Sustainable living and preparedness leads many people to build and maintain a root cellar not just in case the electrical grid goes down, but also as a cost-saving way to store or hide food during winter.
Sign Up for our free email newsletter packed with survival tips and tips on preparing for widespread disaster. Topics covered include survival foods, martial law, government collapse, living off the land, self defense, survival hunting, survival fishing, and MORE...
For now, enough said on that today as we have covered this in other articles on SecretsofSurvival.com, including last week's article on Survival Moving to Escape the Growing Nuclear Threat: Where Do You Go?.
For a more complete list of what foods can be stored in a root cellar, go here: What foods can be stored in a root cellar?
1. The root cellar needs to be at least ten feet deep in order to be low enough in the ground to maintain a fairly even temperature throughout the winter months. This stable temperature below ground is what burrowing animals look for in a winter shelter. Using the same principle, you will be using the cool moist earth to keep your food fresh without electricity.
2. There must be some kind of entrance or door to the cellar. Because winter winds come from the north, it is better to have the entrance facing north. This doesn't have to be fancy. You can make a door out of pallet wood if you have the time and materials. Another reason for building a root cellar facing north? As much as possible, you want to ensure that the rising or setting sun, and especially the mid-day sun, never shine on your root cellar. This helps ensure the lowest possible temperature, using the terrain and even a hill or trees for shade, where your root cellar resides.
3. There must be air circulation. This air circulation in a root cellar typically consists of a simple vent at ground level to let cool air in, and a simple vent near the top of the cellar to let warm air out. Both vents need to be well-covered with wire to keep out animals; an attention to detail should be put into that covering because if you do a poor job using strong metal mesh and securing it in place, a hungry animal and the rest of it's family may get to your food and now you are empty handed.
4. There must be good drainage in the soil. When choosing a site for your root cellar, you need to look for a place where the ground has good drainage and does not pool up with water when it rains. Even after you select your site, you will also want to build in some gravel trenches around the cellar and even under the cellar, directly below where food is stored. Gravel trenches allow ground water to trickle down to the soil below, rather than collect and pool. It is an important detail not to overlook.
5. You must have storage bins inside your cellar that keep the vegetables off the ground but still moist.
6. The cellar needs to maintain a temperature of between 32 degrees and 40 degrees. The humidity needs to be somewhere between 85 to 95 percent. Temperature and humidity gauges need to be placed inside the root cellar and checked often.
Looking for design plans for a root cellar? Here's a good book to consider: Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar.
In parts of the United States where winter temperatures remain below freezing for long periods of time, self-sufficient folks have also historically harvested ice blocks for the purposed of storing in ice houses. After being cut into blocks that could be transported by wagons or sleds, the ice was stored and packed in sawdust or other insulating material to slow the melt. These ice houses kept food stored and cold long before the invention of the modern refrigerator. (Some of you reading this may have even heard the term "ice box" used to describe a refrigerator.)
Ice houses keep foods cool in the warmer months of the year, and can be a way to add to your already well-stocked pantry. Keep in mind that ice houses will have a moisture level that may not be right for some foods, and you'll need to make sure you are storing food safely. It is certainly not worth saving on electricity if the food you store goes bad or makes your family ill.
Your ice harvest can be simple, using just a simple saw or other heritage tools, or more efficient using modern chainsaws, but here's how the pros do it with an ice plow: YouTube: Harvest Ice with an Ice Plow
Root cellars are also convenient since, once established, the food is simply stored there in bins without elaborate processing such as drying or canning. So you found a great price on winter squash at the farmer's market? All you need to do is make sure the skin on the vegetable hardens or "cures" and then store the food in your root cellar.
Fresh food is always going to maintain flavor and nutrients. That's another reason why root cellars are a great alternative to processing surplus, heirloom, or organic fruits and vegetables.
After your food is stored in your root cellar, check on the temperature and humidity often. Look over the bins and if you notice any spoiled fruit or vegetables, remove them and discard them on your compost pile. If the food is just beginning to show signs of spoilage, you may be able to cut away the moldy parts and feed the good parts to chickens or other farm animals.
For instruction on what veggies need to be cured before storing in your root cellar, go here: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables