Root Cellars 101
When I think of root cellars, scary movies, and the boogeyman come to mind. But root cellars are not just for scary movies. They come in handy when you need to store your garden harvests through the winter.
History of Root Cellars
Some of the oldest root cellars are 40,000 years old. Basic food preservation of burying perishable items in the ground led the way to walk-in root cellars. Walk-in root cellars became popular in New England in the 17th century. People used root cellars extensively until the invention of refrigeration.
How They Work
The cellars use the natural refrigeration the earth provides to keep vegetables and canned goods cool. If you have ever been down in a cellar, you know that it is humid and dark. This humidity keeps a bit of moisture in the air for the root vegetables as well. Think about where the root vegetables matured – in the dirt. A root cellar provides the same kind of environment.
What Is Needed to Have a Successful Root Cellar
Ideally, a root cellar would stay between 32º to 40ºF. Keeping the vegetables at cool temperatures slows down the escape of gas from the foods. It also inhibits the growth of microorganisms.
The humidity range is between 85% and 95%. The high humidity halts the release of moisture from the vegetables. When vegetables lose water, they dry out and become wrinkled.
Since humidity is high in root cellars, ventilation is critical. Mold grows when humidity is high. Air circulating in the cellar keeps mold at bay.
Some fruits and vegetables release ethylene gas. These gases cause other fruits and vegetables to overripen, causing them to go bad quickly.
When fruits or vegetables get sunlight, they sprout. Root cellars must be dark to avoid sprouting.
Types of Root Cellars
Traditional Basement Root Cellar
A basement root cellar is what I think of when I think of a root cellar. A door leads you down a dark stairway to shelves of stored foods. It is accessible from the outside.
A Hole-in-the-Ground Cellar
A hole-in-the-ground cellar is just like it sounds. A hole is dug in the side of a slope or hill or dug down into the ground.
A pit cellar is a garbage can or other round barrel buried in the ground. A thick layer of straw is placed around the vegetables. After the top is placed on the can, straw is layered on top with a plastic sheet. This layering of plastic and straw keeps rainwater and animals out of the cellar.
Food Storage Requirements
Check out the link below for vegetables and fruits and their requirements for storage in a root cellar.
Root cellars are beneficial if you have a lot of vegetables or canned goods to store. Do you have a root cellar?
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Root Cellars 101
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I’ve always loved gardening and recently started gardening full-time. I also enjoy tending to our chickens, dogs, and other family pets (a bird, a snake, and rabbits).