What’s In Season Now: Your Root Cellar

October 20, 2015 at 7:15 am

Make Your Own Root Cellar/Store Your Own Food


What’s in season now is the food you need for later. Is your cellar stocked? Putting up and having food for the leaner times is an ongoing process. Maybe you turned last Spring’s ramps into pickles and made jam from summer peaches, but now is an especially good time to think long term. First of all, the foods in season now, from hard squash to apples, store. Second, with cooler weather settling in, the conditions for root cellaring are in play. You do not even need a root cellar to play. Review what we’ve posted before for guidance.

As our classic Making the Most of the Seasonal Bounty post shows, there are many ways to approch eating local later.  Canning gets attention, but it is best used for frills, condiments, food around the edges.  Freeze, but you also change the nature of the item, leaving it soft and drippy.  Only cold storage keeps things close to nature.  It hardly requires work, but it is the preservation method probably least used in urban-suburban homes.  It’s not very complicated.   


Store your own food. It is an easy way to ensure supplies of local food into the fall, winter and beyond. While most of us have no root cellar to store our foods, we can create the conditions of root cellars. For most of your food, you need someplace pretty cold and moist.  For the rest of your food, you need someplace cold and dry. Except for squashes, which can be pretty much stored as decorations. See our ideas for creating your own root cellar. Please also share with us your ideas and experiences.

COLD & MOIST – The following foods should be stored as cold as possible, between 32 and 40 degrees. They should also be kept in moist conditions. Potatoes, most root vegetables including turnips, beets, carrots, rutabagas, etc.; cabbage, apples

COLD BUT DRY – The following foods need to be stored in a cool but dry area: onions, garlic


The key to storage is to 1) find some place in your house/apartment that has those conditions 2) create those conditions 3) construct those conditions.

  1. Some place in your house – Maybe you are lucky enough to have a genuine root cellar in your house.  Maybe all you have to do is pry open a long sealed door to find it.  Maybe.  Still, many houses without true root cellars have spaces that can serve as very serviceable root cellars.  Look to your attics or crawlspaces first, you may find they meet your needs.  Does your basement have unheated areas?  Canning rooms?  Be creative.  What about a window well, which works well?  Remember, store based on your conditions.  If you have a space that is a bit cold, but not that cold, store only onions and squash.  If you have colder areas, you can store potatoes, apples, etc.
  2. Create a root cellar – There are several ways you can create the conditions of a root cellar.  The two easy ways are to put your food in your refrigerator and put your food in coolers.  A refrigerator has the cold part down, yet fridges tend to be dry.  Find ways to keep stored food moist such as wrapping in wet cloth or keeping in sand.  A cooler can be kept outside, like on a deck or in a garage.  Find a place for the cooler that lets it draw some heat from your house.  You do not want to food to freeze.  A cooler can also be dragged around or dragged in depending on outside conditions.
  3. Construct your own root cellar – A little googling will find you plenty of design options for building your own root cellar on your property.  Survivalist sites are good places to start!  If you have the land and tools, it’s not a bad idea.  Still, there are also designs out there for quasi-root cellars that amount to mostly digging a hole in the ground.  I especially like this idea of burying a garbage can. [ed. do young people even know what garbage cans are?]

Want to do more research, this 1966 guide from the USDA is pretty cool.   Here’s something a bit more modern from Michigan State University.

Few spaces come these days with root cellars.  Figure out how to make your own then.  You will be rewarded with a supply of local food for many months.  And one more piece that’s old, long and complicated.

Please share you root cellar ideas and tell us what you are doing to eat local this winter.