Our ancestors didn't have supermarkets. They had to grow and store all of their own food. In order to do so, root cellars were a necessity. While no longer an absolute necessity, root cellars are still pretty cool. And, they are not particularly difficult to build.
My husband built our root cellar when we put an addition on our house. He dug down to the ledge, built up the sides with concrete blocks and poured a cement floor. He then continued on with the addition, putting a trap door in the floor.
Root Cellaring Basics
Not planning to build an addition soon? No problem. If you have a basement, you are already almost there. If your basement stays cool, but doesn't freeze, all you have to do is make a critter-free space. If your basement is heated, there needs to be a little more planning.
Pick a corner far away from the heat source that has earth on the outside of the walls. Build a room using these two walls and adding two more. Put some insulation on the inside of the new walls. Insert a door and create some shelves. And you are in business!
Beets, carrots, turnips and potatoes are ideal candidates for a root cellar. Potatoes need to be dry so set them in the Sun or on a porch for about twenty minutes.
Don't leave them in the sun for too long as they will turn green and become inedible.
Sort through them and remove any that are dinged, cut or partially eaten to be used first.
Brush the rest off gently and place in a milk crate. These can then go directly into the root cellar. Just be careful not to pile them too high. The weight can mush the ones on the bottom, starting a rot that will eventually spoil them all.
Beets, carrots and turnips should also be dry. Dig them up, remove most of the top (all but about an inch) and set them out for about twenty minutes.
Again, don't leave them in the sun for too long — carrots will turn green and become inedible. Sometimes carrots have a green top from pushing up out of the ground when growing. These can still be stored, just don't eat the green parts when using them. Put aside the ones that aren't perfect to be eaten soon. Dust the rest gently.
Take a clean 5-gallon bucket and place a layer of wood shavings on the bottom. Spritz very lightly. Place the veggies on top, not touching each other.
Cover with wood chips and repeat until the bucket is full. Put on a lid and move it into the root cellar.
Celeste Longacre and her husband, Bob, have lived sustainably for more than 35 years. They grow almost all of their vegetables for the year and preserve them by freezing, canning, drying and using a home -built root cellar. Celeste ferments much of the couple’s produce and makes her own sauerkraut, kimchee, and fruit and beet kvass. She is the author of Celeste’s Garden Delights and writes a gardening blog for The Old Farmer’s Almanac. For more information, visit Celeste’s website, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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