Getting to the root of root cellars!

Today we are going to take a look at the root cellar and its uses as well as creating your own root cellar for SHTF. Improvised root cellars can be made in many ways and their value should not be overlooked both now and after SHTF hits. First we will look at their history and then exactly what value they provide. Finely we will look at constructing a root cellar using common everyday items, so let’s get started.

The uses of root cellars are as old as man himself, in fact many animals bury their food below the ground to save it for later use, so I would guess man got the idea from them.  It is a simple idea really. You store food in a cool dry place so that the temperature helps preserve it longer than normal. A root cellar keeps the food from freezing in the winter and from getting too hot in the summer. The hope is to keep it at a constant temperature and humidity. Items such as potatoes, Carrots, and Onions, as well as salt meat, canned vegetables are also often kept in a root cellar to make them last longer. Root cellars also make an excellent place for storing wine and homemade liquor. It is not unusual for a house to have more than one root cellar for separating items such as fruits, and eggs for later use.  Go back 200 years and almost every home had at least one or two root cellars. They were a necessity in the days before refrigerators and may become again once SHTF hits.

So….what exactly is a root cellar you might ask? Well, in its simplest form it is an underground enclosure with no windows to let light in because light can cause the temperature to vary and make the products go bad prematurely.  Most of us think of a root cellar as being a room underground, but that is not always the case. In some cases it is just a container of some type that can hold items at a constant temperature and keep them dry at the same time. I have seen people use old ice chest buried under the ground to hold items when a large room is not particle. In places with a high water table for example, a room underground would quickly fill with water and become unusable. In rural South Texas and Louisiana, they often build what is call a Potato house or a Potato Shed for storing potatoes until they are ready to be used. I still remember the one we had back on the farm where I grew up. It was shaped like the top of a house and sitting on the ground. It was filled with old dried corn husk on the ground beneath it and the potatoes were simply spread out on top of them. By doing this, they would last for months. It is still amazing to me that such a simple idea works so well.

So how can I make a root cellar in my back yard you may ask? Well it is really quite simple and easy to do here are the basic steps.

  1. Locate a good place where there are little or no rocks in the ground as this will make digging a lot easier. If you have no place without a large amount of rocks, you may want to consider building one on the top of the ground and then covering is with a few feet of dirt to help stabilize the internal temperature.
  2. Depending on how big you want to build it, you will need to find a waterproof container with a lid that you can seal. You do not want water to get into your root cellar at any cost as it will quickly cause your items to mildew and go bad. Items that can be used for this are old Ice chest, new plastic or metal trash cans, and even wooden crates that have been wrapped in plastic sheeting.
  3. Cover the bottom of your container with dried material so that it can absorb any moisture that may develop. Things that you could use would be like corn husk, pine straw, saw dust and hay. I have even heard of people lining the bottom of very small root cellars with dry rice to help control the humidity.   Whatever you decide to use, just remember that it needs to be able to absorb any extra moisture in your root cellar.
  4. Place your container in the ground and place your items in it. Be sure that the items don’t touch each other at any point and are spread out so air can get to all sides of them. If you are only putting canned goods in your root cellar, then touching is not an issue. 🙂
  5. Cover them with earth and mark the site where you put them well. You can also build your root cellar into the side of a hill to make it easier to access.

While it would be a pain to have to dig these up every time you need a few items from it, in an SHTF situation it may be the only way to make your vegetables last for long periods of time.  Caves are also natural root cellars and should be used when available. If you have the time, space and the inclination to dig a full size root cellar, then it will be well worth it in the end. A common idea that I hear from my readers is to bury a metal shipping container under the ground to use it as a root cellar which is what I plan to do at my retreat.

For more information on how to build a root cellar, check out these books!

Any way you slice it, root cellars are a great investment and well worth the cost and investment in time and money. I hope this answers some of your questions on root cellars and if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Well that is it for today and hopefully I have you thinking about creating your own root cellar in the near future. So until next time, just remember that prepping is a direction of travel and not a destination.

-The Sargent-

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