You’ll need to preserve the results of your labor if you want to make wonderful meals all year. But you don’t want to plant ten pounds of carrots and let them go bad, or can a few dozen Mason jars of wild strawberry preserves without a place to keep them.
After all, one of the most satisfying aspects of developing your own sustainable food system is storing food for year-round use.
The root cellar
A root cellar is used to keep fresh fruits and vegetables so that they can be eaten during the winter months.
The size of your root cellar will be determined by how much food you intend to keep and the amount of space available in a suitable location. A 10-by-12-foot root cellar will normally have enough space to store vegetables, fruits, canned and dried goods for a household.
Your needs will vary, but if you are going through the trouble of excavating or building a root cellar, make sure it is large enough to accommodate you as you gain more experience keeping your goods.
Your root cellar should ideally contain at least two rooms, one cooler than the other, in addition to being of standard size. Having two chambers allows you to control the humidity, temperature, and airflow, providing the ideal storage conditions for a wide range of foods.
Ideally, your root cellar should be close to your garden so that you can easily throw surplus vegetables directly into it while harvesting.
You also want the root cellar to be immediately accessible from your kitchen so that you can simply get your stored foods, especially on those cold winter days.
If you reside on flat terrain and do not have access to a hillside for excavation, you will most likely need to construct an aboveground cellar. Otherwise, it is recommended to construct your root cellar underground.
A below-ground structure
If you live on a piece of land with a hillside or slope that can be easily excavated and faces away from prevailing winds, you already have a great location for your root cellar.
One of the greatest ways to protect your fruits and veggies is to use the dirt as insulation and covering three walls, and the roof with soil is perfect.
If at all possible, place the entry door on the north side of the slope to help insulate the structure and reduce direct sunlight exposure. You should avoid building in a low-lying region and ensure that your site has adequate drainage so that the cellar does not fill up with water.
Before you begin digging into your hillside, examine the soil content. Soil that is rocky or has an above-average clay composition may not allow for easy hand digging, necessitating the rental or purchase of excavation equipment. Sandy soil can also present challenges, such as walls crumbling as you dig.
Any property may have a variety of soil types, and it may be necessary to explore a few potential sites before settling on the best one.
Large trees are another factor to consider while selecting a location for your underground root cellar. Tree roots can travel incredible distances and can present significant problems during excavation. Later on, they may infiltrate the walls of your root cellar.
Avoid locations with large trees if at all feasible, and do not put deep-rooted trees, or plants close.
Walls and doors requirements
A root cellar built into a hillside is a subterranean structure with one exposed wall and an access door. Wood, cement blocks, adobe, rammed earth, earthbags, or cob can all be used to construct the wall.
To make an access door for your underground cellar, first make a 32-inch rough aperture for your entryway. Next, construct the door frame out of 2-by-8-foot timber pieces. Installing a previously used door, which may be purchased at salvage yards, and garage sales, is a cost-effective choice.
Partial underground root cellar
If your location is not suited for building a hillside root cellar, you can construct a half underground structure by digging only 4 feet or so into the ground. This style of construction is widespread in colder regions of the country, where the terrain is flat and rocky or when the water table is high, and drainage is poor.
A half subterranean root cellar’s walls are often composed of masonry blocks and banked with earth on three sides.
You must first determine the size of your root cellar. For example, if you want a structure 12 feet by 8 feet that will last for years, you’ll need to dig a 16-foot-by-12-foot-deep hole with a 4-foot-wide, 6-foot-sloped entrance ramp.
You want the hole to be larger than your construction so that you may create walls from all sides. Once finished, fill in the extra space on the outside of the wall with earth from the excavation to offer even more insulation for your root cellar.
The entrance ramp should be 6 feet long and inclined, providing space for steps leading down to your cellar’s main door. Before you start digging, make sure you have enough area to handle the size building you intend to build.
Traditionally, this sort of structure features a hatchway door with a stairway leading down to a second doorway. Because of the air space between the two doors, the “double entrance” provides excellent insulation from outside temperatures.
The roof is normally constructed of two-by-fours and covered with roof sheathing and plastic film, with soil added on top.
Vents are built to allow for enough air circulation, and a drainage system is used to remove water and reduce humidity.
The partial underground construction has two significant advantages: it is inexpensive and simple to construct. You can build this structure in your spare time and over a few weekends if you use common materials from your own land or a local building supply store.
Temperatures inside the root cellar
The ideal temperature range for your root cellar is 32°F to 40°F. This relatively cool temperature slows the generation of ethylene gas from certain vegetables as well as the growth of microorganisms that are responsible for food spoilage.
If the temperature rises too high, the food will rot or mold; if the temperature falls too low, the food will freeze, becoming soft and mushy when it thaws again. Extreme temperatures will cause the food in your root cellar to spoil faster, so make sure you insulate properly and maintain the temperature.
The temperature inside your root cellar will never be constant, so knowing which parts are colder or warmer can allow you to keep your food properly. To keep the temperature in your root cellar stable, you’ll need at least two thermometers.
Place one in the coldest part of the cellar and one on the exterior of your structure, and keep a constant eye on both. Adjust the temperature inside by opening and closing doors and windows, as well as opening and closing ventilation pipes.
Humidity inside the root cellar
A root cellar’s optimum relative humidity is between 85 and 95 percent, and every root cellar should contain a hygrometer to appropriately regulate the humidity.
Too much moisture causes food to rot and deteriorate faster; too little moisture causes food to shrivel up, leaving little for you to eat. The best results for establishing the proper humidity in your root cellar will come from a damp dirt floor.
A concrete floor will also function, but it will tend to reduce humidity in the cellar, necessitating more adjusting to achieve the greatest outcomes.
Here are some simple methods to add some moisture to your root cellar:
- Sprinkle water on the floor, especially a few days before you begin bringing in newly harvested vegetables.
- Keep huge pans of water near the intake air vents.
- Wet materials, such as damp straws or sawdust, should be used to cover the floors.
- Bring some snow into the root cellar to keep the space cold and humid
- It is recommended to pack vegetables should be packed in damp sawdust. Alternatively, you could use peat moss.
Too much humidity might be just as bad for the food in your root cellar as not enough. Because cold air does not contain as much moisture as warm air, moisture will collect on the roof or shelves and produce condensation if the humidity level in the cellar is too high.
Maintaining a constant humidity level to avoid condensation is the best way to preserve your food. If condensation forms, make certain that no water is pouring directly onto your vegetables or fruits.
Ventilation and air circulation inside the root cellar
Make sure your root cellar has one vent that allows air to flow in and another that allows air to flow out. Remember that it is easier to install these vents when developing your root cellar.
The intake vent should be low, and the exit vent should be higher up. This way, cool air will be able to enter the cellar, and when warm air rises, it will be expelled through the outlet vent. A mesh cover installed over each vent will keep rodents out.
A 6-inch water or sewer pipe coated in duct insulation is the most practical object to utilize as a vent. Attaching an elbow at the end exposed to the elements will help maintain a steady temperature. Do not glue this elbow since you want it to be able to turn away from the prevailing wind.
The vents allow the temperature to regulate and the air to move freely in the root cellar. In exceptionally cold or extremely hot climates, you can close the intake vent to prevent severe temperatures from entering.
Make sure you open it on a regular basis to allow air to circulate, as this is a critical factor in reducing airborne mold. Make sure your shelves are a few inches away from the walls to maximize airflow. Another option is to keep food containers and preserves jars separated by some space.
Shelving for your root cellar
Shelving not only keeps your basement more organized but also keeps your vegetables fresher. Fruits and vegetables placed directly on the floor of a root cellar may rot and deteriorate faster because they will become too moist or too cold.
Shelving allows air to easily move around your stored foods. Some foods, such as cabbage, onions, and apples, emit ethylene gases, so store them in an out-of-the-way corner or on the topmost shelf to prevent them from contaminating other produce.
You can build strong wood shelves, install metal or plastic shelving, or use recycled objects like old cabinets or cement blocks with wood slats set across them.
Make sure your shelves are at the proper height to allow air circulation around the top and sides of your containers. Your shelves should be strong enough to support large goods.
Slatted shelves are one of the better solutions because they can support larger objects while also allowing for increased air circulation around your containers and jars.
Those that want to preserve produce on the homestead know how vital it is to have a good cellar. In case our common household appliances stop working and are no longer of any use, going underground is the best option for food preservation.
This article should provide you with a good idea of what it means to build one, and following the tips we listed will help you build your own root cellar.
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