Week 19: A Simple Hole in the Ground Root Cellar


Hey Everyone!

Alright! So, who is in the “preserve and store” mode now? I certainly am. Blanching, canning, drying out my onions and prepping my simple style hole in the ground root cellar for root storage. This blog I’m going to discuss how I built it, what can be stored in it, and when/how to retrieve veggies from it. I actually built my cellar on my own with help with the lid from my hubby. It was hard work, but it didn’t take long. I’m not exceptionally strong, and I’m fairly little for the average. (5’3 and under 120 lbs when I built it… a little more weight added since then, but this blog is not about that… hahaha)

I will put the directions below, but I think watching the attached video is probably the easiest to see what I did.

Building the Root Cellar

  • First ensure that you don’t have a high water level/floor/ceiling. Meaning, if you dig a hole, it wont fill up with water
  • Dig a hole about 4 feet deep and as wide as you think you need (I did mine 3×3)
  • Taking repurposed lumber, or new 2 x 4’s doesn’t matter…. create square boxes and layer them in one on top of the other
  • Cut little triangular strips to hold corners.
  • Put styrofoam insulation around the outside and then back fill with dirt.
  • Add a styrofoam bib around the base of the top.
  • Build one more box around the cellar that is just outside the lip, like a perfectly fitting puzzle piece over top that is about 6 inches high (see video… not sure how to explain that)
  • Build an inside lid that site in the lower lid.
  • Grab a piece of wood/plywood that is a few inches bigger all the way around to cover as a second lid.
  • using flat rocks, layer the bottom to help with drainage.

Storing Food

I want to iterate that this is a ROOT Cellar, meaning, it is intended for root veggies. These include potatoes, carrots and beets for sure. I’ve never tried rutabaga. Do not put onions or garlic in here as they need a much less humid location. All other veggies that can be stored as is for the winter require a COLD ROOM not a root cellar. A cold room needs air circulation which does not happen in this style of root cellar.

To store your root yummies, I like to take empty buckets (3-5 gallons) and put a layer of dirt, then a layer of veggie making sure they are not touching, then dirt, then veggie, then dirt… etc… until they are full. I also like to then take sticks and make a letter on each one so I know what is what: P – potatoes; C – carrots; B – beets. (I used to think I would remember, but I forgot or they would get mixed up… or my hubby would go into the cellar and not know what to grab.)

You can stack buckets on top of each other. OH.. and if there is room, you can also add preserves if you have no where else to keep them.

You will then put the first lid in, and place the second lid on. The 2nd lid is important as it creates a pocket of highly needed air between the two lids that helps maintain the temp. Let it snow… get buried…  Your veggies are fine. When you are low on what you need from there, then wait for a warm day (nothing cooler than -15 Celsius ) and for the middle of the day without too much wind. You will shovel it off then open up the two lids, grab the buckets you need, and quickly close the lids again before too much frozen air exchanges with the warmer air below. I try to keep it less than 5 minutes if I can. Leave the dirt where you originally got it (if you get it from where you live like we do) to reuse the next year.

Your potatoes and carrots will easily last into the next summer if you don’t use them up before that. Beets start to loose their taste by February – March.

Caring for the hole in the ground

Each year after we pull the lid off, we let it air out for a few weeks. Then we put the top lid on so it stays out of the rain. Before we use it, we do give a quick prep that really only takes 10-15 minutes. We sweep it out first. Hope this doesn’t turn you off, but we typically have large colony of ants move in, or a mouse or other critter. I do not use poison in the cellar. I am totally paranoid that I will accidentally poison our family. I just leave the lid off a couple days and things vacate on their own. The ants sometimes need to be physically moved, and I truly hate to disturb their home, but I really need the cellar.

After I sweep (or shovel ants colonies out), I take some kind of spray to help keep mildew and mold out. You can use bleach and water. I don’t. I use Sol-U-Guard from Melaleuca. (Not trying to get you to sign up…. but this particular product works great for this.) I then just leave it until I get my veggies in. Easy, peasy.

We are a super busy family with 2 parents with very demanding jobs, and a 4 year old (He will tell you he is 4 and 3/4), so easy food storage is necessary. The dream is to eventually have a full walk-in cellar, but this little hole in the ground has done us well for 5 full winters helping us extend our food for an entire year and is still in great shape. I do recommend watching the video as it really shows what it looks like and how it looks filled, and shows a bit of the building process. Up to you. 🙂 Hope you enjoyed this! Please feel free to share this and/or the video with those who you think might like it!

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See you then! Happy Gardening!


P.s. If you have questions,  please feel free to drop me a line at shyanne.leah@gmail.com