Although these days you may only see root cellars in horror films, root cellars were once a way of life. For our ancestors, a root cellar would have meant the difference between feeding your family and starving to death.
But root cellars have practical applications, even in our age of refrigeration. If the power went out, do you know how your family would preserve fruits and vegetables? Perhaps an icebox? That would require a lot of work to get enough ice to keep everything cool, and chances are that if your fridge doesn’t work, businesses in your vicinity won’t have ice, anyway.
Root cellars are the answer. They have been around for hundreds of years as an easy and sustainable way of keeping fruits and vegetables cool and fresh.
A root cellar is a structure built at least partially underground and used to store fruits and vegetables. Root cellars are used to keep food from freezing in the winter and to keep it cool during the summer. Some people also use root cellars to store wine. Generally, vegetables kept in root cellars consist of fall vegetables such as turnips, potatoes and carrots. Back when root cellars were at their peak, you could often find beer or wine keeping cool among the veggies.
If you have a small home or just not enough storage space for your harvest or preserves, a root cellar is a great alternative. Even if you aren’t an avid gardener, your root cellar can be used to store your weekly groceries such as water, bread, butter, milk and cream for short periods of time.
Constructing a cellar is relatively simple and can be as large or small as you need. Simply put, you just dig a big hole and erect a structure to store your produce. You can build a shed-like structure from scratch, or, if you don’t need a structure quite that large, you can also use reclaimed items such as an old refrigerator or an insulated trash can and bury it in the ground. These types of root cellars are popular.
If you have enough space in your home, you might want to consider building an indoor root cellar. Ideally, your indoor root cellar or cold room should be in a basement, and preferably in the corner so as to take advantage of two cold walls. Frame it out just as you would any other room in the house and put the insulation on the outside of the room.
Keep in mind that while you are building your root cellar indoors or out, you need to have proper ventilation. The warm air will float to the top and needs to be vented. Proper ventilation will also keep away unwanted moisture that will rot away certain fruits and veggies that are moisture-sensitive, like squash. Also, because light can speed up the decomposition of your produce, you’ll want to make sure there is as little light as possible making its way into the root cellar.
Basically, you need to dig it out, keep out the sun, and whisk away any unwanted hot air and moisture that could prematurely decompose your veggies. Generally, it is more advantageous to store homegrown fruits and vegetables in your root cellar because they will last a lot longer than the store-bought variety. But don’t wash your vegetables. The vegetables will have a coating on the outside that keeps them fresher longer.
Pretty much whatever your situation, there is a root cellar for you. It may be an underground shelter with room for all your veggies and your family, or it could be a cooler buried in the ground. No matter what it is, caring for a root cellar is a skill that will keep your food fresh longer.
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