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Root cellars provide a cost-effective way to keep produce from spoiling during the winter or off-season.
While difficult to set up, root cellars help families keep their produce without relying on new technologies and preservation methods.
We’ll be going over everything you need to know about root cellar storage.
Root cellars are an old form of storage and food preservation that has made a comeback in recent years.
Root Cellar Storage
Originally, this storage design kept fruits and vegetables from spoiling during long winter months.
Root cellars are now typically used by garden hobbyists and those interested in self-reliance.
The ease of use and long keep time make root cellar storage an attractive option for most. But beginning to design your root cellar can seem daunting for the uninformed.
Considering this, with the right information and enough upkeep, you’ll be able to keep eating fresh fruits, vegetables, and produce regardless of the season.
How Root Cellars Work
Root cellars take advantage of naturally cooler outside temperatures underground. Particularly, to act as a sort of natural refrigerator for fruits and other plants.
As an illustration, before modern technology made this process easier, root cellars were the only way of preserving food during the off-season.
By building these underground, early adopters were able to keep their food outside. Specifically, to help prevent worrying about frost and snow killing their crops.
Almost any farm or homestead off the grid would rely on the preserving quality of a root cellar. For example, to feed their friends and loved ones.
Root Cellar Design
Root cellars are designs to maintain humidity and keep food from drying out over time.
The dampness of certain soils certainly helps with this process. But much of the work of humidity will come from hard work and careful planning.
Since root cellars keep your food under the required minimum temperature of 40 degrees, food can last for weeks or months as opposed to a few days.
Root cellars can also double as personal storage. And often you can find these within crawlspaces and basements of existing homes.
Choosing the Right Location
Location is paramount for root cellars. And choosing the correct spot can mean the difference between an effective cellar and ruined crops.
Popular options for those living in hilly landscapes is digging horizontally instead of vertically.
This way, builders can effectively build a root cellar. Specifically, that’s actually at ground level instead of digging deep into the earth.
Likewise, cellars in homes and crawl spaces can similarly alter to become root cellars.
Doing so will require some extra steps. However, and we’ll be getting into building a root cellar a little later on.
Otherwise, you’ll probably need to dig into the earth. While finding a secluded spot that’s close enough to the home.
But a safe distance away from wildlife will be important. Therefore, be sure to know your environment.
Location Good For Your Root Cellar
Depending on how close you live to other homes or utilities. You may want to consult with outside sources before digging into the earth. You’ll need several feet of vertical depth at a bare minimum.
And digging before adequately knowing what’s underneath the earth could cause personal and legal ramifications.
Every plot of land is different. And understanding the nature of your topsoil can save you from some real headache.
When moving into the building phase of your root cellar, If you’re not familiar with the local soil, talk to a nearby farmer or conduct research online. To make sure that a root cellar is viable in your area.
Building a Root Cellar
Much of the desire of root cellars can come from a place of self-reliance. In the interest of those wanting to make their root cellars.
We’ll be briefly overviewing the process of designing and building a proper cellar.
For many steps, it may be wise to hire contractors to ensure structural integrity.
Be sure to practice smart safety protocols and never attempt a project you’re not confident that you can complete.
Expert contractors can mean the difference between a failed side-project and a vital tool for your home or farm.
That is digging deep enough into the earth and planning for the structure is the fundamental starting point for any build.
Space for your Plants and Crops
You’ll want to give yourself enough space for your plants and crops. As well as a way to move in and out of the cellar. Ladders and steep staircases are often a favorite among builders.
But a simple door will suffice if you’re converting a pre-existing structure or building into a hill.
Remember that total temperature stability only comes at about ten feet below the surface of the earth.
Since we’re relying on the ground to refrigerate the food for us, be very careful in your choice of location and how deep you dig.
Foundation Of Your Root Cellar
Cinder blocks are the easiest material to line the walls with—mostly due to their lower cost and malleability.
Don’t forget to build on top of a foundation or footer. To make sure the walls hold their own for years to come.
Making a solid floor for your root cellar may be tempting. You have to remember that natural dirt and gravel work far better for retaining moisture in the cellar.
We need to keep the internal humidity as high as possible, so every little bit counts.
Next, there’s the issue of the roof. Graded ceilings work best to keep rain and other outside elements from resting above the cellar.
Even if your ceiling is completely in-depth, heavy rainfall can bring hundred of pounds of moisture on top of the cellar and compromise the foundation.
For anyone unfamiliar with cellar construction, outsourcing this step may be crucial.
Proper Ventilation For your Root Cellar
Proper ventilation is the final and most important step in construction. Humidity is important in making sure your crops don’t spoil. Too much condensation in the room can bring on rotting or sprouting; these elements are the basics of any root cellar. If you are planning to convert your pre-existing space into a root cellar.
Make sure that your chosen location meets the requirements above.
And make alterations to ensure you’ve got everything you need. For crawl spaces and basements, this can often mean placing gravel within the location and securing ventilation.
Maintenance of a Root Cellar
While simple and easy to maintain, root cellars to need careful monitoring, when they’ve just been build of at the start of the off-season.
Thermometers and hydrometers are your two most important assets. So be sure to purchase low-power options that will hold a permanent home in your root cellar. The following conditions need to maintain at all times:
- A humidity of 90-95%
- A temperature of 32 degrees to 40 degrees
- Proper and constant ventilation
Maintaining temperature can be difficult since most root cellars rely on cool soil to chill the cellar. Root cellars may need to alter in-depth base on what climate you find yourself in. So be sure to do your research before starting your build.
Humidity and Ventilation are much easier to manipulate.
Raising the humidity can be as simple and leaving several open containers of water in the storage unit.
Experiment with your humidity and see how much open water you need to hit the 90-95% threshold. Be mindful that you might attract insects to open water and other wildlife, secure your cellar accordingly.
If you find that your humidity is too high. Increase the size of your ventilation or angle your ventilation towards prevailing winds in your area. You need to put a screen on the holes.
To protect from rats and other pests from invading and claiming your food before you do.
Ventilation also prevents a buildup of ethylene gas—which is an odorless gas most commonly released by fruits like apples.
Ethylene gas can cause major issues with sprouting and rotting, so be careful not to skip out on air ventilation.
Different Ventilation Methods
Each root cellar is different and will require different ventilation methods and humidity regulation.
The key is to keep a close eye on the internal condition of your root cellar. And make alterations to your design before it’s too late.
Finally, while it may seem frivolous, keep your cellar as dark as possible.
Excess sunlight or even artificial light exposure causes sprouting and rotting.
With your cellar, you may incline to experiment around with temperatures and ventilation.
Considering Certain Types of Produce in your Cellar
If you tend to keep only a certain type of produce in your cellar. Make sure that you’re keeping your cellar as close to the recommended temperature and humidity as possible.
If you’re following these steps, you should be left with a working root cellar that’s will last.
The only thing left to do is to load up your fruits and vegetables.
Check in on the temperature and food conditions daily to weekly, and enjoy the fruits of your labor at any time of the year.