We are excited to announce that a re-purposed chest freezer makes a fantastic root cellar! It requires a few inexpensive parts, along with a bit of sweat equity, and the results are amazing. We have used our little root cellar for a few years now and are quite pleased with this inexpensive solution for storing fresh produce throughout the winter.
A good root cellar must be cool, dark, humid and well-ventilated. An optimal location is on the north side of the home where it is naturally cooler and doesn’t get much direct sun in the winter.
We decided to bury a broken old freezer on the north side of our newly constructed home. We were in the process of building a retaining wall and back filling so it didn’t take much initial digging.
We installed a 2-inch vent on each side with goose neck tops to keep the water out. Notice that on one side of the freezer the vent is at the top and the other side the vent is at the bottom.
Good air flow is critical to keeping the produce fresh. Placing one vent on the top and another at the bottom provides good cross ventilation.
It is not shown in the photo, but we covered the vents with metal hardware cloth to keep the rodents out of our root cellar.
Jonathan created a sturdy homemade pallet to protect the top of the freezer and make it a little more aesthetically pleasing. Once the landscaping is in place, it will be difficult for anyone to suspect that we have delicious fresh produce stored under there.
We found that the extra insulation provided by a few bales of straw really helped maintain a better temperature in the root cellar. The tarp keeps the straw bales dry. One year we didn’t cover them and they absorbed a lot of water which made them heavy and difficult to move.
We bring a couple week’s worth of produce in the house when we open up the root cellar. It isn’t a difficult process, but the straw has to be moved off the top and the pallet lifted. It is not something I want to do every time I want to bake potatoes or steam some beets.
We store our garden produce in milk crates stacked inside of the freezer. Every fall we purchase potatoes in 50 pound bags and just leave them in the original packaging.
Humidity control is critical in a root cellar. We added 3-4 inches of sand in the bottom after the first season and it made a big difference in the freshness of the vegetables. Jonathan built a small pallet out of inexpensive fir strips to keep the produce off of the floor. It seemed to have improved the air circulation.
Seriously, it is March and the potatoes are still crisp and delicious. We noticed a little white mold dust starting to cover them. It washed off just fine and did not affect the quality of the potatoes.
A root cellar used to be a common feature in most homes. Perhaps it would be a great idea to keep an eye out for a broken freezer and re-purpose it to extend the life of your garden produce … or to store great fresh produce each fall as part of your food storage program.