How to Create a Root Cellar for Food Storage
THE IDEAL ROOT CELLAR
The produce is still alive – stored carbohydrates of energy is consumed in the presence of oxygen and produces heat and carbon dioxide. To maintain the proper “living” conditions, at least three variables need to be considered: temperature, humidity and ventilation.
Most cold tolerant or cool season crops will store best between 33 and 35F or just above freezing and up to 40F. Warm season crops sensitive to chilling injury (tomatoes, cucumbers, etc) are typically stored at temperatures above 50F unless processing, cooking or eating will occur shortly after removal from storage. The temperature needs to be actively monitored and managed and will vary with the quantity of produce in the space.
Most root and leafy crops will store best at high humidity (+80%) or moisture levels. Root crops like carrots need to be stored in some moist medium to maintain quality. Some crops like onion, garlic and winter squash store better at low humidity level (less than 60%). Moisture may need to be added by wetting the floor or walls with water depending on the construction methods.
Reasons for ventilation include: 1) removal of heat of respiration, 2) replenishing the oxygen supply, 3) removing volatile compounds from the produce that may effect flavor or sprouting like ethylene. The greater the density or amount of produce in the space, the more ventilation is needed. Ventilation or air tubes need to be planned prior to construction and place during construction.
Common storage categories are 1) cold dry, 2) cold moist, 3) cool dry, 4) cool moist. (source)
|Vegetables||Temp F.||% Humidity||Storage Time||Comments|
|Beets||32°||90–95||3 months||Leave 1-inch stem.|
|Brussels sprouts||32°||90–95||4 weeks||Wrap to avoid drying|
|Cabbage||38°||90–95||4 months||Late maturing varieties **|
|Carrots||32°||90–95||5 months||Top leaving ¼-inch stem *|
|Cauliflower||32°||85–90||3 weeks||Wrap in leaves *|
|Celery||32°||90–95||4 months||Dig with roots ***|
|Chinese cabbage 32°||90–95||2 months||Dig with roots ***|
|Cucumbers||50°||85–90||3 weeks||Waxed or moist packing *|
|Kohlrabi||38°||90–95||3 months||Trim leaves *|
|Onions||32°||55–60||8 months||Dry for two weeks.|
|Parsnip||32°||90–95||6 months||Top leaving ¼-inch stem *|
|Potatoes||38°||85–90||8 months||Pack in boxes unwashed.|
|Squash||60°||55–60||3 months||Winter types, leave 2-inch stem|
|Tomatoes||60°||55–60||8 weeks||Single layer in covered boxes|
|Turnips||38°||90–95||3 months||Waxed or moist packing *|
|Small fruits||32°||85–90||7 days|
** Wrap in clean newspaper.
*** Replant in moist sand.
ORGANIZATION OF YOUR ROOT CELLAR
- winter squash
The following resources provide specific information on how to create and maintain your own root cellar:
The Old Farmer’s Almanac
Mother Earth News
Michigan State University
Root Cellaring by Mike and Nancy Bubel
Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor. Her website, The Organic Prepper, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org