How to Build a Root Cellar

One of the best ways to preserve foods is in a root cellar, but unfortunately that’s something that very few of us have in modern times. The good thing is, they are fairly easy to build! Here’s how to build your own root cellar.

For centuries, root cellars were commonplace for most households. In fact, before refrigeration, root cellars were the best way to store many types of foods, from produce to canned goods. The cool and even temperature of the ground kept food from spoiling – or freezing during the winter months.

If you grow a lot of your own food, it can be difficult to store it for the winter. Root crops, such as carrots, potatoes, turnips, onions, and beets can take up a lot of space in the refrigerator (and some – like potatoes and onions – shouldn’t be refrigerated at all), so where can you put your produce to make it last into the winter?

Luckily, there are a number of simple options for building a root cellar of your own. Here are some ideas:

What is a root cellar? It can be created in several different ways, but it mostly is a space dug into the ambient temperature of the Earth (55 degrees) and utilized to store beets, carrots, turnips, potatoes and other root crops through the winter.


When I bring a carrot, beet or potato into the kitchen from my root cellar, you’d think that I had just dug it up from the garden. And they really keep…. It’s better than a fridge—naturally cool, humidified, insulating, and spacious.

So, how do we create such a space? There are various ways to do just that.


Most people can create a root cellar out of their existing structures. If you have a cellar that’s not heated and doesn’t freeze, you already have a root cellar. You may need to find a way to critter-proof a section. The corner of a solid, concrete foundation can provide the first two walls. If you have a heated cellar, this is exactly the place to begin. Build a room with the other two walls exactly parallel to the corner walls. It can be as big or as little as you desire. Standard construction using two by fours and plywood works fine. In a heated cellar, you will need to add insulation to these additional walls to keep the space cool…. Shelves can be added for easy storage although they are not absolutely necessary. I just stack my buckets of beets and carrots on top of one another as well as the crates of potatoes.

Some farmers prefer to leave their root crops right in the ground for the winter. A truly thick blanket of hay can keep the frost at bay but also be sure to put a tall mark where to dig as the snow will hide anything short….

Once the root cellar is ready to go, how do we prepare the vegetables? I put my beets, carrots and turnips in 5 gallon buckets. These can be inexpensively purchased from the hardware store or sometimes places like Dunkin Donuts will sell their used filling buckets quite cheaply. Be sure to the get the lids as well. I re-use the buckets from year to year, but I clean, bleach and dry them thoroughly between uses.

Next, you need to get some clean sand; this has to be replaced every year and it should be very dry….


…The bigger the vegetables are, the better they keep, so the big guys go into the buckets first. I begin by pouring a layer of sand in a clean bucket. Then, I gently brush the excess dirt off of the veggie and cut off most of the top (leaving about an inch on) placing the top in the compost bucket…. Next, I arrange the beets or carrots flat on their sides in the bucket so that they don’t touch each other. I then cover them with sand. I repeat the process until the bucket is full whereupon I close it up with the lid and place it in the root cellar.


Potatoes are even easier to keep…. They also need to be dry, dusted and perfect. Once they are ready, they are placed in milk crates and put in the root cellar….

I never wash vegetables that are headed for the root cellar. Some people, I have heard, use peat moss or wood shavings to keep their roots, but I have never tried either one….

A truly simple root cellar can be made on top of the ground using bales of hay. Place the bales around an inner “courtyard” where the vegetables are and cover with bales of hay on top….

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Rose S.

An avid gardener since childhood, I love sharing my passion for gardening with others! I have gardened in a number of different climates and settings, from large fenced garden plots, to tiny patio and container gardens, and I firmly believe that everyone can learn to grow at least some of their own food - no matter where you live. Growing your own food can help you take control of your own health and food supply, and there has never been a better time to get started!

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