Plan for your root cellar

Energy & Sustainability Gardening

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Photo from Green Home Building

During the winter iciness, lots of people warm up by reading seed catalogs and planning their gardens. If you are among those sitting by the woodstove contemplating books full of DNA, you might want to think of where you will store all your grown goodies.

In a recent post about using the Prius as a backup power supply, a number of people remarked in the comments on the irony of using electricity to run a fridge in the winter. It seems that we should be able to keep our stuff chilly when it’s frigid outside. Some people have figured out this idea. A long time ago they figured out this idea. Root cellars can be found in many antique houses, and there are others located in the nether regions of plenty of off grid dwellings. If you use the natural temperature stability of the earth, then maybe you don’t need such a huge refrigerator. Eating locally grown food will decrease your reliance on food that has been trucked in from across the country or shipped from overseas.

In looking through some of the search results, it is easy to see that there are some very helpful writings in the root cellar community. You might check some of them out and consider if you could double up on your tubers and cabbage by adding a bit of storage space in a root cellar. If you are planning a new shed, maybe you could add a bit of capacity for storing produce below the frost line. Or maybe you want to go over the top and really build something spectacular to store your onions in.

Are you still enjoying last season’s produce? Do you have a root cellar? Have you built one for a friend, relative, community or weekend getaway? Is there anybody making a business from helping to build root cellars and other sustainable structures? Are people using root cellars in the cities or is it still primarily a rural pursuit? What are the best sources for seeds and plants? How seriously do you plan and tend your garden? Does your locally grown food last longer/taste better than the food from the store? Add your ideas to the comments, and send your photos and video over to the MAKE Flickr pool.

20 thoughts on “Plan for your root cellar

  1. flight says:

    This has been bugging me for some time. Is it because it is in the “root” of the house, because there were once roots growing through the walls, because root vegetables were kept there, or is it something else?

  2. Rod says:

    Using a fridge in winter seems like a waste, but I think that’s wrong. All the energy the fridge uses is turned into heat which helps to heat your house. So none of that energy is really wasted after all. It would only be a waste if you wanted to keep the inside of your house as cold as the outside, which, of course, you don’t in the winter.

  3. BigD145 says:

    You offset all that heat advantage when you open your fridge to get things out. Huge waste of electricity.

  4. Stacy says:

    But where are the plans for the cella rbeing used in the photo?! Are those bags of potting soil/compost/manure it’s made of?

  5. Stacy says:

    But where are the plans for the cellar being used in the photo?! Are those bags of potting soil/compost/manure being used for walls?

    1. Chris Connors says:

      @stacy The photo came from this address: I did not see any plans, the page was more about what you could do with you root cellar. It seems to me that the construction of a root cellar onto an existing building would be more of a one off thing. If you are building the house new, you would be able to incorporate the planning into the process of designing the whole house.

      On that page, you will also find many books that show how to do it. Some are from a series of paperbacks that I have seen in the local feed store. I got one on building stone walls a few years ago.

      The photos used on the page are captioned with descriptions likely by the person who made or commissioned the root cellar pictured. Here is the link to the “about us” page on the green building site:

      It could be that you can create a nice little root cellar out of a corner of your basement with perfectly good results.

  6. garethb2 says:

    I’m pretty sure it got its name because they’re primarily designed to store root (and tuber) vegetables: potatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, etc.

  7. johnh says:

    It’s called a root cellar because it’s where teenagers got to have a root.

  8. jammit says:

    They’re called root cellars because very early on there weren’t refrigerators. The only way was to dig a hole in the ground where it’s normally cooler than above ground temperatures. Local humor would call them root cellars.

  9. Scott M says:

    This reminded me of a magazine article I saw years ago about building a root cellar in your basement.

    Basically you build a small insulated room in your basement. Run venting of some sort to draw in cool air and vent out warm air. I’m not sure if this was it, but it is similar.

    @Rod and BigD145
    I also remembered seeing an segment on some discovery channel show where they modified a walkin cooler to use outside temps to reduce energy needs in cool months. Not sure if it was this company, but something similar.

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