill spot where he invited folks to drop off their old ice boxes, and then covered it with dirt and grass seed. It made a huge black spot in the yard. EPA informed us that If this would ever flood and run downhill it Could contaminate the neighbors wells, and they could sue you…just sayin

          Reply to this comment
    • C. Davis December 9, 08:32

      It’s definitely a good idea. I read an article years ago about a guy whose freezer died and decided to bury it underground

      I’ll ask for his permission, maybe we can repost it here under his conditions.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Berad199 December 8, 18:46

    My problem is I live in an area filled with rocks. I dig down just 6 inches and I start hitting boulders. No room for any heavy equipment. Difficult task.

    Reply to this comment
    • jr February 9, 04:20

      Do an above ground root cellar: build a very small room that you can cover with earth, put a door on one end and a small vent at the other end at the top. Dig down as far as you can go. I saw one made of brick and covered with dirt in Nauvoo, Illinois last summer, it was used by the pioneers.

      Reply to this comment
  5. Harphearted one December 8, 22:19

    How do you find out where the freeze line in the ground is?

    Reply to this comment
  6. Don December 9, 01:53

    I once buried an old non-working refrigerator in the ground to use as a place to raise earthworms for fishing and profit. It’s not at all hard to findnd a junk fridge that can be hauled away for free. As for the holes well its junk anyhow so just drill away

    Reply to this comment
  7. Stuckinthemud February 8, 14:48

    I would suggest first dig a hole as deep as you think you need, then cover with a sheet of plywood or similar. Wait a week and then look in the hole. It may have standing water , especially in the rainy season.

    Reply to this comment
  8. lattelady9 February 8, 15:31


    Reply to this comment
    • MJPhelps February 28, 19:09

      Make sure you thoroughly know the source of your sawdust. Treated and “Engineered” wood (sawdust) would likely be toxic.

      Sawdust from pine, cedar, or other woods may affect the taste, as well. Sappy woods, well…

      Reply to this comment
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