Food Preparation & Storage

Follow These 10 Steps to Build a Great Root Cellar

A root cellar is a marvel of simplicity and a staple of many a farmhouse. They have been in use for ages and ages. In the summer they keep foods cooler. In the winter they keep food from freezing. Best of all, they do all of this without using any power whatsoever.

The good folks at Homestead Notes have a great article on the subject: 10 Steps to Building a Great Root Cellar. This is something every homesteader should look into.

Ye Old Potato Cellar. Photo by U.S. Archives.

Here are the ten indispensable steps to building your own root cellar:

One. Temperature, Humidity, and Ventilation.

These are the three key elements of any root cellar. The cellar itself can be built out of just about any materials. They can be constructed with relative ease also. Just remember to dig deep enough for insulation. Keep the excess moisture at bay. And make sure the structure can breath.

Two. They really can be made from anything.

Homestead Notes recommends something as simple as a 50 gallon water storage tank. They also mention many other ordinary methods of construction. Use your imagination and what is readily at hand.

Three. Cover It Up.

If one decides on the ease of a used storage tank or box, just remember to cover it with about 1 foot of dirt. This is the easy way to get started while you are building a more elaborate housing. Or, the easy way might be the only way you need.

Four. Location, Location, Location.

The most important recommendation they offer for location is a site that has good drainage. They suggest the side of a hill. A cellar can be built under a house, under a porch, under a garden, out in the yard – just about anywhere. Just try to keep it from areas where water flows or accumulates.

Five. Excavation.

That means digging. And it might be a fine project for your kids, grandkids, or anyone else you can sucker into it. Think of Tom Sawyer and the whitewash! Renting a backhoe might be a good idea as they recommend a depth of four to ten feet.

Six. Ventilation.

Install two PVC pipes. One near the floor will usher in cooler air. The other, near the top, will allow for escape of gases and facilitate air turnover. Add screens to keep out the critters.

Seven. The Door.

Every cellar must have a door. This allows you to enter while keeping out the elements and the varmints. The Notes suggest a double-door, airlock like design for added insulation value.

Eight. The Floor.

Make your floor from gravel or concrete. This may depend on the soil conditions and weepage and on your budget. If need be one can add a little water on the floor to adjust the humidity.

Nine. Shelving.

The experts say wooden shelves beat metal ones. Wood helps control the temperature of the food stored in the cellar.

Ten. Gauging.

Add temperature and humidity gauges to track associated levels. This allows for effective control of climate conditions.

Please check out that original article. They even include a wealth of knowledge and advice from the University of Missouri Extension Office on properly storing food in root cellars. That information covers the following areas, in depth:

  • Temperature and humidity for various foods;
  • Mixing, matching and separating food types;
  • Storage of vegetables, fruits, spices, and prepared foods (even popcorn);
  • Storage in different seasons;
  • Odor control; and
  • Rot prevention.

To finish it off they have a link to a cool root cellar video:


Video by Kevin Robertson / YouTube.

Photo by Jessica Cortez / Getty.

So, aside from digging the hole (get friends to help!) building a quality root cellar is relatively easy. Once in place it will provide food security and peace of mind for the homestead. As noted in the video a cellar even makes a good storm shelter.

By following these tips you can build your own. Then, regardless of the season or the weather conditions, you can keep your food fresh and safe. And, post construction there is no added cost for the storage. This design does not rely on electricity or any source of power. It’s just dirt, air, and forget it! Consider adding one to your farm or homestead this fall.

Check out this off grid root cellar, that would make your grandma envious!

Perrin Lovett writes about freedom, firearms, and cigars (and everything else) at He is none too fond of government meddling.

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