Adding a small root cellar to your existing home will provide you with fresh veggies throughout the winter and spring. Irma calls the design provided here a root closet, because it’s roughly the size of a bedroom room closet (the interior space is 3½’ x 7½’). At less than 27 square feet, it will be one of the hardest working corners of your basement.
For more on the benefits of root cellaring see, 11 Reasons to Have a Root Cellar.
Some details to consider:
- If your basement is heated, be sure to insulate the root closet walls, ceiling & floor against warmth that might seep in from your basement. Insulation also prevents cold from the root closet from flowing into heated areas.
- Vents to the outside are essential to keep air moving. There should be two: one intake and one output pipe. Install a vent near the ceiling and bring the other to the floor, using elbows and pipe as needed to place them diagonally across from one another. This maximizes the passive exchange of warm & cool air. It’s a good idea to screen you vents so mice and bees can’t nest in them.
- Plastic or wire racks designed to carry at least 200# per shelf are better than wood shelving, which attracts mold and warps. Plastic or wire shelves are easy to clean, allow air to circulate and won’t bow under the weight of a bushel of potatoes. We found the perfect specimens (pictured above) at Home Depot. Freestanding shelving, as opposed to built-in fixed shelves, also allows you to change your storage arrangement as needed.
- The perforated cans in the design (pictured left) are available at Agway. These galvanized steel cans are terrific. They allow air to circulate, stand (on their own legs) 2″ above the floor, have tight fitting lids, keep critters away from your prize veggies, clean easily and last forever. Bea Reddy’s cellaring cans are over 20 years old and still going strong.
- Use a thermometer with a hygrometer to keep track of the temperature and humidity. Ithaca Agway has a terrific selection of these.
- Install an overhead light in your root closet. You’ll want to be able to see what’s going on in the bottom of your storage cans. But be sure to remind the kids to turn off the light when leaving; a large part of your success cellaring is dependent on keeping the root veggies in the dark.
- Some veggies, like onions and potatoes, do well stored in ventilated boxes on shelves; others, like beets and carrots, do best stored in layers of sand or leaves in the perforated cans (above).
Root cellar reference: Root Cellaring by Mike & Nancy Bubel. A terrific resource, Irma keeps finding herself looking up storage tips in it. The book includes many different root cellar plans, shelf life of common garden produce, humidity and temp recommendations for fruits and vegetables, nifty root cellar innovations, and lots of examples of root cellars.
“Release your inner carrot. Think like a beet when setting up your root closet. Keep the space dark, moist and cold.”