Building a Root Cellar

Building a root cellar took longer than the author thought, but once completed it was an effective structure for year-round food storage.

| September/October 1974

  • 029 building a root cellar 1 cover illustration
    Building a root cellar on this plan only cost its creators $164.
    PHOTO: JOE STEUBEN
  • 029 building a root cellar - construction 1
    The root cellar begun with an 8-by-12-foot hole in the ground and was constructed with old railroad ties laid on top of each other.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 029 building a root cellar - construction 2
    Although not visible here, adhesion of the concrete to both the timbers and the vestibule wall was insured by a number of large spikes driven into all mating surfaces.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 029 building a root cellar - 4 shelves
    Before the roof could go on, shelves had to be build and gravel brought in for flooring. 
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 029 building a root cellar - construction 3
    The contour of the grade dictated that the storage room's outer door be slanted at 45 degrees, with steps leading down into the vestibule and the inner door.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 029 building a root cellar - joanie in door
    Joanie posing in the entryway of the nearly completed cellar. Final touches, such as triming the eaves and overhang, can be added later.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 029 building a root cellar - snow
    A root cellar can store food in a mild climate even during extreme outdoor temperatures.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • 029 building a root cellar 1 cover illustration
  • 029 building a root cellar - construction 1
  • 029 building a root cellar - construction 2
  • 029 building a root cellar - 4 shelves
  • 029 building a root cellar - construction 3
  • 029 building a root cellar - joanie in door
  • 029 building a root cellar - snow

Our five-year search was over. We had found our home in the country: Sky Meadow, one hundred sixty acres of pasture, pines, junipers, bubbling springs, and a panoramic 60-mile view of valley, mountain, sky, and weather. It was nine months later before we took up residence in what — barring a subdivision and shopping center on the next section — will be our final move.

We arrived, grossly overloaded, on June 1, after three days of "unusually heavy" rains. The mile and a half of rutted tracks from the country road had turned into an impassable morass of adobe muck. A neighbor rancher down in the valley led us 12 miles through the forest on graveled logging roads to a spot only a quarter of a mile from the cabin. We packed in essentials and made camp, awaiting the drying of the roads.

While we waited out the three days of sunny, dry weather before the roads became passable, we explored our domain and planned our summer. The garden would go down there on that flat next to the orchard. We'd develop the spring uphill from the cabin first, and then the other two ... one for the garden and the other for the duck pond. One benefit of the cabin siding being off was that it would be easy to insulate and wire. We could get the poles for the deer fence over in that big stand of junipers on the east forty. I had to do something about that log shed before it collapsed. And building a root cellar where the old one had fallen in....

Where did the time go? Suddenly we were well into our second summer and Joanie kept complaining that if the root cellar wasn't completed soon we could split the turnips, rutabagas and kohlrabi and use them for cordwood. And I'd horse another 125-pound railroad tie into position and exclaim, "Only five more courses to go ... then comes the roof!"



The 8' X 12' hole at the brow of the hill had, in fact, been started over a year before. Willing summer visitors had wielded shovel, bar, and pick with fervor and vigor — for a few minutes — and then had suddenly become more interested in the beer in the spring box or the view or just conversation, the least of our needs during summer working weather.

Desultory stabs were made at "the hole" after the spring thaw but seemed to deepen it little. Other priorities beckoned: tilling, planting the garden, getting in next winter's wood (ideally done the prior spring), repairing winter damage to the road, clearing the last mile of the REA pole line, improving the big spring, digging 21 eight-foot-deep pole holes for the electricity and a few other miscellanea.

degan2011
3/21/2018 10:49:52 AM

This article, while informative is very outdated. Railroad ties cost $30 now. But I do like that they included beer as a budgetary line-item (which would be upwards of $100 in today's market. :)


ROBERTE
9/6/2013 7:50:04 AM

The root cellar article was great. Two things though; I wish you had labeled it as an archived article. When I saw the price list, I looked back and saw that it was from 1974. I'd start building one tomorrow if the prices were even close to the same. Second, any chance of doing a follow-up up with these folks to see how this has stood up for 40 years?







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