Before times of refrigeration and the year-long availability of fresh vegetables, people had to find a way to store these vegetables throughout the year.
For many people, the solution to this issue was to build a root cellar. A root cellar is constructed usually partly or entirely underground and is used to store root crops, fruits, and nuts until you are ready to eat them.
Today, a root cellar can serve the same purpose and will eventually decline your dependence on the food distribution system.
Types Of Root Cellars
A root cellar can be a cheap weekend project, or it can be a weeks-long homesteading investment, depending on your own preference.
Traditional root cellars are built underground and away from the house. They will have their own door for access.
Under-structure root cellars are dug into the ground under a shed or a house. Access is granted to this type of root cellar by a trap door on the floor of the structure.
Some people decide to build their root cellars on the side of a hill. Simply start digging into the side of the hill and insert a door, and you have your own root cellar. You may want to consider covering the hill with grass after completing your root cellar.
If you are looking for the cheapest and easiest way to create a root cellar, here’s a guide on how to build a mini root cellar in your backyard.
How To Keep Your Root Cellar Cool
One of the most important aspects of building a root cellar is guaranteeing that it will be at the correct temperature.
If your root cellar is at an incorrect temperature, your stored foods will not stay fresh for long, and you may find that they are going bad before their time.
A hot root cellar can quickly result in spoiled foods. Luckily, there are a few tips to help you avoid this potential issue.
First, make sure that your root cellar is around 10 feet deep. This is the temperature that allows for temperature stability and will help prolong the life of your food.
Since your root cellar will be in your backyard, simply use the packed earth that it is dug in for flooring and walls, and make sure that your shelving is wooden.
Related: Root Cellar Mistakes You Need To Avoid At All Costs
Lastly, make sure that you have a working thermometer in your root cellar, along with a hygrometer to measure the humidity.
How To Keep Your Root Cellar Well-Ventilated
Another issue that many people run into with their root cellars is improper ventilation. An airtight root cellar will cause food to quickly spoil, and it might also cause mold and mildew issues.
Avoid this issue by installing two separate vents in the building phase of your root cellar.
One vent should go at the top of the cellar; this will allow for stale air and humidity to escape. Place the other vent at the bottom of the root cellar to bring in the fresh air.
Remember to install these vents at an angle so that it doesn’t rain in your root cellar.
What Kind Of Lighting Does A Root Cellar Need?
Stored foods love darkness; that is a fact. Not only do you risk losing nutritional value on foods that are exposed to too much light, but you may also notice your vegetables sprouting.
Related: 5 Food Storage Myths That Are Ruining Your Stockpile
The goal is to keep your root cellar as dark as possible. If there is a window in your cellar, cover it with curtains or burlap.
Always remember to turn out the light when you leave the cellar. If you find you need a light to help warm the cellar, simply cover the vegetables before leaving.
Tips For Using Your Root Cellar Efficiently
Now that we have covered some important things to remember while building your root cellar, let’s look at some tips that can help you get the most out of your root cellar.
It is important to cure potatoes, pumpkins, and onions before they go into the cellar. Curing these vegetables will help thicken the skin, reducing the chances that they will mold or mildew quickly.
It is also a good idea to store your root vegetables with some dirt still attached.
When you wash the vegetables before storing them, you risk storing them wet, which will encourage them to rot more quickly. Simply shake off any loose dirt and store them in boxes of sand or peat moss.
But be careful not to crowd the vegetables too much. This can cause heat to generate, which will speed along the spoiling process.
You will also want to stock your top shelves first. This is because the driest and warmest air will be near the ceiling and close to the door.
The further down your shelves, and the further they are away from the door, the more humid the air gets. This will, again, speed up the spoiling process of your vegetables.
You will also want to make sure that you are checking your vegetables often for signs of rot. Rot can spread quickly, and you can end up losing a lot of food if you don’t check them often.
If your goal is to become as self-sustaining as possible, a root cellar can be an excellent way to get you closer to your dreams. Whenever there are issues with the food distribution system, you will be minimally affected.
You will have plenty of fresh vegetables to choose from at any time of the year. Though it can be hard work to build and maintain, your independence will grow, and you will not struggle if the grid goes down.
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I acquired a house from a great uncle and it had a root cellar. I turned the root cellar Into a wine cellar. Then a bondage dungeo complete with cast iron chains and sound proofing. Years later, i converted it into a panic room. Years later, I then upgraded it to a tornado shelter. Now, its essentially a fallout shelter. You can clearly see the evolution of priorities As I’ve gotten older and wiser. (And less weird)
I want to build my cellar in the side of a hill. Can I place an old wood frame that has tin on it, and use it for the roof and cover it with earth(soil).
Thank you so much
I wouldn’t. The tin roof will rust from the moisture.
I agree with Eartha Digga, and also bear in mind that there’s a massive tonnage of soil you’re putting on top of it, even if it’s not very thick…far more than is safe. For that you want a proper solid roof with similar sides otherwise you’re just as likely to be crushed inside it one day when it collapses in on you. Anything buried needs to be virtually hermetically sealed and engineered to the appropriate strength.
Nothing wrong with weird. As long as you don’t start using the cellar to , you know, store vegetables or sometthing which would be REALLY weird.
Would burying a steel conex box with ventilation work as well?
The conex boxes were not made to bury, 2 things might happen. If you do not add support to the sides it could cave in on you as the roof was made to stack , but you will notice that the extra support is really in the corners and along the edges but not the sides, also they will rust pretty fast as they have been exposed to the salt water air.
I have seen and heard of people using concrete septic tanks to make them. NEW ones not used.
As long as you cover it with at least a foot or more of soil you can build a frame in the hill. The top vent needs to be covered in rabbit wire and screen. Curved back towards the ground keeps out the rain at the low side using a long pipe and what would appear to be an upside down u bend. As the wind blows it will create a vacuum on the top vent and pull air in at the bottom using 4 inch pvc for the top and 2 inch pvc for the bottom controls your airflow just remember to rabbit wire and screen at all openings depending how far back into the hill you might need tees on the long section at the bottom you want the air to get to the back. Plus keep out critters. Burlap for root vegetables allows for better circulation of air. Wood doesn’t rot if it gets submerged in fresh water.
Don’t forget, you will need to take precautions against fungal and mold buildup. LED lights do nothing against the 2 they do not kill them. Incandescent lights do kill them, but to a small degree in a root cellar.
You will have to do something to prevent their growth so consider IR lamps for a quick and short period of time to help control both, Another option is CDS water it kills both and has been used for decades in the Food and agricultural industry, Just make some put the glass jar or bottle in the cellar and let it evaporate or spray it down 1-2 times per week. Borax is another pathogen killer and also a bug killer, but the bug must eat something soaked in it then they take it back to the nest then the nest dies because of eating the food brought back to them. Spraying with colloidal silver is another, oregano water or oil is another, don’t forget vinegar the all-purpose anti everything disinfectant cleaner and non-toxic. Many things can be done and with a little research you can find what works best for you.
I wonder how my German Grandmother survived (and her kids and grandchildren) without electricity using a root cellar.
A properly vented root cellar and some basic cleaning has worked for centuries before we ever heard of such modern sanitation chemicals. Rodents are far the greatest hazard for long term food storage.
The FACT your HERE proves that point.
Some folks spend too much time worrying about modern issues and thus never actually build or otherwise DO SOMETHING useful.
Tempus fugit, time flies. Stuff HAPPENS.
I suspect the 100K people living STILL without electricity in Moore Co NC didn’t think they’d be without power one fine day.
The article mentioned ‘curing’ potatoes and onions before putting them in the cellar. I have never heard of this and they didn’t explain this process. How does one cure a potato? I am assuming to lay them out in the sun to somewhat dry them out?
Curing a potato is as simple as putting it someplace that is well ventilated, dry and dark so the skin can dry out a bit and get hard enough to protect the potato. Light turns potatoes green and the green part of a potato contains a toxin. That is why you “hill them up,” while growing them. That means covering the lower portion of the plant and the developing tubers (the potatoes) with dirt or mulch to keep them protected from the sunlight.
Onions need to be set someplace dry and well ventilated so the outer layer of the bulb can dry out to protect the rest of the onion. Of course, they both need to be protected from bugs and rodents while curing and stored.
Curing sweet potatoes is a two-part process. First, they need to spend 4-14 days in a warm (85°F) and humid place. Then, they need to be stored someplace cool and dry, protected from vermin. This process turns the starches into sugars, making them sweet tasting. Check YouTube for videos explaining how to do this. After a few weeks, they should be ready to use but I think you can start to use them after just a few days. I guess that depends on how starchy you can tolerate them. Obviously, the longer you can wait, the better, but not so long that they start to dry out, shrivel and grow slips.
There are lots of references about monitoring temperature and humidity. Is it true the the coolest and driest air is what to achieve? There is never freezing temperatures here so I dont need to consider freezing being possible. Heat is the biggest problem here. Also not sure what stale air means? Ventilating the chamber for many months of the year here would introduce warmth, so I assume that would be the negative aspect of ventilation.
Your directions about this project, were not very informative at all. I will attempt to show at least one area about this build that would make your effort wasted.
Through my own research about doing a project like this months ago, it came to my attention that you must be in a favorable location to construct an adequate working root cellar. For example, digging a ten foot square root cellar in northern states is not the same as building one in southern states. A root cellar must maintain a constant cool temperature year round. The perfect temperature for a root cellar is 32º to 40ºF (0° to 4.5°C). It’s a big effort to dig a hole in the ground and expect it to maintain the ideal temperature without any assistance.
So at this point, I would say that if you are in a southern state, you may have to augment the root cellar project artificially and mechanically to be successful in your efforts. This would entail some type of minimal refrigeration system that would run and turn itself off and on via a thermostat set properly to hold and maintain a root cellar environment. Depending on your skills and budget it is all still very doable project.
If you’re going to build it into a hill, try to build it on the north facing side so the sun isn’t hitting it directly, which can cause humidity and heat levels to rise.
Has anyone built the Easy Cellar or similiar thing? I’m wondering how much work is involved. I don’t see how a man with one leg could build one in a week. Thanks.