How to Dig a Root Cellar

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The good old-fashioned root cellar is vastly underrated in this modern age. In days gone by, root cellars were the basic equivalent of the refrigerator; they were earth-friendly, non-polluting and required no electricity. Many eco-conscious people around the world are reverting to the root cellar once again in a green effort to save the Earth.

Things You'll Need

  • Backhoe
  • Cedar timbers, 12 inches around, cut to size
  • Plywood 4-by-8 foot boards, 5/8-inch thick
  • Plastic pipe
  • 2 pieces of wire mesh
  • Small insulated door
  • Recycled wood boards for shelving
  • Rocks
  • Dig a large hole with the backhoe into a north-facing hillside on the property. North-facing hillsides stay cool in the summer, which will keep your perishables fresh. The size of the hole is up to you, and depends on the size of your garden and how much produce you'd like to store.

  • Finish shaping the hole with a shovel. Measure the dimensions of your hole and cut the timbers according to your measurements. You will need an upright timber every 4 feet to support the weight of the back-filled dirt once the ceiling has been installed. The timbers must not touch the dirt on the root cellar's floor; they need to be placed in cement to prevent rot.

  • Set the timbers in place and begin to install the cellar’s ceiling on top of the timber ends. You will need two thicknesses of plywood for this job. At the seam of each plywood sheet, a horizontal support beam spanning the width of the cellar must be installed and screwed or nailed securely to the plywood.

  • Lay a thick sheet of plastic over the plywood ceiling to prevent moisture penetration. Install an air vent in the back of the cellar to allow heated air to escape. This vent may be as simple as a 2-inch plastic pipe that will act as a chimney extending to 2 feet outside of the root cellar. Cover outside end of pipe with wire mesh to prevent birds from nesting in your pipe. This pipe must be maintained regularly to remove leaves and debris from the vent.

  • Install an air inlet to allow fresh air to enter your root cellar. This may be a piece of plastic pipe installed approximately a foot above the cellar floor to allow for snowfall levels. The outside end of the pipe has to be covered with wire mesh to prevent rodents from entering your cellar and helping themselves to a free meal.

  • Pile the dirt from digging the cellar on top of the cellar ceiling. Install a rock wall all the way across the opening. Fill in any cracks and crevices with dirt and moss. Install a small insulated door.

  • Install shelves inside the root cellar 3 inches away from the sides of the cellar walls to allow air to circulate around produce.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always ensure you have enough support beams to carry the weight of the dirt piled on top of the cellar ceiling.
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