The Fundamentals of Root Cellaring

Root cellaring can help you enjoy fresh produce all year long.

| August/September 1991

Root cellars are as useful today as ever. In fact, root cellars in all forms are very up-to-date, what with the costs of food and its processing getting higher every year. As we see it, root cellars are right up there with wood heat, bicycles and backyard gardens as a simple, low-technology way of living well — independently.

The term "root cellars," as used here, includes the whole range of ingenious vegetable-saving techniques, from hillside caves to garden trenches. The traditional root cellar is an underground storage space for vegetables and fruits. Where space and lay of the land permit, these cellars are dug into a hill and then lined with brick, stone or concrete block. Dirt-floored or insulated basement rooms — less picturesque but probably more numerous — are also traditional.

What can root cellaring do for you? Simply this: make it possible for you to enjoy fresh endive in December; tender, savory Chinese cabbage in January; juicy apples in February; crisp carrots in March; and sturdy, unsprayed potatoes in April — all without boiling a jar, blanching a vegetable or filling a freezer bag. A root cellar can save you time, money and supplies. How? For starters, our gas and electric bills were lower because I was not heating 2-gallon kettles of water for canning, I was stuffing less into the freezer, and I didn't need to buy new jar lids or freezer bags.

Storage vegetables needn't be limited to those old standbys: carrots, potatoes and turnips. With a really well-planned root cellar program, fresh tomatoes, tender dandelion shoots, nuts, pears, sweet potatoes and even cantaloupes can be preserved. Even if you must buy some produce, you'll find prices of storage vegetables are usually lowest in the fall. If squash is 25 cents a pound at a roadside stand in October, you can be sure it will cost much more than that at the market in January.

More important, it is good to be able to provide for yourself, to be prepared for the winter through your own skill and forethought with your own home-grown produce. If you like to choose your food with care and live simply and self-reliantly, perhaps root cellaring is for you.

Root Cellaring Basics

There are three basic conditions a root cellar should provide. The closer you come to matching these ideal conditions in your vegetable-storage area, the better your vegetables will keep.

3/21/2014 3:23:13 AM

Regarding an article written on using defective septic tanks for root cellars, building a root cellar from cement block may be more practical- cheaper than spending $1500+ for a septic unit and still paying for transport and placement costs of the unit. Building from block allows you to also dictate the size that works best for you, and to plan for doors and vents fairly easily.

3/21/2014 3:19:51 AM

Regarding the article written about using defective septic tanks for root cellars, building a root cellar from block, rebar and cement may be more practical and cheaper than spending $1500+ for a septic unit and having to pay for transport and placement costs of the unit as well. Building it out of block allows you to dictate the size that works best for you as well, and to plan for doors and vents fairly easily.

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