Roots Cellars

Pushed aside by the development of refrigeration technology, root cellars made a comeback among homesteaders in the 1970s and 80s.

| July/August 1980

  • 064 root cellars - diagram3
    Cross section of Roberts' root cellar.
  • 064 root cellars - exiting2
    Root cellars can preserve a bushel of apples for months.
  • 064 root cellars - potatoes2
    Potatoes also keep well in a root cellar. 
  • 064 root cellars - wine2
    As long as a cellar remains above 40° F, wine will keep as well.
  • 064 root cellars - kid in cellar2
    Squash emerging from winter slumber.

  • 064 root cellars - diagram3
  • 064 root cellars - exiting2
  • 064 root cellars - potatoes2
  • 064 root cellars - wine2
  • 064 root cellars - kid in cellar2

A refrigerator in spring and summer, a safe-from-freezing pantry in fall and winter, and a man-made cave dug into a hillside and sealed shut with thick double doors ... root cellars were all of those things.

Not long ago, just about every family living in the world's colder climes had one of the harvest keepers. Nestled in the earth—and away from the heat of the kitchen—a root cellar maintained a temperature just above freezing and provided a practical storage bin for root crops, apples, meats, cabbages, and other goods ... throughout a long winter.

Of course, the heyday of the homestead food storer ended a good while ago. When folks gained access to refrigerators and supermarkets, the root cellar was pretty much forgotten. In fact, by the time I was a lad, all the food houses in our area had long since been abandoned. The deteriorating structures were used only by us youngsters ... as "secret" forts.

Nowadays, though, there's been a revival of interest in practical, inexpensive ways of putting up food. More and more people are rediscovering the wisdom of constructing a place to store unprocessed, homegrown edibles. And, even though building a cellar requires a fair investment in labor and materials, the finished shelter uses absolutely no operating energy and demands no maintenance or upkeep.

My father, Ted Roberts, recently built a root cellar in Three Lakes, Wisconsin. Dad started the project by excavating an 8' X 8' X 20' cavern using a backhoe.

The bottom of the cellar was lined with sand for drainage purposes. When building the walls, though, father laid a concrete base that had an upwardly protruding inner lip. The L-shaped foundation would both support the weight of the cedar log walls and brace the base of those rounds against the tons of sideways "cavein" pressure the earth-banked structure would be exposed to.

George Cuellar
11/2/2013 11:25:37 AM

This is wonderful, but what can I build in deep South Texas where is is seldom even cool; but is always hot.



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