Root Cellar Basics
Good for more than rootsHere is a list of produce that can be stored in a root cellar: Root cellars are also great for storing your canned produce, juices, home-brewed beer and wine, cured meats, and aged cheeses.
Designing your cellar
Before you begin to build, you’ll need to figure out what conditions each of your fruits and veggies need stored at. Take a look at that chart again… anything that is of similar temperature and humidity requirements can be stored together, so long as you don’t mix anything that produces an odor with anything else (such as by keeping the odor-producers near a vent or in a sealed container), and don’t mix ethylene producing foods with root vegetables. Ethylene gas can cause the potatoes to sprout and the roots to spoil. If storing in the same room, put the ethylene-producer on a top shelf near to a vent, and the tubers and roots at ground level. You may want to keep the roots or the ethylene-producer in a sealed container to block the passage of the gas; however be careful of mold growth inside the container if using this storage option.
The basic principle of a root cellar is to keep the storage area cool and dark all year long, without freezing. If you have a suitably cool space in your basement, garage or other existing building, this can also function as a root cellar. If you live in an area with mild winters, you may not be able to build a sufficiently cool cellar for some items without artificial cooling. If you live in the tundra, you may need to provide extra insulation.
There are many plans available in books and online; since each root cellar is unique in its location and use, it is a good idea to look at several designs to select the one that will work best for you. But how can you design one root cellar with all those temperature and humidity levels in one room? When you are planning your cellar and tracking temperature and humidity in your storage space, don’t forget that heat rises! By building shelves on the walls, you can instantly create a range of temperatures to store your different veggies. There may also be natural variations in the room, especially near doors, windows and vents, or on the north side versus the south side of the room. You can preserve moisture and create a naturally humid micro-climate by storing the veggies that need it inside a sealed or perforated plastic tub or individual bags (like the bags with little holes that as potatoes are sold in at the grocery store). Or if your room is already humid, you can make drier micro-climates by storing the veggies that need it in sealed containers with moisture absorbing materials such as a cup of white rice in a brown bag: the rice will readily absorb the moisture from the air, and the brown bag keeps it from getting mixed up with your produce.