Learning how to build a root cellar may start with one thought: “What the heck is a root cellar?” Long before refrigeration, root cellars kept carrots, beets, potatoes, and other root-based vegetables fresh throughout the winter using the cool temperatures and low humidity available underground. Root cellars are still a great way to store veggies without taking up space in your fridge or using any excess energy.
Small but Separated
Most root cellars are located in the basement, but there are still options available for convenient storage in apartments and similarly sized one-level homes. Newly picked apples can also be stored for weeks in a root cellar, giving your family easy access to a delicious, fresh snack even when they’re not growing at the time. Make sure none of your apples are bruised or spoiled; one rotten item can ruin the bunch. You’ll also want to store your apples separately from your veggies, as they can affect the taste of neighboring produce over time as well.
No one likes putting on six layers just to pick up a few potatoes, so let’s cut out the middle man and keep plenty of veggies in the kitchen before the temperature drops out of a farm’s harvest period. Here are a few different ways to build your own root cellar and enjoy the benefits of easily accessible fresh produce all winter long.
The Northeast Corner
An unfinished basement is a great starting point for creating your own root cellar, but a modern, finished den can be converted into a safe food-storage facility too. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the best location for a root cellar at the foundation level is in the northeast corner. Insulation is key for keeping the temperature consistent year-round, as well as a ventilation system to keep the area full of clean air.
Once you’ve chosen the location for your root cellar, you’ll need to build the other two walls out of plywood and boards. Mother Earth News offers an informative step-by-step guide to building your own basement root cellar, leading you through the process start to finish. Bonus: A basement root cellar is also a fantastic place to store some fall-inspired canned goods, like delicious cranberry and pear chutney.
Even without a free basement, you can still create your own root cellar with a little bit of yard space. First, choose a location that ideally allows you to build through an elevated slope to prevent rain water from seeping in. Then, dig about ten feet deep to ensure temperature stability, and line the interior walls with hay or another natural form of insulation. I like to place a five-gallon bucket or trash can into the hole for a really easy, weather-proof ground root cellar.
Fill the cellar (hole, trash can, or bucket) with your vegetables and top with a cover or a piece of wood. For extra protection against the elements, add a layer of hay on top of the covered hole and top that with a plastic tarp.
For city-dwellers in need of a more compact storage option, there are a few creative choices available that incorporate readily found items that might otherwise get thrown away. An old (cleaned-out and dry) refrigerator is a great place to store root vegetables throughout the winter. Even if you live in a small studio apartment, a mini-fridge would do the job perfectly without taking up a lot of precious floor space.
Retired picnic coolers are another good resource for root produce storage. If you’re really strapped for space, build a small box out of plywood to keep on your balcony. Place the cooler full of fall harvest vegetables inside and weatherize it with some stacks of old newspapers covered with a secured plastic tarp.
What are some of your favorite tips and techniques on how to build a root cellar? Share your root cellar plans in the comments section or with a #GoodMatters tweet!
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.