Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Quick and easy root cellar

As we head into deep into fall, and the desire to store apples, potatoes, garlic, onions and the like through the winter is at a peak, those of us without a root cellar get despondent. Okay, maybe not completely despondent, but we wish we had a way of storing these foods for long periods of time.

You see, living in an area where we rarely get snow, let alone cold enough temperatures to keep things in a garage or shed makes it difficult to store these foods without some sort of cellar or shelter. So, what's a desperate food storage obsessed person to do?

Some might suggest building in a root cellar. For many of us that is not only impractical, but impossible. What's another option? Well, if you have any bit of yard you can easily make your own mini root cellar. Even if you rent - because this is an impermanent solution and it doesn't take up much space.

Have I got your interest yet? Okay here goes. Dig a hole in the ground to accommodate a fairly large sized plastic container like an old cooler, a garbage can or a large storage bin with a lid. Place your receptacle of choice in said hole, making sure you leave a few inches sticking out of the ground to prevent rainwater or runoff from entering your "cellar". You can dig a little drainage ditch around the cellar and cover with insulating straw and plastic as well to further protect your storage container.

If you want a lot more storage space and don't mind digging a bigger hole, consider burying a 55 gallon drum or something larger. In spite of the space limitations, I would imagine that a long storage bin or insulated cooler would be ideal since you could place smaller bins or racks inside to keep some semblance of order and make it easier to find what you are looking for. But if you are looking to store a lot of large items, like 15 pumpkins, you'll need to find a larger container.

Once you've got your cellar loaded, pack it with newspaper or straw or whatever you have on hand to help keep things insulated and then snap on the lid securely. You want to make sure that the only one getting into your food supply is you and not the neighborhood bugs and critters. You'll also want to make sure you check your stock occasionally to remove any items that aren't looking too good.

If this type of cellar works out for you, you can be looking at these kinds of storage times for your bounty:

Apples: ~ 2 - 6 months
Radishes: ~ 3 months
Beets: ~ 4 months
Carrots: ~ 5 months
Pumpkins: ~ 5 months
Squash: ~ 5 months
Turnips: ~ 5 months
Potatoes: ~ 5 months

Now, this solution isn't perfect or ideal because of the limited space, but it's an easy option to give a try. Just don't store your potatoes with your apples!

For more information on how to store your foods, check out these great free resources:
Storage Guidelines for Fruits & Vegetables, Cornell University
Storing Vegetables at Home, University of Wisconsin

Related posts:
What to do with all those apples
Drying herbs for idiots
Preserving food for the winter


pigbook1 said...

I live in a place with real winters (i liked the NW better) can I do something in my basement that would work as a "root cellar"?

jewishfarmer said...

Thanks for writing about this, Deanna. For those without enough yard space to do this, they might also consider walling off a section of basement (if you don't have a heater of some sort like a furance or woodstove in your basement, the basement will probably do, but most of us do), or even a closet on an outside wall that can be vented. We use our unheated enclosed porch, with some extra blankets over windows and food to store things for the winter, and they do fine. There are a lot of good options.

The only thing I'd add is that pumpkins and squash don't really like temperatures as cold as in a root cellar - they are susceptible to cold injury and won't keep as long in a hole in the ground as they will in a cool house that is between 55-60, in a dry place. That shouldn't be very hard to achieve for those who are freezing their buns ;-). We keep ours under our guest bed.


Peak Oil Hausfrau said...

Has anyone dug a root cellar like this already? How did it turn out? Were there any problems? I'm thinking of doing it (we live in Zone 7) but also considering trying to just put some potatoes in a cooler in the garage.

Farmer's Daughter said...

Thanks for the info. We have a wood stove in the basement so we can't store stuff there, since it's the warmest part of the house. I'm going to try the garage this year, but if that's too warm now I have another alternative.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone ever used their window wells for root cellars? I'm going to put a box of apples in my basement window wells and hope they don't freeze. We have parsley and lemon balm growing in a west facing window well and they seem to do okay. We live in Colorado (zone 4).


maryann said...

Interesting topic, I've read a great book on this subject that I'd suggest to anyone interested in storing foods.

Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables
by Mike Bubel, Nancy Bubel

It not only gives you ideas for storage and what people have actually done but also the temp and humidity levels that you should store the foods and also the best varieties for long storage. Excellent resource. The only thing I've had luck storing is spaghetti squash which lasted through to March. Our furnace is in the basement so I have trouble keeping the temps cool enough for apples and other root veggies.

CoCargoRider said...

We are currently researching root cellar ideas here in MN where we get real winters :)

Sarah said...

Wouldn't mold/ too much moisture be an issue in a closed container with produce inside? We have mold grow even below 50 degrees in our basement....

Frisky said...

i'm thinking about how our downstairs storage area would work, but am worried about the moisture level, too. guess if i keep checking it, it wouldn't be a problem.

Anonymous said...

So why can't you just put things in closed containers, not buried, and keep outside on the back porch? Living in the same place as you do, Cruncy. Just wondering....

Anonymous said...

Great idea to think about. I have read the "Root Cellaring" book too. Last year, we stored things in our basement laundry room -- chilly, not cold; humidified slightly (we are in dry Colorado) by hanging laundry in winter. Some of our humongous butternut squash lasted until June. We also have stored onions, potatoes and apples (bought in bulk) successfully in that room. I would say it is around 60 degrees in winter. We also have an unheated closet beneath an outdoor porch that is a bit cooler -- have thought of rigging it up.

Bld424 said...

Why not put apples and potatoes together? I am clueless.

Crunchy Domestic Goddess said...

interesting. i wonder how this would work in CO. what happens when your root cellar gets covered in tons of snow? i guess you dig it out, eh? ;)

Anonymous said...

Hi! You have a Great blog!!
How about exchanging Links?!
Visit my Blog & if u like it,pls add it to your Blogroll and I too will put a Link for your Site on my Blog!!

Sweetpeas said...

Just be aware, all the storage containers I've bought in recent years have holes in them somewhere (in case you accidentally try to store your child in them,I assume) usually in a not real noticable spot like under the handles, so you'd need to seal those off to keep the bugs out!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I live in Southern California 5 miles from the beach, there is too much humidity here to store roots of any kind for even short amounts of time in the house, even when I find the darkest place or in the garage my potatoes get eyes and my garlic and onions start growing in just a few weeks of storage (We have no basement, just a tiny subspace big enough for a plumber to crawl in for fixing pipes but that's it.

We have an old cast iron bathtub in the garage after our bathroom remodel, could I bury that in my yard (which has no hill) and somehow make it into a root cellar? Since it would have no sealed lid would I need sub containers like rubbermaid boxes or something?