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Vegetable Storage: Getting to the Root of the Problem

Here is a hypothetical situation that some of you may have thought about in the past. You are self-sufficient, either relying very little or not at all upon pre-packaged food. In point of fact, you grow your own. Living off the grid as you do, this makes your life easier. If you have ever wanted to cut the shackles of the grocery store and its processed, chemical and preservative-laden food, then you are in luck. There is a way you can do this, keeping your larder full and furthering your independence from local and municipal goods and services. Gardens are all well and good, but one avenue you might consider, if you have not done so already, is the root cellar. The root cellar provides a stable, year-round foundation from which you can store a wide variety of produce; many of the vegetables you find in a store or farmer’s market can be stored in a root cellar. But first, the basics.

Building a Root Cellar

What kind of root cellar suits you best? There is neither just one way to build a root cellar, nor is there a required size. Both the orientation of the cellar and its size depend upon you – your space and your needs. The very nature of the cellar lends itself to adaptation. In all permutations, one thing is constant however: the earth that surrounds it. When deciding on the size of your cellar, consider these factors: Is it for your use only or do you intend to sell some of it? Do you have a family? Are you looking to barter some of your produce? All of the above? A simple 5 foot x 8 foot cellar provides ample room for one person. An 8 x 8 offers enough room for the average off-the-grid family. Additionally a 10 x 10 offers more than enough room for anything that you might wish to store, whether for consumption or resale. As far as cellar placement is concerned, if you:

Build your cellar into a hillside

Conversely, you could:

Build your cellar on flat ground

Last, but certainly by no means least, you can integrate your root cellar into your home’s construction. If you have a basement, it would be fairly simple to add the cellar by way of an adjoining door. As with any cellar type, adequate reinforcement and insulation are important. If you do not have a basement but do have other outbuildings on your property, you can repurpose them if they are otherwise unused.

Building and Flooring Materials

When it comes to the bits and pieces of your cellar, your choices are nearly endless but they are as important as the location of the cellar itself. Wood, cement, gravel, dirt – all are good choices, all have their good and bad points as well. Three viable cellar construction materials are: wood, cement and as a dug out. Dug outs are the cheapest to build but potentially the most problematic if adequate insulation is overlooked. In the case of wood, whether for shelving or construction, you must be certain to use pressure treated lumber as this will help the wood stave off mold, rot and related deterioration. Cement is perhaps the most expensive, but also the least likely to fail or create problems later on down the line when it comes to adverse conditions in the cellar. In the case of flooring, you have a few options as well.

Dirt: Simple, cheap. Superb for humidity control, but messy

Gravel: In a highly dry or damp area, a few inches (three is best) of gravel works great for purposes of siphoning off excess moisture

Wood: When placing pressure-treated lumber, give it ample room to expand, as it will do in a humid cellar

Cement: Absolutely fantastic for a cellar with lower humidity

Mix and match: If your cellar crop is fairly diverse, where one crop requires things to be one way, and another crop requires something else, you would do well to consider having two rooms – one with a dirt or gravel floor for crops requiring a humid environment, while the second room might have a cement floor for those crops requiring a dryer environment.

Using and Maintaining your Cellar

One inclusion that some growers overlook, but that is nevertheless of vital importance (even though older cellars may not have them), are the addition of vents. Many fruits and vegetables give off gas as they ripen. Without proper ventilation to draw away this gas and draw in fresh air, your delectable goodies will spoil. Here are some other tips that you can put to good use in order to keep your cellar operating at peak efficiency and to ensure that your prized crops reach their full potential.


Living in a self-sufficient manner really is more attainable than you might think. Being able to forswear the grocery store’s produce in favor of your own (superior) homegrown goods is a wonderful feeling. When you are savoring your favorite tubers, your most delectable greens, and your juiciest fruits as your friends complain of substandard fare in the produce section of their local market, you can rest comfortably knowing that you have made the right decision.

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