If you’re looking for ways of becoming more self-sufficient, one way to do this is to build your own modern root cellar. Modern root cellars are a great way to store local food and produce from your vegetable gardens. You can even store canned goods all winter long in your root cellar if you make it big enough. But most people use their cellars to store vegetables and different crops.
Here are three reasons why you might want to have your own root cellar:
- To extend the shelf life of produce
- To keep food from freezing during the winter months
- To have access to fresh produce all year long
What are Modern Root Cellars and Why Do You Need One?
A root cellar is a structure, usually below ground, used to store vegetables, fruits, and dairy products. There are many reasons why you might want to have a modern root cellar. Some of the most common reasons include:
- Preserving food for long-term cold storage, especially fresh produce and root vegetables
- Reducing dependence on grocery stores
- Increasing self-sufficiency and be able to eat local food out of season
We’ll discuss the different types of root cellars, considerations for building them, where to locate them, and how to choose the right shelving/equipment.
What Can You Store in a Root Cellar (Besides Root Vegetables)?
Fresh vegetables, fruits, and dairy products are the most common items stored in root cellars. Root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, turnips, and beets will keep for several months if they are properly stored. Fruits like apples, pears, and grapes can also be kept in a root cellar for several months.
Vegetables like pumpkins and winter squash can be stored for five to six months. You can also store other produce for a shorter time there. Dairy products like eggs, cheese, and butter can also be stored in a root cellar as long as the temperature is relatively similar to your refrigerator (not too warm to create bacteria growth, but not too cold to freeze).
|Beans, Green||4-6 months|
|Brussel Sprouts||3-5 weeks|
|Cabbage, Heads||3-4 months|
|Citrus Fruits||4-6 weeks|
|Leafy Veggies||10-14 days|
|Peppers, Bell||1-2 weeks|
|Peppers, Dry||4-6 months|
|Sweet Potatoes||4-6 months|
|Tomatoes, Ripe||5-10 days|
|Green Tomatoes||1-2 months|
Many people like storing jars of canned goods and dehydrated food year-round. It’s a great way to eat local food all winter long when the cold air prevents you from growing anything.
Considerations for Modern Root Cellars
When considering your root cellar design, you should take into account the following considerations:
Root cellars should be dark to prevent the growth of mold and mildew. Light can cause food to spoil quickly, which is why the space needs to be dark most of the time.
The ideal temperature for storing fruits and vegetables is between 32-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Below those temperatures, the cold air will cause the food to freeze. Above those temperatures, the food will spoil.
The ideal humidity level storing fruits and vegetables is between 80-85 percent. Vegetables and fruit lose moisture over time, which is why the humidity level needs to be high, but not too high. Too high of a humidity level will cause mold and mildew to grow.
Root cellars should be well-ventilated to prevent the build-up of mold and mildew. Fresh vegetables and fruit create ethylene gas over time which can increase spoilage over time. A good ventilation system will keep the ethylene gas from building up and causing your food to go bad.
Where to Locate Your Modern Root Cellar
The best location for a root cellar is in an area that has cool temperatures and has good drainage. Root cellars can be built above ground, but they are more commonly built below ground. When choosing a location for your root cellar, it is important to consider the type of foundation you have (e.g., concrete, stone, or dirt), the size of your space available, and the climate in your area. Keeping your root cellar cool is essential to keeping your root crops cool enough to preserve them for several months.
Choosing a Room in Your House
If you live in an urban or suburban setting, you may want to have your modern root cellar in a room of your house. You will need to keep the room at cool temperatures to ensure the food stays fresh. A bonus is that this cold room will allow you to have easy access to your root crops and other food items. The disadvantage of having a root cellar in your house is that the temperature and humidity levels may not be ideal for the long-term storage of fruits and vegetables.
To keep the food cool and remove ethylene gas build up, you may have to install ventilation pipes and a proper ventilation system to ensure fresh air, especially during warmer temperatures. You may also have to insulate the interior walls to ensure the temperature remains consistent.
Building a Basement Root Cellar
If you have a home with a basement, you may want to create a root cellar there. A basement root cellar has the advantage of being cooler and having better drainage than an above ground root cellar. The disadvantage is that humidity levels in a basement can be high, which can lead to the growth of mold and mildew.
If you have a wine cellar that is not in use, you may be able to repurpose that for your basement root cellar. In many cases, a wine cellar is set up for a humidity level that is too low for cold storage, but you can adjust it by adding pails of water for evaporative cooling.
Building a Root Cellar in Your Yard
If you live in a suburban or a rural area, you may want to consider building a root cellar in your yard. This will allow you to have more space for storing root vegetables and other food items, and the temperature and humidity levels will be more consistent.
The disadvantage of building a root cellar in your yard is that it may be difficult to access if you have a lot of snow or if the weather is inclement. Likewise, you may need to get permits from the local municipality before beginning your root cellar work.
Building an Above Ground Root Cellar
You can build an above ground root cellar by excavating a large hole that is at least four feet deep. The walls of the hole should be lined with cinder blocks or bricks. The floor of the root cellar should be made of concrete. A ventilation system should be installed to keep the air circulating and to prevent mold and mildew from growing. You can do this by using solar panels to power fans that will keep the air from stagnating and your produce from rotting.
Although some people choose storing veggies in a root cellar with a dirt or sand floor, the problem is your different crops will attract vermin. This is why it’s important to seal the floor and gaps between it and the walls in your root cellar work. Otherwise, critters may spoil your vegetables.
Geographic Considerations for Building Root Cellars in the United States
The best region for building root cellar storage in the United States is the Northeast. The Northeast has a cool climate and good soil drainage. Other regions that are conducive for root cellars include the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, and the Midwest.
If you live in warmer climates, you may be wondering how to build a root cellar in the South. The most important consideration for building a root cellar in the South is the warmer climate. The South’s warmer temperatures can make it difficult to store fruits and vegetables. One way to overcome this challenge is to build an above-ground root cellar and plan on keeping your fruits and vegetables there only when there are cooler temperatures. Some options for you might include repurposing a storm shelter or shed.
Choosing the Right Shelving/ Equipment
When choosing flooring for your root cellar, it is important to choose material that is durable and will not rot. Some good options include cinder blocks, brick, or stone. Most people prefer wood shelving with enough slats to allow air to circulate.
It is also important to choose shelves that are the right size for your space. If you are storing large items like pumpkins and winter squash, you will need to choose shelves that are big enough to accommodate them. Smaller items can be stored on wire racks or in baskets.
Some of the most common pieces of equipment include a refrigerator thermometer, a humidifier, a hydrometer, and insulating materials.
A refrigerator thermometer will help you monitor the temperature in your root cellar, while a humidifier will add moisture to the air and prevent produce from drying out. A hydrometer is used to measure the humidity level in your root cellar, and insulating materials can be used to keep the cold in during the winter months.
Alternative Methods of Long Term Storage
If you are looking for an alternative to traditional root cellars, you may want to consider a walk-in cooler. Walk-in coolers are becoming increasingly popular because they offer many of the same benefits as root cellars, but they are easier to maintain and can be used year-round.
Some people dig a hole and install a metal garbage can to store their food.
Another option is to use an old refrigerator or freezer. If you choose this method, it is important to make sure that the seal on the door is still tight and that there are no holes in the walls or ceiling of the fridge.
You can also build a solar food dryer, which uses the sun’s heat to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. Solar food dryers are a great option if you live in a sunny climate and have plenty of space to set one up.
The modern root cellar is an essential part of any homesteading or self-sufficient lifestyle. If you are interested in building a modern root cellar, we hope this blog post has been helpful. By following these tips, you can build a root cellar that will serve you well for many years to come.
Happy root cellaring!