The root cellar is here. Or perhaps it’s out there. Wherever your root cellar might be, it’s a good place to store garden produce for the winter. Fruit, vegetables, and nuts all stay cold and stay fresh in a root cellar. This time-honored tradition is an excellent way to keep your garden produce looking and tasting crisp, and it’s something that people have been doing for hundreds of years. Having a well-stocked cellar was a matter of pride: there is even a town in Newfoundland, Canada that dubs itself the Root Cellar Capital of the World
The fall is so abundant in the garden that the extra produce needs to be stored. But how? You can store produce in the form of pickles, relishes, jams and preserves, canning it for the winter season. You can store produce in the freezer, usually after blanching it. However, if you just love the taste of a fresh, crisp apple in its most natural state, you will need an area with consistent humidity and a cool temperature. That’s what the root cellar is for. It’s the ultimate in pantry shopping.
Many historic root cellars were built in an era before refrigeration. Imagine the heat of summer without a root cellar – or the dead of winter. Quickly, food would freeze or go bad. Generations of people have created simple root cellars by digging a hole into a hillside or in the ground. The modern twist? Place an old freezer in the ground and let the ground and the freezer insulation keep your food cold. If you happen to have an old bus sitting around, my favorite root cellar is the bus cellar made out of an old school bus buried under the soil.
If you want to get started, there are plenty of practical resources out there for you to follow. If your basement is cool or you are up to installing a cooling area, you can build a basic root cellar in your basement. Or you can do it the old-fashioned way with a cellar in a hole in the yard.
Root cellars work because the soil is a fairly consistent temperature. When the weather is cold or hot, the soil is cool. Root vegetables and other produce like apples require a storage temperature between 1ºC and 15ºC. They also need a humid place that is not overly wet. This helps keep vegetables from withering as the winter progresses. The root cellar also needs to be ventilated to provide fresh air.
Like fresh apple pies in February? Me too. So, who’s up for burying the deep freeze in the yard?