Root Cellars in the 21st Century
Keeping produce fresh is a matter of planning and a bit of effort.
Nancy Curtis of Price, Texas, is a life-long country woman and mother, who vividly recalls her grandparents’ root cellar.
"I remember Grandma Davis having russet potatoes and new potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips, heads of cabbage, apples, eggs and crocks of sausage packed in fresh lard," Curtis says. "All of the vegetables were from Grandma and Granddad Davis’ garden."
Curtis’ grandparents lived when root cellars were common. The ice boxes of the time didn’t have much room in them, and most small towns and rural areas didn’t get refrigeration until the 1920s or later. A root cellar wasn’t just a convenience, it was a necessity.
Today, with the cost of everything on the rise and growing food-security concerns, ever more folks are growing their own food. Storing some of that bounty in a root cellar will make your family less vulnerable to energy shortages, and you get to control the food’s quality.
Root cellars can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make them. If your house has an especially cool crawlspace or basement, you are all set. For a fast and dirty cellar, bury a 55-gallon drum or other suitable container in the yard. If you have sufficient space, you can build a proper root cellar, complete with shelves, drain and ventilation.
Keeping it cool
Temperature is your first big concern for food storage. Ideally, you want to choose a site or depth that will make it easy to maintain optimal temperatures between about 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter.
If you are inclined to dig your cellar into a slope or bank, selecting the right location can make a good root cellar great. For example, in warmer climes, situating your cellar so that the entrance faces north will minimize exposure to the winter sun and offers an opportunity to make use of prevailing (and cool) north winds. If it gets too warm inside, you can open the door or vent to take in some cool evening air. Where winter temperatures are typically below freezing and stay there, you might orient your cellar’s entrance to the southeast to help keep temperatures above freezing.
Humidity is good