Construction of a root cellar?? : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I have a question about construction of a root cellar. Here are my circumstances:

I need a root cellar by this fall, as thats when I pull the plug and quit the electric habit. However, the construction and use of a root cellar have me stumped.

The water table is pretty high here, although the house is on a bit of a rise. There is only one hill side that looks likely to dig into, but it is several hundered feet from the house. The soil (red clay) is pretty dense, doesnt drain well, and is a big concern of mine. Termites are pretty common too, which is another concern about burying timber (even treated!).

It would be better for convience sake to build the cellar closer to the house (there is no basement- only a crawl space which would be awful to try and hollow out deep enough to store anything). But if I built the cellar right up alongside the house, I am afraid of weakening the foundation.

What are root cellars commonly constructed of?? How deep should this thing be? How does one go about keeping the water out? ANd, I am on a tight budget=)

Ive heard of burying an old refrigerator, but though I like the idea, it would be too small. Think family of three, all winter storage.

Any other cellaring tips? Please dont send me links to other places, this computer is ungraciously slow. Thanks in advance for any help!

-- Kevin in NC (, May 04, 2002


Might look at this Canadian site: Small Rootcellar,

-- BC (, May 04, 2002.

Kevin, I have a relative in North Dakota who constructed a root cellar out of a NEW fiberglass septic tank shell. Buried it (top about four feet down) with narrow steps going down inside. He also reinforced the roof with some well-aged tree trunks laid across the top. It IS waterproof from ground seepage, which was the problem he was trying to overcome.

-- Joe (, May 04, 2002.

Kevin, Where we live it is only possible to dig a root cellar with a pick and dynamite. (Our best crop every year is rocks!) Anyway, I've noticed that most of the cellars here are above ground mounds. I'm not sure what the construction is underneath, but my husband and I were thinking that we might try using a geodesic dome as the support. We figured since a dome shape is the strongest overall, it could support the weight of dirt over it a lot better than anything else. We plan to cover the skeleton with three layers of chicken wire then put concrete on it for a ferro-cement shell. The nice thing about this idea is that you can put it wherever you want, then haul the dirt to cover it. (If Mohamed won't come to the mountain, bring the mountain to Mohamed.) The floor could be dirt or a concrete pad. Either way a French drain on the uphill side of any slope will prevent seepage. (And a lot of produce actually needs high humidity to store well, so you don't want it too dry.)

-- Deborah Stephenson (, May 04, 2002.

under floor boards of your house would probably do until you built something better, my great-grandmother did that, it sounds like a place where I would pick a spot that would be easier to get to in bad weather, level ground in front, no trees to fall on it(doorway) and dig out as much as I could, then use cinder block, or ferro-cement or even a pre-fab shell, for the walls / upper part as needed, and then put dirt on top, if you can get some soild foam insulation put it put under the dirtand may be another layer of cement over it to shed the water and keep critters out of the foam layer.

-- Thumper/inOKC (, May 04, 2002.

Instead of a refrig. you could use a chest freezer or 2.

-- Emil in TN (, May 04, 2002.

Some Amish friends of ours bought a brand new concrete septic, cut out for a door, piped a vent, added shelving, and half buried it. We have thought of doing the same for a storm shelter, putting it above ground, and just banking with dirt, and sod to be a big mound.

-- Joyce Dingman (, May 04, 2002.

Kevin, have you heard of the 'earthbag' construction method? You take poly bags (like you can buy grains in) and fill with moist earth. Lay them up in a cantenary dome shape (pointy on top), with a strand of barb wire in beteen each layer. Then you bury it under 2 or 3 feet of earth. You could make a root "cellar" above ground using this method and put it anywhere you like. It is extremely strong even in earthquakes. Here is a useful link. kim

-- kim in CO (, May 04, 2002.

Root cellars are commonly constructed of cinder block, stone or cast concrete. If you can find a source for used cinderblock for free or cheap it's just a matter of digging a four foot deep pit and laying up enough block for a reasonable person to stand up in, top it with whatever wood you can find, (I used torn apart pallets) and bury the top with dirt. For drainage you can dig a smaller pit in the center of your pit and fill it with gravel. I'd go at least 2'X 2'X 2' on the drainage pit. Make sure you take time to read up on venting your cellar as it is an important part of the process, particularly in a warm climate like yours.

If you would like our Storey Bulletin titled "Build your own underground root cellar" just e-mail me your address and I'll send it to you. I'm done with I just gotta grow enough produce to fill the darn thing. ;^}~

Good luck on the jump from the grid...

-- gilly (, May 04, 2002.

I highly recommend a very informative book on this subject called: Root Cellaring, Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables by Mike and Nancy Bubel.

They explain how to build, use and maintain a root cellar in all types of climates and conditions.

-- (, May 05, 2002.

Just thought I'd jump on the bandwagon. This is my favorite subject of the month! :) Mostly because our root cellar is finally under construction! Yay!!! I had the hole dug two years ago when I hired the backhoe to clear the garden space. I knew that once the garden was put in and fenced, there would be no backhoes allowed! I had the air vent and the drain installed at the same time.

Since then, two winter rains have worn down the corners a bit, but it's good that we waited, so that we could see if our drainage system worked. It does! I have hired several people to finish the root cellar, but the one that stayed on the project the longest lasted only a couple of days - then quit and I never heard from him again. !!! Just like the others.

I now have a helper, a long time friend who helps me in the garden and orchard. One day Martin asked me what that big hole was for. He had never heard of a root cellar before. He's from Mexico. When I explained it to him, he thought it was a brilliant idea. I mentioned that I would like to build the walls of stone that we have right here on the land. He said that he loves working with stone more than anything else he does.

The next morning, Martin showed up for work with his pickup full of stones he had gathered. He was so excited about what great stones we have (and we do). He proceeded to haul the stones to the root cellar. Hmmm, I thought. I guess it's time to build the root cellar! :) Martin brought a helper, and the first day they uncovered the vent and drain pipes (they were buried by the erosion), and built a beautiful set of steps leading down to the entrance. They used only native stone and the sandy, volcanic subsoil we have here. No cost for materials there. I love these guys! The other people that I tried to hire, wanted to build the steps of wood, or make a form and pour concrete, both of which would have cost us more in time and materials.

We plan to line the walls of the pit with stone and concrete. It is about 12x12, and it's on a slope, so the front is about 5 feet deep and the back is about 6 feet deep. We will also build the above ground walls with stone and concrete. The roof is going to be a layer of plywood, then metal, with sod on top. I think we are going to put a hurricane-type cellar door over the stairway entrance, and another door at the bottom of the steps.

Our earth mover, pond builder extraordinaire, and stone builder, Joe, stopped by to look at our work. He thought our air vent and drainage system was good, but said that moisture will seep through concrete (most of you probably already know this but I didn't). He said to put a plastic liner between the stone wall and the dirt wall, and to paint the outside of the above ground walls with a sealant. He said that, combined with the air vent and the drain, should do the trick. Now, Joe has built a house of stone, but I don't know if he's ever built a root cellar, and so I don't know if he realizes that some humidity is necessary.

Any feedback from those of you who have root cellars, would be most appreciated! My inclination would be to not use the plastic.

We also have the Bubel's book and we are using it constantly. I marked many pages of photos for Martin, who got the idea very quickly. It's going to be really nice! Good luck to you Kevin! I think the suggestions for above ground structures are very good. I love the septic tank idea - clever!

-- Christine Baillie (, May 06, 2002.

Depending on the height of the crawl space and accessibility it seems to me you might be able to build the root cellar IN the crawl space. Leave the dirt floor, assuming thats what you have, and build an insulated box with shelving. Or, you could use 1 or more chest freezers laid on the side so the door would open down. Important however to provide for ventilation.

-- john (, May 06, 2002.

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