The Root Cellar Floor The floor of the structure should be of sand or gravel to help keep things clean and dry. If you have clay soil place a few inches of gravel on top before starting your root cellar. The structure can be of framed material similar to building a house. The roof can …
Fruits and vegetables as well as canned goods could be stored without freezing for long periods of time in a root cellar. They were commonly called root cellars because they were primarily used to store root crops such as potatoes, onions, turnips, beets, carrots and parsnips.
Build Your own Root/Wine Cellar
Scanning old homesteads in my travels over the years revealed all kinds of legendary wonders and interesting artifacts. I also saw various kinds of root cellars in my time. Some were made of logs on top of the ground with dirt mounded over the top on two or three sides.
One abandoned root cellar had several jars of canned goods with glass lids still intact sitting on the shelf. I figure they were about 15 years old based on testimony from the neighbors. We never sampled the food but it was still good in color and most likely was good to eat. Such is the testament of a good root cellar. Canned goods with the newer tin lids may need to be stored elsewhere due to rust.
Root Cellar Preparation
Other cellars were underneath the house in a dirt basement with a trap door, usually in the pantry or kitchen area, with a ladder or stairs going down into the cellar (like at my grandmother’s house). Some had access from outside by means of a slanted porch with stairs leading down to it. Another cellar I observed in the prairies was an old dried-up large diameter well that was about 12 feet deep.
The secret in all of these root cellars was that each of them was surrounded by dirt or dug into the dirt to prevent freezing temperatures from entering. Above-ground cellars prevent flooding in wet areas.
Before you dig or plan your root cellar you may want to consider reading ‘Root Cellaring” by Mike and Nancy Bubel. They cover the subject well and it is highly recommended.
The first root cellars were usually dug with a shovel and some kind of pick. Today an excavator can make short work of digging either down into the ground or into a hill. A tractor with a bucket could also be used for above-ground digging into hillsides, but an excavator-hoe may well be worth the money spent in time savings. You can also build a root cellar above ground where there is plenty of rock, and mound dirt over top of the entire structure. If one has the money for the cost of the wood structure and a mound of dirt, the above ground root cellar will stay dry and and be easier to build in the long run.
A modern type of cellar is usually placed on the North east corner of the basement which would already have cement or treated framed walls. The inside wall structure only needs to be framed material and insulated to prevent heat from the house entering the cold room. The door should also be insulated. A vent should go to the outside wall to allow cold air to enter.
Root cellars could also be dug out a few feet from the supporting foundation in the crawl space under a home, then follow up by closing-off on the sides down to the ground level. Access can be a trap door or stairs leading under the house.
If neither of these options is available then the best way is to dig down anywhere that seems practical and build a frame or flat roof over it, and then back fill dirt completely over the structure. Many cellars are done this way and do well even in the far north where temperatures often fall below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
A root cellar for most families need only be 7-10 feet wide by 8-10 feet long. Larger cellars should be longer as opposed to wider to accommodate shorter roof spans by placing the timbers or logs span wise.
Homesteaders may want to consider using small logs, timbers or treated railway ties for the roof over their dug out area. The roof structure may be flat or truss type but should be strong enough to support two feet of dirt. A narrow hole works well for this if you are building a flat roof.
After the roof structure is completed, cover it with two layers of 6 mil black plastic, then cover with loose straw or screened loose topsoil. The object is to fill the initial layer with dirt that will not poke into the plastic. After the initial layer is on, mound it up with at least two feet of dirt and seed it with a grass mixture to prevent erosion.
It is wise to have two doors. The outside door does not need to be insulated and it may be hinged to the stair side wall area that opens upward to the ground, so as to shed water away from the door area. Covering it with tin is a good idea.
The other door is vertical, walking into the root cellar. This is accomplished by building at least one partially framed or cemented wall into the cellar. Lumber framing would be quicker, and treated lumber a wise choice for durability. Insulate this wall and door to ensure the heat or freezing temperatures stay out.
It is best to keep the floor dirt or gravel to provide the humidity needed for the vegetables being stored. If there is no humidity the food will shrivel prematurely. The vegetables may still be good to eat but their appearance turns a person off.
Providing one vent is good to release gases given off by the vegetables, and to let cold air in or hot air out. Two vents are better. One vent leads to the bottom of the cellar to let air in, and one on top to let air out. It may be necessary to close off the vents for cold spells with a rag or sponge.
Shelving could be made of slat material to provide air circulation or else leave airspace behind the shelves. Slatted boxes work well for potatoes and onions. Large bins may also be used. Shelving and bins keep food off the floor and act as insurance against flooding.
Years ago people did what they did because of hand labor and it was easier to install a root cellar in the basement of their home where it was convenient to access their foods and most people used electrical sump pumps when electricity was fairly inexpensive. Today, there is an increasing movement back to the …