Gardening with Pete: the fruit of the root cellar

As I came up from the root cellar this week with carrots, potatoes, turnips, apples and cabbage, I once again gave thanks for the investment and foresight of a man I have never met. My “Fort Knox” of a concrete cellar is indeed where I store all my wealth – the food that feeds me throughout the year! It was superbly built by a former owner of this property in 1976 and being built entirely of concrete and buried under 3 feet (1M) of earth into a side-hill, it will more than likely be here for many generations to come.

When I was considering buying this property many years ago, I really think the root cellar, the abundance of water and the soil were even more important than the house in my decision-making process. I had been in dozens of cellars before, but had never seen one so well thought-out and built.

As I mentioned, it is built into a side-hill and the excavation was deep enough so the backfill would insulate the concrete walls and ceiling well. The walls are on good concrete footings and on a well-draining gravel base with a gravel floor and a drain going down the hill to an open bank. There is a good piece of hardware-cloth screen over the end of the drain to keep the critters out.

At the entry is a double door with a three-foot entry area that can be used for storage of containers, scale, twine, labels, etc. Then you pass through a well-insulated second door into the main part of the cellar. This inside partition is on a concrete footing and is made out of plywood and well insulated like the doors. On a cold winter day or a hot summer day, you can go into the little entry area, close the outside door behind you and then go into the main cellar without changing the air temperature inside.

At each end of the main cellar, is a vent that can be opened to as much as 7 inches (18cm) or closed entirely in really cold weather. One vent goes almost to the floor and the other goes out from the ceiling level.

With the temperature at 80F (26C) during the afternoon at times, the inside temperature will remain at a cool 40F (4C). The apples, carrots and potatoes are still as crisp and juicy as when I put them in there last October. The potatoes are just beginning to show small sprouts at the eyes.

The best thing about a root cellar is being able to take advantage of buying in bulk in the fall (I always buy a few boxes of organic apples when the price is about half the store price during the rest of the year) and being able to store things for later use when you have way too much at harvest time. Another advantage is you are able to put things like cabbage or beets in when you are busy with the harvest and then make your sauerkraut or pickled beets later when you have more time. (I brought up the last six small heads of cabbage in mid-May one year and made another ½ gallon of kraut to get me through the summer).

When you think of the cost of such a cellar, you may hesitate at putting out that much money, but if you consider how much you can save over the next twenty or thirty years and the feeling of security and wealth when you walk into the full cellar in the fall and realize you can live for months on all that home-grown or local healthy food, it sure is worth it! Thanks, Pat Stapleton, for such a great gift!

By: Pete Amyoony