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

Claude Nelson
By Claude Nelson September 17, 2018 06:25

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 them 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 fruit 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 barrel.

Building your own modern mini root cellar will only take a few hours. You will need the following:

  • Shovel
  • Barrel (galvanized steel or plastic)
  • Drill and screws or hammer and nails
  • Straw
  • Rocks
  • Plywood

First you will have to dig a hole in the ground, taking into consideration the dimensions of the barrel and the rocks you’ll put underneath it. After you dig the hole, make sure the top of the barrel is at the freeze line or below.How To Make A Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two HoursPlace the barrel in the hole. Add your fruits and vegetables, put straw between them like you can see in the pictures, and then close the lid.How To Make A Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two Hours

How To Make A Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two HoursDo not use the same root cellar for both fruits and vegetables. They should not be stored together within the same barrel, even if they are separated with straw. Fruits give off ethylene, which will cause vegetables to ripen and rot. It also causes potatoes to sprout.Here you have a list of vegetables that store well together within the same barrel at 32—40°F (0—4°C) at 90—95% humidity. You can also find the length of time they can be stored for:

  • Beets: 3—5 months
  • Brussels sprouts: 3—5 weeks
  • Cabbage: 3—4 months
  • Carrots: 4—6 months
  • Cauliflower: 2—4 weeks
  • Celery: 2—3 months
  • Endive: 2—3 weeks
  • Kale: 10—14 days
  • Leeks: 1—3 months

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 any 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—35°F (0—1°C) and 60—70% humidity after you shock them. Shock them by bending or snapping the green stems one month before harvest. You can store peas with onions.How To Make A Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two HoursRegular potatoes and sweet potatoes need to be stored separately. Regular potatoes should be kept at 38—40°F (3—4°C) and 80—90% humidity. Sweet potatoes should be kept at 50—55°F (10—13°C) with 80—90% humidity.

Dried beans need to be kept cool and dry, at temperatures between 32—50°F (0—10°C) 60—70% humidity.

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

Store apples and pears in a cold, moist root cellar with temperatures of 32—40°F (0—4° C) in 80—90% humidity.How To Make A Mini Root Cellar In Your Backyard In Less Than Two HoursIf 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 barrel. You may have to move the barrel if there is standing water in the hole.

After you add all your vegetables, just put the barrel’s cap back in place. Then add some soil over the top of it.

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Claude Nelson
By Claude Nelson September 17, 2018 06:25
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  1. Martini September 17, 13:27

    As so many of your suggestion do … this one sounds great, but it would not work in Florida where the hole would be full of water and the barrel would rust out.
    Can you please do some suggestions and directions for things for those of us who live in very wet areas?

    Reply to this comment
    • insanecandycane September 17, 14:48

      place your root cellar above the ground in florida!
      place some rocks or pieces of wood on the ground, pile high as you wish. place your barrel on top in any position that makes it convenient to access the contents. then cover with straw or dirt and add a covering tarp or plastic before covering completely. in florida your temps will not be cold enough for very long storage so best bet would be to build a spring house.

      Reply to this comment
    • TheSouthernNationalist September 19, 18:29

      The plastic barrels would be fine in Florida, no rust problems.

      Reply to this comment
    • manuel September 2, 21:15

      Que le parece mi sugerencia, porque ud. no hace las acciones pertinentes de prueba y error, despues las comparte con todos nosotros. ¿ Porque esperar que otro haga las cosas por nosotros?

      Reply to this comment
      • red September 16, 01:41

        manuel:¿Cómo va? Es por eso que estamos aquí, para aprender y enseñar, para discutir, para prepararnos mejor de lo que ya sabemos. La paz de Dios para ti. caminar en la belleza.

        Reply to this comment
  2. Redfox007 September 17, 14:35

    From the pictures, the barrel is far from down to the Frostline. It shows the top of the barrel at ground level.
    Frostline depends on what location you are in.

    Back To Map
    Montana Extreme Frost Line Penetration (in inches)
    State Average Frost Depth: 61″ Depending on location, Billings is 36″

    Reply to this comment
  3. Damonzach September 17, 14:49

    Not a very good explanation, put in the straw like you see in the picture? Where is the freeze line?What are the rocks for?It seems to skip several important pieces of information

    Reply to this comment
  4. PETE September 17, 16:25


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  5. QUESTAR September 17, 16:33

    It is highly recommended that you place your barrels underground at an angle. Three years ago a woman in our community who had food storage placed in barrels at ground level fell head first in one of her barrels and could not get under her own power.. She was found 7 days later and the coroner said she passed on the 5th day based of estimates dehydration and hypothermia. It can be a danger to anyone including children to senior citizens, small animals, etc. if the lid is opened or jarred loose.

    I know it sounds crazy but it’s something to think about

    Reply to this comment
  6. QUESTAR September 17, 16:45

    Response to Martini. Here is a link to just one of many suppliers that have plastic food grade barrels. Some barrels have water tight screw on lids.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Mike September 17, 21:17

    The Romans made ice in the desert by digging a hole, placing a container of water in the bottom and then covering with their hides or capes and placing reflective shields on top toward the sun. It took about three days for the ice to form. Living in Florida as I do we probably can’t make ice this way but it might keep a barrel type root cellar at a reasonably low temp.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Shannon September 18, 02:42

    It says that you need plywood, a drill, and screws, but there is no explanation as to what it is for.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Survived on my own September 18, 12:26

    Ok… do you possibly get the products on the bottom if you are 3’ below grade plus 4’ barrel???

    Reply to this comment
    • Don September 19, 17:39

      How about placing a disk (metal or wood?) with a rope attached that can be used to pull the products up to the surface?

      Reply to this comment
  10. Wannabe September 18, 20:32

    32-40 degrees, sounds like a Northern America do it your self. It is 95 degrees here in Texas. We won’t see those temps but maybe three weeks during our so called winter. And not consecutively.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Carolyn September 21, 14:33

    Living in New Mexico. To dig that size hole would take a couple of Days. We tend to grow rocks and what you thought was a rock was actually boulders. The other thing I am worried about if we were to accomplish digging the hole would be falling in to the barrel and not being able to get out. Just getting chicken feed out of a 55 gallon barrel sitting on the ground is hard enough when trying to reach the bottom. I could not imagine having this built into the ground and retrieving it.
    Any other options? As we get older are bodies are not like they use to be.

    Reply to this comment
    • Mike September 21, 15:53

      In Florida we are just the opposite; all sand. My solution to this is to take the sand that is dug out of the hole, fill sandbags and use them to line the hole. I will make it deep enough that I can stand upright with a roof on it. Can’t make it too deep though or else I will hit the 68F groundwaterr.

      Reply to this comment
    • Sarge December 30, 20:29

      Dig steps lol

      Reply to this comment
  12. KathrynForHealth September 21, 15:48

    yes how to get stuff out?

    Reply to this comment
  13. QUESTAR September 22, 19:37

    Plastic Barrels with a rubber ring to seal them from water, bugs, etc. is the answer.

    You must bury them in a hillside or a mound at an angle like 45 degrees, so you fall inside, you can back out.

    In areas of severe frost either burying them deeper of mounding them with soil of better yet a compost pile because a compost pile creates heat in decomposition cycles. It would take 3 to 5 feet of compost above at at least that depth 5 feet round the perimeter of the barrel. Cover it black plastic and pile more soil or compost on top. Old carpet well as an additional insulator.

    Another solution is to bury an old refrigerator or freezer on on it’s backside level with the ground. Put an old exhaust or intake manifold, or bricks or some other potential heat sink inside. Wrap it with heat tape and you can plug it in in severe weather or to just keep it above freezing. Bury the door in same manner as discussed above.

    I don’t believe article was supposed to a “cure all” for every environment. One must get creative, use a little common sense, and accept the fact that you are responsible for your own food storage and survival.

    Hope this helps.

    Reply to this comment
  14. Soloscripturo October 7, 14:44

    This sounds like a tiger trap, and you’re the tiger. If anyone tries this idea, don’t fall in. Invent a way to get the food out. Without thinking much about it, I would think you would need to put the veggies in five gallon buckets with a way to hoist them out. The buckets could then be rotated and sorted.

    Reply to this comment
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  16. Queen of Huronia April 9, 15:06

    As stated by several, this method would have problems in northern climes where the frost line is 48″ +/-, then the depth of your barrel.
    A possible solution – more work, but more accessible – use 5 gallon buckets with rubber gasket seal lids & handles; tie a rope, etc. on handles to pull up. You could double stack buckets; make multiple holes and put one or two types of veggies (or fruit) in each one. Make sure hole diameters are large enough to allow easy movement up & down.
    Here in Michigan, frostline is 48″, and in some areas you may hit ground water digging deeper. If that’s a problem, try shallower hole, and mound earth above holes/ground level.

    Reply to this comment
  17. star March 6, 14:00

    This reminds me of how some people in other countries minus a ref keep food cool they take clay pots put food in one put that in a bigger pot with sand and wet the sand to keep it cool [ one must keep the sand wet though ] and that is their ref. Now speaking of this well i would go with 5 gal buckets because it is easier to lift and reach the bottom. One other thing i would think of doing is adding straw around the outside of the bucket or leaves etc maybe straw would be better as it would be easier to pull the bucket out and the hole doesn’t cave in not sure .Or like the ref thing one could put sand in the hole after having a bigger bucket one could put the second bucket in this way one would not need to worry of the sand caving in and could just pull say the 5 gal one out to get to the food . Now someone stated an ole ref oh yes i have heard of this too , what one does is dig into a hill put the ref in it with the front being open where the door is and store food this way . One other thing i would think of doing is not to mix any of the product so like one bucket has just potatoes another has cabbage or something ,etc then one does not have to dig to get say potatoes by taking out say the cabbage first .

    Reply to this comment
    • Chele September 2, 03:07

      Yes, it’s called a ZEER POT. One thing to keep in mind is that if you are using dirty water, the foods may end up dirty as well as it could leak after some time of use.

      Not mixing produce in the buckets is an excellent idea. However, keep in mind that all that produce MUST have enough air circulation to keep it all from spoiling. Ethylene gas from certain fruits and vegetables will cause other to ripen and spoil faster.

      Reply to this comment
  18. red March 7, 04:09

    Above ground root cellars are easier than digging holes. Our soil goes down 3 feet, then we hit sandstone. anything made of lime averages 10 F less than the air around it, which is why mortuaries used marble slabs.

    We used to store sweet potatoes in buckets of dirt, and they kept well in the kitchen all winter. niio

    Reply to this comment
  19. birderrose September 1, 14:30

    What do you do for a person who lives in Arizona and has rocky ground? All my garden is either in containers or raised beds as the ground is too rocky to dig into.

    Reply to this comment
    • red September 16, 01:52

      birderrose: I live in the San Pedro valley and our soil is high in caliche. It took 2 years, but I managed to wear out both a pick and a shovel. 3 feet deep, 3 wide, and up to 25 long. And, I’m still picking at it, no pun intended. If you have caliche, remember, nothing will root into it. If you want the break-back work, then trench like the Indians here taught me to. I back-fill with a lot of brush and weeds and cactus, then dirt mixed with coffee grounds (a la starbucks) to keep the adobe from turning into a brick, again. Most of the rock was tossed to one side, but there’s so little, it wasn’t worth collecting. Caliche went in the alley out back where it makes a good road base. Did you get any rain? We’;re way below average. Even the prickly pears are wilting.

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