Build a Root Cellar: A Complete Guidebook

If you’re aiming to save money, live a more sustainable life, or simply stock up on the best-quality produce from farmers markets, a root cellar can be a wise addition to your country, suburban or even urban homestead.
By Vicki Mattern
August/September 2011
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Root cellars allow you to enjoy a year-round supply of fresh food.
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Root cellars — a common feature of early American homes — are gaining new favor as food and energy prices surge, and also as homeowners discover how much better locally grown produce tastes. Whether you garden or buy in bulk at your local farmers market, you can enjoy fresh carrots, cabbage, beets, potatoes, apples, grapes and lots more year-round if you create a space with the right temperature and humidity. You can go so far as to make an insulated room in your basement — complete with ventilation controls — or you can simply start with a barrel buried in the ground.

No matter the type of root cellar you choose, The Complete Root Cellar Book by Steve Maxwell and Jennifer MacKenzie is a comprehensive guidebook that will help you construct and use these smart, money-saving structures. The authors contend that anyone, anywhere, can and should have a root cellar. “Root cellars help make the most of your food dollar by allowing you to stock up at low prices during seasonal harvests,” writes Maxwell, an award-winning home improvement author and MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributing editor. What’s more, according to Maxwell, “Root cellars offer a lifestyle ... an opportunity to cultivate traditional skills and hone gourmet insights in a way that is both fulfilling and globally responsible.”

With a root cellar, you can keep bushels of homegrown or local heritage varieties of vegetables (not available in supermarkets) in optimum condition for months at a time using little or no energy. Imagine taking just a few steps from your kitchen to gather ‘Italian Bassano’ beets or ‘Maiden’s Blush’ apples anytime you want to prepare them, all winter long.

True to its title, the book is both broad and specific in addressing design basics, construction methods, and food harvest, storage and preparation. The first half of the book provides 30 easy-to-follow illustrated plans for creating standard cold rooms, basement root cellars, stand-alone underground root cellars, and even root cellars for condos, town homes and warm climates. It also offers simple outdoor cellaring options such as the “trench silo” and “garbage can cellar.”

A section on storage options explains how to create ideal conditions for more than 50 crops, from apples to zucchini. Maxwell even explains techniques such as braiding and hanging onions and garlic, and salting and storing green beans in ceramic crocks.

The second half of The Complete Root Cellar Book is the work of Jennifer MacKenzie, a professional home economist and author, who presents classic and innovative suggestions for using cellared food. You’ll find more than 100 recipes, such as Roasted Butternut Squash and Apple Soup With Sunflower Ravioli, and Beet and Sweet Potato Fries With Three-Pepper Mayo. MacKenzie also provides easy-to-digest instructions for making applesauce, sauerkraut and barrel-fermented dill pickles.

As Maxwell and MacKenzie put it, “There’s something hard-wired into the human heart that loves to lavish care and attention on food, and in turn to love food that has had care and attention lavished upon it.” The Complete Root Cellar Book will help you enjoy more of that lovingly produced food, while also saving money and living a more self-sufficient, sustainable life.

Look for an excerpt from The Complete Root Cellar Book in our October/November 2011 issue.


Vicki Mattern is a contributing editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine, book editor and freelance magazine writer. She has edited or co-authored seven books on gardening, and lives and works from her home in northwestern Montana. You can find Vicki on .


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