Preserve Your Food in a Root Cellar

| 11/3/2015 2:28:00 PM

Tags: root cellars, food preservation, harvesting, food storage, James White, Pennsylvania,


Food preservation can be an energy-intensive proposition for any homesteader. If you freeze your harvest, you rely on electricity to keep those chest freezers running all winter long. You also risk losing everything if there’s a power outage and you don’t have a generator. Even if you do, it takes a lot of gas to keep that going nonstop, as well.

Luckily, lots of fall crops can be stored in a root cellar for a low-energy way to keep them crisp and fresh. This old-fashioned method of food preservation is one of the simplest ways to keep traditional storage crops like onions, winter squash, apples, pears and root vegetables like turnips, carrots and potatoes. These foods last for months in a cool, dark place, and a root cellar is a great project to make your homestead a little more green this winter.

Designing Your Root Cellar

In an old farmhouse, a root cellar may have been simply a dark corner in the cool basement. A windowless tone foundation and dirt floor mimicked natural conditions underground – the perfect environment for tricking root vegetables into thinking they were still at home in the garden.

Root cellars were also dug into the sides of hills or excavated in the ground, and this is still a good plan today if your house is too modern and well insulated to have a damp, cool basement. Choose a spot near enough to your kitchen that you’ll be able to access it easily during the winter. The area should have relatively sandy soil and drain well – a slope is ideal.

Consider how much room your crops would take up if stored in bins and barrels, and consider how large a room would be required to hold it all. A root cellar will basically be this underground room. You can line it with wooden shelves, but do make sure that it’s spacious enough to move around in. It’s better to go a little bigger than you think you may need – you never know when you’ll have a bumper crop!

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