Building a cellar can be a daunting task, but I found that it’s well worth the effort. The size and construction preferences are different for everyone. Some cellar systems are nothing more than a buried metal trash can and others are rooms with concrete floors and shelving. No matter what the perfect cellar system is, the first steps are the same.
Budget and Needs Assessment
If I am a single person looking to store just enough vegetables to last through winter, burying metal cans is the best answer for me. Large families need more. Decide how much space is needed. Do not forget to account for the space you need to store any non-food items. Think medications and first aid supplies.
More often than not, your finances determine how much you can get done. Determining the budget for a project and making that budget fit what I want to do can take some creativity. Shop at local home stores, then go online and look for sign up discounts or coupons for percentage off. Coupon codes can make the difference in being able to put in extra shelving or better ventilation.
Cellars need to be at least 10 foot underground to get the most stable temperature and moisture to optimize the storage of fresh food. Moisture content anywhere above 85% to 95% is ideal. Anything less than those percentages will leave food dry and you will see wrinkled skin on your fruit and veggies and experience food loss.
Outdoor cellars work best with dirt floors. The floors should be packed earth, not loose dirt. Stay away from trees when you build your cellar. Roots grow and can compromise the integrity of walls in a dirt cellar. Use wood shelving. Wood does not conduct heat or fluctuate in temperature the way that metal does. Metal stabilizing poles are fine, but don’t use metal to store food on.
Concrete floors are better in an attached cellar like a basement. A great place to convert to a cellar is cisterns that were built on to homes outside city limits in the Southeast US in the 1950-70’s. I‘m not talking about farmhouses, these homes could be less than 500 feet outside city limits. In the 1980’s most of these homes stopped using cisterns once the city annexed their neighborhood or county water became available. These cisterns dried up and became the perfect place to use as a root cellar.
Cisterns were built with a block wall separating the water reservoir from the basement. By knocking out a doorway and modifying the existing ventilation, you can get a large root cellar with minimal investment.
For ventilation you need two pipes coming from your cellar. One needs to be high up in the cellar to vent gasses and warm air. The other pipe will come in lower to the ground to introduce cooler air thus stabilizing the airflow within the unit.
I highly recommend investing time into building a cellar. Having a cool place to store some produce and the foods you’ve canned is important, especially if you have no basement or your basement doesn’t stay cool. Check out “The Complete Root Cellar Book” by Steve Maxwell and Jennifer Mackenzie. It has detailed plans and tips to successfully build a cellar.
To your survival,