If you want to keep garden produce fresh all winter long, a root cellar becomes a necessity. In the old days, having a root cellar helped people survive through the winter since they didn’t have supermarkets or any other means to procure food safety. Building your own root cellar is a great DIY option if you want to preserve your garden produce.
The pioneers had various food-storage systems to preserve their food and the most common one was the root cellar. By building one, they were able to take advantage of the moist, cool atmosphere a few feet underground. Even in these modern times root cellars still work great, although few homes have them.
Building a root cellar is a great home project you should try and the best option should be a basement root cellar. It uses no energy and requires little maintenance.
Our family takes care of a large garden and we are used to enjoying our beets, carrots, onions and potatoes all winter long. We like to eat healthy from our garden and it also helps us save money if we preserve the produce. It helps us extend the life of our food and it can do the same for you. Building a root cellar is simple and it all depends on how good you are with your hands.
The Location for your root cellar
Before you start digging, there are a few things you need to consider. Things such as ventilation, darkness, humidity and temperature are important factors. The basements of the modern homes are too warm to be used as a root cellar. However, you can create the desired storage conditions by enclosing an area in the basement against an outside wall. Pick a north wall since it will be cooler. Also if you have the option, you should pick a corner because it will have two outside walls.
Another advice I can give you is to pick an area in your basement that has a window. It will help you have access to outside air to adjust the temperature inside the enclosure. If the basement floor is concrete or dirt, it will provide moisture and coolness.
The construction of the root cellar
When you build a root cellar, you shouldn’t go for something fancy or expensive. A simple insulted wooden frame with plywood will suffice. If excess dampness is present in your basement, I advise you to use a composite deck material for the bottom plate. This will help you avoid rotting or molding.
The size of your root cellar is an important step you should carefully plan before starting the project. It may vary from a cupboard to a full-size room. It all depends on your needs and preference.
The existing window from your basement, we mentioned above will provide ventilation for your root cellar. This is important for food storage and you should use a two-vent system. The upper vent is the window and the lower vent should be just above the floor level. When building, leave a ¼ inch space at the top of the wall and a ¼ inch opening under the door to provide proper airflow.
Related article: 10 Requirements For Long-Term Food Storage
The wall will be easier to set up if it’s built beneath the ceiling height. Think about closing the window or replace it with an insulated panel that shuts out light and vents enough to maintain proper temperature. Inside your root cellar, the temperature should be between 33-40° F. Most vegetables store best when the temperature is just above freezing.
You can place a PVC pipe in the covered window and pipe it down near the floor. By doing so, the cold air will flow down and it will rise to vent out the gap at the top of the wall as it warms. Keep in mind to cover the outside vent with a screen to keep rodents and insects out.
I can tell you from experience that rigid insulation will work better than fiberglass mats. Regarding tolerating moisture, Styrofoam works better and is non-irritating as well. When it comes to the amount of insulation needed, this all depends on the outside and inside temperatures from your region.
Our root cellar adventure
A few years back we built a basement root cellar and everything went great for a while. After dedicating more time to prepping, we soon run out of storage space. We increased the size of our garden and we started storing more produce than before. The solution to our problem was to build a larger root cellar in the vicinity of our home.
It was a challenging process since building an outdoor root cellar can be complicated, especially if you need a big one. We had to pour concrete and do all sorts of work that was a little too much for our strength. Our sons helped us and it was a blessing to work together.
If you want to give it a try and if you have the manpower, here are the plans we used for our root cellar:
The cellar you are building is perfect only if it stays at a constant, cool temperature with high humidity all winter. Even so, we must take into account that different crops require different temperature for proper long-term storage. You will have to experiment with the vents to regulate the temperature for the produce you are storing. You will need to place a thermometer in the root cellar to constantly check the temperature.
Most fruits and vegetables store best with fairly high humidity. Depending on how you build your root cellar, you will sometimes need to wet the floor or mist some water in the root cellar. You will know when to do this sine your produce will start to shrivel. To keep a close eye on the humidity level, get a hygrometer.
Here are the temperature requirements for certain produce:
Apples – 32-40°F
Cauliflower – 32-40°F
Carrots – 32-40°F
Celery – 32-40°F
Parsnip – 32-40°F
Onions – 32-35°F
Cabbage – 38-40°F
Potatoes – 38-40°F
Turnips – 38-40°F
Cucumbers – 50-60°F
Squash – 50-60°F
Tomatoes – 60°F
Another important thing to mention is that some types of produce can’t be stored together because they release ethylene gas. This gas will cause vegetables to ripen and it will encourage early rooting or sprouting.
If you plan to store citrus fruits and tomatoes, you should store them on higher shelves than other produce and near the vent if possible. Also, if you can store them separately, that’s even better.
If light gets into your root cellar, it will also cause early sprouting. It will also hasten rooting in most of your vegetables and fruits. You should try to keep the door of your root cellar closed as much as possible.
If you plan on storing certain garden items, a root cellar is what you need. Certain produce stores best in a very specific climate. You can create that climate by building your own cellar. By following the instructions in this article, you have options for building one. It’s a way to prolong the life of your garden produce and a chance to enhance your self-reliance skills.