The Beginning of a Root Cellar

Reader Contribution by Bethann Weick
1 / 3
2 / 3
3 / 3

It was a Saturday in mid-July when we started on our root cellar. A few days prior I had gone out with loppers in hand and cut back the brambles and cherry sprouts that were hiding the old cellar hole. Having caved in on all but the east side, and having spent decades filling in with rocks, tree limbs, humus, and leaves, it was more of a chaotic depression in the ground than a cellar hole.  

But a cellar hole is what we hoped to make of it.  With shovels, rock bars, and a pick axe, Ryan and I, joined by our friend Chris (who deserves all manner of accolades for his role in this), faced the site. With a bountiful garden expanding every year, we needed a reliable way to store  winter crops — potatoes, carrots, turnips, beets, and cabbage. Onions, garlic, and squash could safely be stored indoors, but the others needed a cool, damp place to last until the spring. A root cellar was essential, and with no means to bring machinery to the property, our only option was to dig it by hand. We hoped that choosing the old cellar site would give us an advantage for easy digging, but we knew better than to be too optimistic.

Thus, for the better part of one very hot day, we shoveled dirt, axed roots, pried, dug, and rolled rocks, and extricated old bricks and the usual assortment of pottery and metal objects.  We made great headway, but it was also clear how much more we had to do.  The mess of boulders from the collapsed north wall had yet to be dug and removed, and a number of large rocks on the “floor” would require a borrowed griphoist to get out.  Not to mention that the hole would have to be squared out to approximately 11’ x 7’ (cellar will be roughly 10’ x 6’) and dug down another foot or so.

But then, the summer got busier than we could keep up with.  Ryan and I spent an afternoon moving rocks, but other than that we had to let it sit as other duties took our time and energy. Until now.  With Ryan away, and a weekend to myself at home, the root cellar beckoned.  I gave some time to the garden, and some to splitting and stacking wood, but it was with enthusiasm – and a bit of trepidation – that I finally climbed my way into the hole.  Shovel by shovelful, I dug my way deeper. Bent buckles, rusty nails, machine parts, broken plates, a twisted fork, layers of ash and brick; I was digging our future through another family’s past. There were plenty more rocks – big rocks! – and I levered them out as I found each in turn. A few still remain for which I’ll need the griphoist to move.

It was cloudy, but humid, and I was sweating hard even as my progress was slow. Head down, my world became the hues of grays, browns, blacks, and burnt umbers that defined the layers of dirt, humus, sand, ash, charcoal, and brick shards that I worked through. Though not yet done, I called it a day as my arms grew weary and my stomach rumbled for dinner. Clambering out of the site, I chuckled, somehow surprised to see the pinks, whites, yellows, oranges, and bright greens of the garden. Though thinking of winter and the need to store and preserve all the edibles we can, I was reminded that the verdant beauty of summer is still strong.  Hopefully we’ll have enough time through this autumn to complete the cellar, a little treasure box that will hold the prizes of the summer all through the winter.

Garden work is my specialty!  Weeding, planting, mulching and pruning services available, plus edible landscapes and garden designs. Contact Beth viab.a.weick@gmail.comfor your annual, perennial, herbal, or ornamental garden needs (see Business Directory listing under ‘Garden Design & Services’).