DIY Root Cellar
When we built our house, I was thinking about the garden I would plant. I was not thinking about the food that would come from it (due to a long history of pathetic yields, hardly serious attempts). Had I truly realized the potential, I would have definitely extended the basement foundation under the porch. I’m irritated that we ended up not doing that in the first place, but when I realized it would have been a perfect “cellar”, I was really kicking myself. Oh, well…..I’ve moved on to alternate solutions. Specifically, 5 gallon buckets in the ground.
Google “DIY root cellar” and a myriad of things show up. From giant above ground mounds suitable for living quarters to burying small chest freezers in the ground—all things a HOA would frown upon. We live in the suburbs, we have to appear to “fit in”. (LOL) I have created several berms in my day for legitimate landscaping purposes. So, what if I burrowed into a small mound of dirt–would that provide enough underground warmth to make it through the winter?
I proceeded to build a small berm outside of the backyard garage door. I built it on top of 3, 5-gallon buckets that were placed at 45-degree angles (drill several holes in the bottom for any drainage and a little extra heat exchange with the ground). I bought some screw top lids for easy access (not necessary, just part of my over-engineering tendencies), did some plantings on top so it looks like an intentional feature, and thought about what I would try to keep over the winter in it. I wasn’t going to utilize them heavily the first year, just to see what happened. So, I put some small “seed” potatoes in one, a few beets in another, and a couple of turnips in the last one. Amazingly, the seed potatoes survived very well–just one or two got a little soft. The beets and turnips started growing leaves–so I think that if I had actually checked on them sooner, they could have been eaten in the middle of winter. But, since they are already growing, I planted them in pots and we can use them for eating greens.
But, the potatoes are the part that I’m really happy about. I saved enough that I won’t have to buy any for this years’ planting–so I have Yukon and French fingering. I did order a purple variety this year, but will be able to save those for next year, too!
My plan for this fall will vary with the success of the garden. But, I am thinking I would like to try carrots/parsnips in one, seed potatoes in another, and maybe beets to actually utilize and eat in the 3rd. I do need to fashion some kind of “door” to cover the lids–something that will serve as a top insulation and that could easily uncover the area in the event of snow cover. We shall see what this year brings… :)
If you have a restaurant/food service contact, you can probably get some empty pickle buckets for free, saving them from the landfill and saving you a few bucks.