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Root Cellaring for Beginners: Your Guide to Home Food Storage

If you’re looking for an effective way to store your homegrown fruits and vegetables, you’ll love learning about root cellaring. As a beginner or someone with some experience, this guide will provide you with all the necessary information to create your own root cellar and store your produce for extended periods.

Carrots covered in wet wood shavings in a crate.

We’ve discussed multiple methods for food preservation here on the blog (and in our YouTube videos). Some of these include fermenting for long-term storage, pressure canning, water bath canning, dehydrating, freeze-drying, and even freezing.

Having multiple preservation skills under your belt is smart. Though many foods can be preserved a number of ways, certain items are simply better (or more appetizing) when the proper preservation technique is used.

Root cellaring is a traditional method of food storage that has been used for centuries. It involves creating a cool, dark, and humid environment to help preserve the quality and extend the shelf life of crops. With a little effort and the right techniques, you can store your root crops for months, ensuring a steady supply of fresh produce year-round.

In this guide, you’ll learn all about the purpose of a root cellar, its requirements, how to build one, and how to maintain it. You’ll also discover the vegetables that thrive in root cellars and how to take advantage of this traditional method of food storage. So, let’s get started with root cellaring!

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What is a Root Cellar?

A root cellar serves as a storage space for root vegetables and other crops. The purpose is to provide ideal conditions that extend the shelf life and preserve the quality of produce. Root cellars have been in use for centuries and were a reliable method for food storage before modern refrigeration.

Traditional root cellars were often underground structures, dug into a hillside or dugout area, with a door leading to a small room naturally insulated from the outdoor elements (see photo below). The walls were made of stone, brick, or wood, and the floor was typically dirt or packed earth. The cool, dark, and humid environment inside helped keep the stored vegetables at their optimal condition.

Old root cellar built into a hillside.

Building a Root Cellar: Is it Worth it?

If you’re considering building a root cellar, you might be wondering if the effort is worth it. As someone who is currently in the process of building an in-ground root cellar (and has done extensive research on them), our answer is a resounding yes!

Not only does a root cellar provide optimal storage conditions for a variety of root crops, but it also offers several benefits over modern refrigeration. For example, an effective root cellar will use less energy than a refrigerator, making it a more sustainable choice for home food storage.

One of the best things about a root cellar is the ability to store winter squash. Winter squash can be challenging to store in a typical refrigerator, and freezing can cause it to lose its texture and flavor. However, storing winter squash in a root cellar ensures that it stays fresh and delicious for months. This is because winter squash thrives in a cool, humid environment like that of a root cellar.

A pile of winter squashes in a kitchen.

The Advantages of Root Cellar Storage

Aside from storing winter squash, a root cellar also offers a few other advantages.

Advantages of Root Cellar StorageAdvantages of Refrigeration
Lower energy consumptionConvenience and accessibility
Ability to store a larger quantity of cropsAbility to rapidly chill food and drinks
Preservation of flavor and textureUniform and consistent temperature control

As you can see, root cellar storage has several advantages over refrigeration, making it an attractive option for home food storage.

Below you will see a photo of the beginning stages of our own in-ground root cellar. Then we’ll discuss some of the basic components of a root cellar.

In ground stone root cellar being built.

Building a Root Cellar

If you decide to build a root cellar, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you’ll need to choose a location that provides the ideal conditions for root cellar storage. This location should have a cool, consistent temperature and high humidity. Additionally, it should be well-ventilated to prevent the buildup of ethylene gas, which can cause produce to spoil faster.

When building your root cellar, it’s essential to insulate it properly to maintain the ideal temperature and humidity levels. You can use a variety of materials to insulate your root cellar, including straw bales, foam board, or use the earth’s own insulation and dig into a hillside.

Finally, keep in mind that a successful root cellar requires regular maintenance. Check your stored produce regularly for signs of decay or spoilage, and remove any affected items immediately. You know the saying, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” This goes for most produce, so proper management of your food is crucial.

Additionally, be sure to monitor the temperature and humidity levels regularly and make any necessary adjustments.

For more information on building a root cellar, we recommend getting the books Root Cellaring and The Complete Guide to Your New Root Cellar.

Wooden crates of potatoes in a side by side.

Root Cellar Requirements: Temperature and Humidity

Temperature and humidity are essential factors for successful root cellaring. Ideally, the temperature should be between 32-40°F (0-4°C), while the humidity should range from 85-95%. The high humidity helps prevent vegetables from drying out, while the cool temperature slows down their natural decay. Maintaining these ideal conditions is crucial to ensure that your stored produce stays fresh for an extended period.

Homesteading Hack: Did you know? A root cellar’s temperature and humidity levels resemble that of autumn days. The conditions should be crisp and cool, with a bit of moisture in the air.

In some cases, variations in temperature or humidity levels can affect the quality and shelf life of your stored produce. For example, if the temperature gets too warm, vegetables like potatoes will sprout, while too much humidity can lead to mold growth or rot. On the other hand, if the air is too dry, vegetables will wither and lose their flavor.

TemperatureHumidity LevelResulting Conditions
Below 32°F (0°C)High humidityVegetables will freeze and become unusable.
32-40°F (0-4°C)85-95% humidityIdeal conditions for root vegetables and other crops. Produce will remain fresh and flavorful for extended periods.
Above 40°F (4°C)Low humidityVegetables will sprout or decay.

Monitoring and adjusting temperature and humidity levels in your root cellar is essential to ensure that your stored produce stays fresh and delicious. Using a thermometer and a hygrometer can help you maintain optimal conditions. Additionally, you can use fans or ventilation to regulate humidity and maintain proper air circulation.

  1. Check your root cellar’s temperature and humidity levels regularly.
  2. Adjust ventilation and insulation as necessary to regulate temperature and humidity levels.
  3. Organize your stored produce to ensure proper air circulation and humidity distribution.
  4. Remove any spoiled or decaying produce promptly to prevent contamination or mold growth.

By following these simple tips, you can create the ideal conditions for storing your root crops and other vegetables for an extended period. With proper temperature and humidity control, you can enjoy your homegrown produce long after harvest season has ended.

Wooden crates stacked up with root vegetables inside.

Turning Your Basement into a Root Cellar

For years, we have used our unheated basement as a mock root cellar. Though it’s not ideal temperatures or humidity levels, it does prolong the life of our root crops. As mentioned, we’re in the process of building an in-ground root cellar, so our basement still doubles for long-term storage.

If you don’t have a dedicated outdoor space for a root cellar, your basement can be a great alternative. Before converting your basement into a root cellar, there are a few things you need to consider.

Proper Insulation

One of the most important factors to keep in mind is proper insulation. Your basement walls and ceiling should be well-insulated to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the root cellar. Make sure to seal any gaps or cracks in the walls or floors to prevent cool air from escaping.

We’ve also draped heavy blankets over our crates to keep out as much light as possible and to help keep warm air away from our root veggies.

Ventilation and Humidity Control

Proper ventilation is crucial to preventing mold growth and ensuring adequate air circulation. You can install vents or fans to regulate airflow and maintain a consistent temperature. Additionally, you’ll need to control the humidity level to prevent excess moisture from damaging your stored crops. Consider using a dehumidifier or adding moisture-absorbing materials like charcoal or rice to your storage area.

Air Circulation

Creating proper air circulation is essential to prevent any unwanted odors and ensure that your stored vegetables maintain their freshness. Ensure that air can circulate between the boxes or shelves where you store your crops.

We love using the wooden crates pictured below because they allow for proper ventilation and airflow.

Six crates full of potatoes.

Vegetables to Store in a Root Cellar

A root cellar is a perfect storage solution for many types of root vegetables. These hardy crops thrive in the cool and humid environment, maintaining their freshness and flavors for months. Here are some of the best vegetables to store in your root cellar:

VegetableStorage DurationIdeal Humidity LevelIdeal Temperature
Carrots4-6 months90-95%32-40°F (0-4°C)
Beets3-4 months90-95%32-40°F (0-4°C)
Parsnips4-6 months95%32-40°F (0-4°C)
Potatoes6-8 months90-95%40-50°F (4-10°C)

As you can see, each vegetable has its own ideal storage conditions. While most root vegetables prefer high humidity, potatoes require slightly lower humidity levels. By paying close attention to the specific needs of each crop, you can extend their shelf life and enjoy homegrown produce throughout the winter.

Don’t forget that proper preparation is essential before storing your vegetables in the root cellar. Remove excessive amounts of dirt and any damaged produce should be consumed right away. You’ll also need to let certain crops like potatoes and winter squash dry or cure completely before putting them away. This will help prevent moisture buildup and mold growth, ensuring your crops stay fresh and tasty for longer.

Two crates of potatoes, one yellow one red.

Maintaining Your Root Cellar

Root cellar maintenance is crucial in ensuring the longevity of your stored produce. Here are some essential tips to help you keep your root cellar in top condition:

  • Regularly Check for Spoilage: Check your stored vegetables frequently for any signs of spoilage or decay. Promptly remove any affected items to prevent further spoilage.
  • Beware of Ethylene Gas: Ethylene gas is a natural plant hormone that accelerates ripening and can cause nearby produce to spoil faster. Store ethylene-producing vegetables separately from ethylene-sensitive ones to prevent premature ripening. Homesteading Hack: We discuss this in-depth in my post on how to store apples for a year. Apples are a great example of produce that produces high levels of ethylene gas.
  • Proper Organization: Proper organization of your stored food is essential to maintain optimal conditions in your root cellar. Use baskets or bins to keep your vegetables separate and easily accessible. Be sure to rotate the produce to ensure even air circulation and prevent mold growth.
  • Sanitize: Regularly sanitize the shelves, walls, and floors of your root cellar to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria or fungi that can impact the quality of your stored food. Historically, root cellar shelves were painted with lime washing (a mixture of slaked lime and water) to prohibit pests and insects from disturbing their crops.

By following these simple tips, you can maintain the ideal conditions in your root cellar and enjoy your homegrown produce throughout the winter months.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is root cellaring?

Root cellaring is a traditional method of home food storage that involves using a cool, dark, and humid environment to extend the shelf life and preserve the quality of fruits and vegetables.

Why should I build a root cellar?

Building a root cellar offers advantages like lower energy consumption and the ability to store a larger quantity of crops. It also allows for the preservation of certain vegetables, like winter squash, which maintain their flavor and texture for months.

What are the temperature and humidity requirements for a root cellar?

Ideally, the temperature in a root cellar should be between 32-40°F (0-4°C), while the humidity should range from 85-95%. This high humidity helps prevent vegetables from drying out, while the cool temperature slows down their natural decay.

Can I turn my basement into a root cellar?

Yes, you can convert your basement into a root cellar. However, it requires careful planning and preparation, including proper insulation, ventilation, and humidity control. Creating good air circulation is essential to prevent mold growth and maintain a consistent environment for your stored vegetables.

What vegetables can I store in a root cellar?

A root cellar is perfect for storing root vegetables such as carrots, beets, parsnips, and potatoes. These vegetables thrive in the cool and humid environment, preserving their freshness and flavors for an extended period.

How do I maintain my root cellar?

To maintain your root cellar, regularly check for signs of spoilage or decay and remove affected items promptly. Be mindful of ethylene gas, a natural plant hormone that accelerates ripening and can cause nearby produce to spoil faster. Proper organization and rotation of stored food will help maintain optimal conditions in your root cellar.

Is root cellaring a valuable skill?

Root cellaring is a valuable skill for anyone seeking self-sufficiency and sustainable food storage. Whether you choose to build a dedicated root cellar or convert your basement, understanding the principles of root cellaring will help you store your root crops effectively, ensuring a steady supply of fresh, homegrown produce even in the winter months.

Josh: Hey you guys this is Josh.

Carolyn: And Carolyn.

Josh: With Homesteading Family and welcome to this week's episode of The Pantry Chat: Food For Thought.

Carolyn: This week we're going to be talking about preserving vegetables and fruits by root cellaring.

Josh: Awesome.

Carolyn: This episode of The Pantry Chat Podcast is sponsored by MadeOn Skincare. MadeOn specializes in skincare specifically for dry skin and they use as few ingredients as possible to get the job done. You guys, this is the type of skincare I would make myself if I had time to make it in my own home and the great thing is Renee even shares her exact recipes with you. The beesilk lotion bar is my go to lotion when my hands get dry and cracked and it's only made with three ingredients. Renee created it when she needed something to fix the splits in her fingers, cracks in her feet and then she found out that it also worked great on her son's seasonal eczema. Go to to find out what Josh's favorite MadeOn products are and also use the code HOMESTEADINGFAMILY for 15% off today's purchase.

Josh: All right. We're continuing on with the series on food preservation.

Carolyn: Yeah, I'm excited about this one. This is a good one.

Josh: It really is but it's a tough one to tackle in a lot of ways and that is root cellaring. We're going to be covering the basics of root cellaring today, what you need to know and some alternatives because a lot of us don't have an actual root cellar and that's why a lot of people don't tackle it I don't think because there's some infrastructure required.

Carolyn: We still don't have a root cellar but we have cellaring vegetables for a long time.

Josh: That's right. We're going to give you a rundown on the basics, what you need and then some alternatives to help you get through until you get to that point of an actual root cellar.

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: Hey, but before we do that, need to catch up a little bit and answer questions so what is going on?

Carolyn: Well, first I want to let everybody know that Grandma Jeanne is doing better.

Josh: Much better.

Carolyn: She is improving. She's still not home yet but she is improving so I know a lot of you guys have expressed really get well soon wishes to her and we're so thankful for that and I'm passing those along but she is doing much better. Then aside from that, we're actually getting ready for a trip.

Josh: Yep we are. That is exciting.

Carolyn: Yay. We get to take a little trip coming up here and so of course when you're leaving the homestead there are things that need to get done before you leave especially when you're leaving, kind of for us at the trailing end of harvest season.

Josh: Yep, trailing end of harvest season, we're getting ready for winter and we got a big household we're leaving behind for a little bit.

Carolyn: Yeah. We've been kind of busy with those preparations.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: What about you?

Josh: Pretty much same here. Yeah, I'm just visiting on Grandma and we're working away. We've gotten some pasture receded and an area, if you guys remember we dug out the pond, large pond and we had a lot of soil, an acre of soil we had to spread out. That finally dried out. We got that graded and disced and harrowed and seeded and seeding a few other areas. Doing a fall seeding here to try to get a start on some of these areas and it's been a lot of infrastructure if you guys have been following along this year. We're starting to wrap all of that up.

Carolyn: Yeah, there's a lot going on. I think we're going to be getting a roof on the addition here really soon and so we will be really ready for some weather to come in.

Josh: Yeah, then we can start on the inside, start on the electrical and stuff like that.

Carolyn: Very exciting. Lots of things going on.

Josh: Absolutely. Hey, let's dive right in. We've got a question for the day.

Carolyn: Question for the day from [Sofas] on the Preservation 101 video, the intro into canning asks, "Do you freeze most of your meat products? If so, what is your backup if electricity goes out other than a generator?"

Josh: Okay, I don't know if I'm totally clear on the nature of that question but yes, we do freeze most of our meat. We have several large freezers. I saw another question was asking how many. We've got at least four large chest freezers. We freeze some other things too. Yes, we freeze most of our meat and the backup generators always cover that as far as backing up that meat supply, we've never lost a freezer. Does happen. You do have to be careful. You need to be attentive of them and certainly if the power goes out you need to be watching them even more carefully and making sure that your generators are working, they're ready, got all the plugs you need, you've got fuel, everything else. On that side, that is the backup. We just have to take care of that and be prepared for it so we are. Now, on the other side of being backed up, are we backing up our meat supply in case something happens and we had a failure then yes, we do keep a bit, not a ton of canned meat for convenience, for easy meals and yes, that is an additional backup supply.

In fact, we have actually talked about beefing that up at times and getting a little larger supply in there. Something to do to add onto for those kinds of reserves. It is nice to have those reserves.

Carolyn: It really is and canning meat is actually really really easy. I know it's very intimidating to a lot of people but it's a very easy thing to can as far as the prep work so it's a great way to go but you also have dehydrating meat. You could do that, freeze drying, curing. Of course you've got some cured meats to make them shelf stable and then they can be in a rood cellar type environment, right? We're going to be talking about that.

Josh: That's something that we do plan to tackle. I want to tackle personally I guess for me that's more the culinary side though building the skill of that preservation without electricity or some of the other methods is a good skill we want to add eventually but it hasn't hit the priority list yet.

Carolyn: Good.

Josh: Yeah, very good. Good question. Let's dive in here. We're talking about root cellaring today.

Carolyn: We are.

Josh: As Carolyn was saying we don't have an actual technical root cellar. We actually are working towards building one. We need a really large one and so-

Carolyn: Let me just put this in context because I meant to say that too you were talking about the number of freezers that we have. For those of you who don't know us we have 13 members in the household right now so we're feeding a lot of people. We have Grandma and Grandpa on the property. They're here for quite a few meals-

Josh: We actually have 15 people full time on the property.

Carolyn: On the property and so and then of course we have a lot of guests in and out so we're often feeding 17, 18, 19 people at a meal so we have a lot more food requirements than say a four person household does. Just want to put that into context because yes, we need a really big root cellar but it's for a large number of people.

Josh: Well and we're also for our environment because a lot of root cellaring crops, a lot of storage crops do well in our environment and so it makes a lot of sense to be moving towards growing more of those. It's easier preservation but like we're going to talk about here it's a large space that needs to be created and built into the earth and so that's a larger project to tackle that's coming on. Now, a lot of you don't need something that large and so there's a lot of ways to go about it. I guess we'll get to that. We'll start digging in here. I got a frog in my throat I think. Well, let's just dive right in. What is root cellaring?

Carolyn: Root cellaring is creating an environment where food keeps for a really long time, which usually means controlling the temperature and the humidity or finding a place that does that for you to allow food to keep without any processing in its natural form for a long time.

Josh: There's the most standard way we would do that would be in the earth-

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: For a specific reason. You want to cover that, why root cellars are generally down in the ground.

Carolyn: Well, because of temperature control. When you're down in the ground you're dropping that temperature. You're cooler and you're also stable temperature wise. It doesn't fluctuate because the insulation of the earth. The other thing though is that the earth is moist. There's moisture down in there so you have that humid, more humid environment. It's also easier to keep that humidity in especially if you're in a dry place because you have all that insulation.

Josh: It's a great resource from that angle because pretty much anywhere that you have earth, you can create storage you just have to get down deep enough. If you're in a cold environment you've got to get down below your freezing depth and even in a hot environment you can get down deep enough to keep things cool at that general 50, 55 degrees which is your soil temperature when you get down there. That becomes... It takes no energy to do that besides building.

Carolyn: Yeah. Again, we're going to say that you don't have to have a technical root cellar in order to actually take advantage of some of these methods. It does make things a lot easier if you do.

Josh: Well, it makes things a lot easier and you're going to be able to store things a lot longer in the right conditions. We'll cover towards the end of this some other things that you can do and they may not be ideal conditions but you can put up a lot of food mimicking root cellaring and other environments.

Carolyn: These are exactly the things that we've done over the last decade or so to-

Josh: Yeah, and that's gotten us by very, very well.

Carolyn: Yeah it has.

Josh: Okay, so let's just dive into... We've been covering pros and cons on this topic so what are some of the pros for root cellaring?

Carolyn: One of the top pros for me for somebody who's generally responsible for bringing in a huge amount of food and having it stored for the winter is that it is fast. You bring it in and you park it somewhere. If you have the right environment you're not processing, you're not chopping, peeling, cooking. That all comes later and so that is just a major benefit to somebody who's trying to actually eat predominantly off of your food storage. Fast is a really big one. Easy is the next one, right? It's not very hard.

Josh: Yeah, one of your easier once you have the space set up it's one of the easiest preservation methods because there's not much to do but to harvest and prep the vegetables. A lot of them got to be cured properly and then stored.

Carolyn: Yeah, yeah. Of course it's also done correctly or there are ways that you can root cellar with a lot of electricity but in general it is your low energy... It has very low energy power costs related to it. You're not usually running anything except for maybe a light to see where you're going in your root cellar but it may be a fan. Then a really really great thing that has become more and more important to me as we live in the far north of Idaho and have these long, dark, snowy cold winters is that it keeps food fresh. They're in their same condition or at least they're still fresh. You haven't cooked them, you haven't processed them or changed their shape so you can still go get fresh food to eat even when the garden is under feet of snow.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: That's really good.

Josh: Very cool. Now, there are a few cons. Actually not a lot but there are a few reasons why it's challenge or why you might not do it.

Carolyn: Well, and the first one we've been talking about is-

Josh: The setup, right.

Carolyn: The infrastructure that it needs.

Josh: The infrastructure. You've got to get down into the earth so you've got to move earth, you've got to build something and of course if you're building a structure that's going to go under earth it needs to be a hefty structure and we're not getting into how to build a rood cellar but it's a major project to take on and the larger the amount you're trying to store in it the larger it has to be. There are a lot of other alternatives and other methods which we will cover. We'll gloss over a little bit here but to do root cellaring right it's a big project to tackle and has a bit of expense to get going.

Carolyn: Another con that a lot of people don't realize because we don't have a lot of experience with root cellaring in our culture generally at this point is that your root cellar and the things inside of it need to be maintained throughout their storage life. You've heard that one bad apple will spoil the whole batch, that saying?

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: That comes exactly from root cellaring, from cellaring things is you have to be going through your stores, making sure nothing's going bad, using up the things that are getting old looking and continually maintaining them. By continually I'm talking on a weekly basis you need to be getting in, checking on your stores. There is an ongoing... It's not like canning where you just stick it on your shelf and it's done.

Josh: Right, it's not that while it's stable and it's not that shelf stable as we're used to. We're just not used to that in our culture. In the homesteading lifestyle there's a lot of different things like that that you have to bring in a whole 'nother skill and a whole 'nother task so to speak. This is definitely one that while it's worth doing you've got to get in there and you've got to be a part of things, checking on it.

Carolyn: That not stable is really one other con is that your foods are all eventually going to go bad in a rood cellar. They're going to mold, there's going to shrivel, they're get old and so again they're not in that stable condition like a canned good that might just sit there and last or a freeze dried good that's going to last 20 years in the same state essentially. It's changing and it is going bad eventually. It's not long term stable.

Josh: But when you provide ideal conditions things can last a really, really long time. We're going to do a rundown here on the ideal conditions of root cellar and if you were to build one and what your goals are for different foods because for different foods there's different ideals and what you want. Then we'll get onto some of the alternatives that just about any of us can apply in some fashion to start cellaring in your own home and your own property as you move toward maybe an eventual real traditional root cellar.

Carolyn: So many things on the homestead you have ideal and you have practical. We want to aim for ideal but we don't want to get hung up on ideal to the point that we're not even doing it and not hitting practical.

Josh: Yeah, and there really is very little ideal and I think in today's world where we're taught so many industrial methods that are so technical and so precise and if we try to follow those, well we're never going to do something we're never going to get there and make it happen. There is a lot of in between. Well, it might not be ideal. Well, yes things might not store as long. You can still store things. You can still make things happen even outside of the root cellar discussion if we're willing to let go of ideal and kind of figure it out.

Carolyn: Yeah. Absolutely.

Josh: Cool, so let's dive in though. This is just going to be some good information about what you can keep in the conditions that you need to be able to keep it in in root cellaring.

Carolyn: Okay, great.

Josh: You want to start with cold and very moist.

Carolyn: Yeah, the first class is the cold and very moist and when we're talking about cold we're talking 32 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit so you're talking your refrigerator cooler sort of range but very very high humidity. 90 to 95% humidity. Realistically the way to get this is going to be having your vegetables in some sort of damp medium. Sand, sawdust, historically is very common, leaves, damp leaves. Not wet but damp. That's the way you're going to keep that 90-95% humidity in an area.

Josh: Likewise to keep it that cool because the earth actually isn't that cool. In this one there is some management because you've got to let that cold night air in, you've got to have air movement and get cold air in there to maintain these level.

Carolyn: Right. The things that store really well under these conditions are going to be things like carrots, beets, parsnips, turnips, celery, leeks and you can even store broccoli and brussels sprouts like this for short term. You're not going to get the months and months that the other ones are but if they are stored properly you can still be eating delicious crisp carrots six months from now out of your root cellar. They should be great. They should be in great condition by the time you're starting to get your spring carrots coming on. It's really good.

Josh: The next one we're going to talk about is cold and moist so same temperature level but the humidity levels don't need to be as high.

Carolyn: Right, we're talking still that 32 to 40 degree range but now we're in the 80 to 90% humidity. That's still quite a bit more humid-

Josh: That's pretty moist, yeah.

Carolyn: That's pretty moist that's more humid than your room level but you think about root cellars in the ground, in dirt. You're going to be holding moisture in there pretty well so you're going to have to add a little bit but the things that would be in that range and would store really well there are going to be potatoes, cabbage, apples, grapes, oranges, pears. Some of those things we don't even think about root cellaring in our culture right now but historically they have been cellared for long periods of time in that kind of storage. Great. How lovely would it be to go get a bunch of grapes but if you've ever seen in Italy they used to have these chandelier looking things with bunches of grapes hanging off of them in their root cellar areas and they would stay good for months that way.

Josh: So cool.

Carolyn: You could still have fresh grapes down in your root cellar. Isn't that amazing?

Josh: Very, very cool. One thing to not in these that makes me think on this list too is just there are some things that need to not be stored together.

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: Like the apples and potatoes cause a problem. I forget which way it goes right at the moment. Do you remember what-

Carolyn: No, I don't off hand.

Josh: One of them off gasses something and makes the other one go bad.

Carolyn: Generally you want to keep your fruits and your roots separate.

Josh: Yeah, good rule of thumb there so that's something you want to research if you're looking at applying some of these or trying to get this going you definitely want to do some research and understand what works well together, right? Well, the next environment we're talking about is cool. We're warming up here a little bit, 40 to 50 degrees.

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: And yet still moist. Still up in that 80 percentile moisture level.

Carolyn: Absolutely and these are some really exciting ones for a lot of people because they're cucumbers, sweet peppers, watermelons and cantaloupe, ripe tomatoes. Did you know these things can store for up to two and three months pretty easily in great condition if you can give them this environment? How nice to go grab some sweet peppers, right? 40 to 50 degrees, you're kind of in refrigerator range right there but you're maybe a little warmer in your refrigerator?

Josh: Yeah, you're getting a little warmer than a refrigerator. You're still pretty cool.

Carolyn: You're pretty cool but you're pretty high humidity and that's the important thing.

Josh: You're still going to have to get some cool air in there at night. You're still going to have to manage that. That's not that 50 to 55 degrees, that earth temperature. There's still some cooling off that needs to happen.

Carolyn: Right, okay.

Josh: Okay, now we're going back to that cold but drier. I don't really think of this as dry but in terms of crop storage, cool and dry that 32 to 50 degrees. This is quite a wide range but lower humidity, the 60 percentile of humidity.

Carolyn: Yeah, that's considered dry, right? Drier when it comes-

Josh: Yeah, as far as storing food.

Carolyn: To food storage but it's still higher than your average room household humidity. That's going to be your onions and your garlic. That's where those are going to store really really well is in that kind of cool, very cool. It's really quite cold actually, 32 to 50.

Josh: Yeah, there's just a high tolerance there. They're going to do best on these closer to that 32. You don't want to freeze because that's only going to damage them but any of these things that can take those temperatures, the cooler the better before you get to freezing. They're going to hold longer assuming you've got your humidity in a good range.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: Next, we're moving on to a moderately warm, wouldn't call it warm but moving up in temperature to 50 to 60 degrees and still in that 60% humidity level.

Carolyn: Right. That's things like your pumpkins and your winter squash, your sweet potatoes and green tomatoes will hold for a long time at that temperature.

Josh: You can tell just by those temperatures right there what things are going to be easier to get started with.

Carolyn: Yes.

Josh: Pumpkins, winter squash, if you don't have ideal conditions the sweet potatoes, green tomatoes, even onions and garlic those things start moving towards things that you can get started with really easily without ideal conditions because that temperature range is a bit higher.

Carolyn: Right, exactly. Here we're talking about storing things in this really cool temperature for a lot of them but if you can get close to that you can still store things for a long time. It's just not going to store as long.

Josh: Right. Moving away from that ideal, and this is why root cellars work because your soil temperature's 50 to 55 degrees and so that is a good... You can do all of this within that. It may not be ideal for everything but that temperature range will get you there real close and can work across the board for almost everything here that we're talking about.

Carolyn: You may not have really crisp delicious carrots for those six months but would you be happy to have them for three months to get you thorough and a lot of places-

Josh: Oh yeah. I'm telling you-

Carolyn: Yeah, the answer's absolutely. I would love that.

Josh: Yeah, and the winter squashes. We've gotten winter squashes six months.

Carolyn: Oh easily. In the kitchen.

Josh: Yeah, in that 60 degree temperature. 60, 65 degrees. That's getting into varietals and varieties that do real well that you can still go a long, long way. That we're kind of moving out of that. We're talking about that ideal and so now we're talking, okay you could do this 55's a good temperature average but say we just can't get to the root cellar. We still aren't going to get that hole in the ground and get a technical root cellar built. We're not ready yet. What are things that people can do? We've done a lot over the years to make do.

Carolyn: Yeah. Well you can... one thing that's worked really well first is using coolers in a cold space, right?

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: We've been able to keep apples in our uninsulated garage here where it gets very very cold but we have them inside a cooler and we've been able to keep them good all the way until the following March and even into April.

Josh: Yeah, six months. Yeah in non ideal conditions.

Carolyn: Those are just in coolers, in big coolers just put right in there. They're cracked open just a little bit so you can find a space that will stay cool but give them some protection from being frozen.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: That's a good one.

Josh: That is a good one.

Carolyn: Another one would be an old fridge. We used to have a neighbor who had an old fridge on her porch and she would keep apples and pears in that cracked open all winter long and if it got too cold she'd just go out and close the fridge door and if it was a nice day she would crack it open a little so it could get some circulation there.

Josh: Yeah, air circulation.

Carolyn: That worked really well for her.

Josh: It did and she was a long time and she grew up right here homesteading-

Carolyn: Oh yes. 77 I think year old-

Josh: On the same land and she didn't have a big giant root cellar but she had tips and tricks like that that worked and that's really cool.

Carolyn: Got her a long ways. Some people actually take old fridges or chest freezers and dig them into the ground. You can certainly do that but by the time you're digging into the ground I kind of feel like you might as well just dig a little more and get a root cellar.

Josh: Yeah, maybe but depending on what your storage needs are that's a good way to do it. Another thing you could do is this is kind of like clamping which we'll talk about in a minute but you could stack bales around those, around an old fridge or something like that. Getting back to just using some of what we have there's a few other things that you can do here that keep you in that 50's range.

Carolyn: Of course a lot of this has to do with the environment that you're living in, right? You're really just looking for where can I find a 50's range in a way that hopefully your vegetables or fruits aren't going to go through a whole lot of daily temperature fluctuations. A little bit of insulation there. One thing that you can do is an exterior closet, maybe on your porch that either does or doesn't have insulation depending on how cold you get.

Josh: Or you could insulate it, something like that, a shed. You can insulate it. Again, it's going to depend on your environment but you could insulate that shed and that may keep it just enough in that good environment.

Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely. Really good. Crawl spaces are another really good-

Josh: We've done that, yeah.

Carolyn: A lot of times those will be exposed to the dirt so you actually get the benefit of that dampness of the soil from underneath the house and if you don't mind all the spiders and you can protect things from rodents.

Josh: Right, this is the non-ideal. It's a little harder to access depending on how much you're putting under there and we've done that. Going down to the crawl space and you got to go out in the rain or whatever and crawl around to get to it but it definitely especially if the house floor's insulated. If it's a house with a crawl space and the house floor's insulated it's going to often stay in those 50's, low 60's and can work very, very well for you.

Carolyn: Yeah, very good. I have also seen that people take their porches and create spaces underneath them insulating with things like hay bales and just create kind of a mock root cellar underneath their porch in the shaded cool side of the house can work well.

Josh: You can even take the cool side of the house and stack up bales against the house so the inside of that's getting a little bit of heat from the house but not that much and then stack up straw bales or hay bales and make a little room. You can really get creative with these things.

Carolyn: There's a lot that you can do.

Josh: Another one that's really good and what we're currently using is a basement.

Carolyn: Yeah, our basement.

Josh: If your basement is not heated it is down in the earth and ours gets a little warm because the floors aren't insulated so it can get a little bit warmer but it generally stays in the low 60's, sometimes the 50's depending on how it's doing and that's a great space especially if you can section it off and here's what we're doing this year is we're actually going to create a little section and I'm taking a four inch vent pipe and going to bring in with a fan and bring cool air in at night as needed to get those temps down. That's going to be a step up for us and our system until we can get to that actual root cellar. Lots you can do in a basement.

Carolyn: To pick up the humidity, if you live in a dry area I know in general basements are notorious for being damp but sometimes they actually aren't damp enough to be in that higher humidity area. You can always bring in buckets of water and just set them there and let them evaporate into the area. Some people go down daily with spray bottles and just spray around. You can hang a sheet on the inside and dampen that in the day.

Josh: Hey, I guess if you wanted to get really fancy you could do a very simple mister-

Carolyn: There you go.

Josh: With a... Tristan would love this, my son. He likes all the tech stuff. You could actually put a little humidifier in there with a little mister and it just comes on a little bit when you need a little humidity.

Carolyn: You could probably put a digital controller on it for humidity. You could do all sorts of things.

Josh: Well, we're getting one for temperature for the fan is what we're going to do to help with that. You can really get creative working with what you have which is what we've done over the years to do your best to mimic these spaces. Yeah okay so we're not hitting the ideals we can really, really stretch out storage if you just get creative, learn a little bit and get very creative about thinking about the space that you have and how you can use it.

Carolyn: There are some old fashioned outdoor techniques, some of which are storing in your rows actually not harvesting your root vegetables but insulating over them. You also have to-

Josh: Straw bales.

Carolyn: Lamp system where you would pile up your vegetables and thickly insulate that with some straw. Those things can definitely work depending on your environment but I think any of these systems that you want to come up with as an alterative you have to keep in mind your top priorities when it comes to rood cellaring. Number one, the first priority is temperature. You've got to get it cool. You've got to get it cool and you want to keep it cool and you want to keep it as temperature stable as possible so you don't have a lot of fluctuation.

Josh: Well, and if you can get that, start cellaring.

Carolyn: Do something.

Josh: However you can, start. Don't worry about the next one if you can't nail it, if you can't get that just right. If you can just get those cooler temperatures and even down into the low 60's you're going to be able to take some of these foods and extend your storage without having to can them or dehydrate them or something else and just start playing with it.

Carolyn: Yeah. Absolutely. Then the number two priority is going to be your humidity levels. That's the second thing to try and dial in the best you can. Number three is going to be air flow and of course all of it has to be accessible to you've got to think through accessibility, how are you going to get to it if it's covered in snow or if it's raining out or all of that you need to kind of work through those issues because certain weather conditions in the winter can throw you off quite a bit without being able to access it. If you can work out those top three priorities then you have a great alternative to a traditional root cellar.

Josh: Absolutely. One last item which is maintenance.

Carolyn: Is maintenance. That is going through at least once a week during your storage period and sorting through things. Now, that's going to kind of change. Once a week is kind of that rule of thumb but that's going to change as the season wears on. At the beginning when you just put your apples into storage in a bin, you're pretty sure they're not bad because you were careful to put them all in, right?

Josh: Well, I got to say though hopefully you're careful to put them all in and depending on how you're harvesting, who's helping you. Sometimes we got a lot of kids helping so quality control isn't always at it's tops and so you've got to know what you're putting in and you may need to start right away going through them. Just have an eye on what you're doing.

Carolyn: Certainly the further through the season you get, the more you've got to keep your eye on things, make sure you're removing any that are starting to spoil. Make sure you're going, "These things, the potatoes are starting to get wilty. Let's take all the rest of the potatoes and dehydrate them into hash browns or can them or just eat them for dinner this week. Whatever it is that you're going to do with them but be looking at things all the time and be keeping an eye on them. That's really really important and I got to say, make sure in between vegetable seasons that you're cleaning things really really well. They used to white wash things with a lime wash.

Josh: Yes they did, with a lime wash, yep.

Carolyn: Because that's disinfectant. That's antibacterial and so you're killing off mols spores, yeast spores, things like that so that you start out crisp and clean with the longest possibility of storage life.

Josh: I'm going to make one other note about maintenance especially on these other options that we're talking about because when you are root cellaring and the ideal since you're in the ground so temperature is very stable. When we start applying these other situations especially like something in the garage or whatever, if you end up with a few weeks of warmer winter. The weather fluctuations, especially if it warms up. You got to be careful of it freezing too hard too and something might catch and you might get something frozen but particularly warming up that's going to accelerate the deterioration and so you need to bump up and all of a sudden you go, "Wow it's been really warm for a few days. I maybe better get in there even though I'm not scheduled to for another three, four days." You don't have as much control because we're just making due and that's where that maintenance can help balance that out, make sure and get in there in that warm weather.

Carolyn: I have to say that I'm really excited that this winter we are planning, maybe we're hoping?

Josh: We're sure designing and making plans. On implementation we'll see.

Carolyn: For a real root cellar, our first ever complete root cellar next year.

Josh: Well yeah. We're hoping to put that in next year, we'll see. We got a lot of projects. We're trying to do a lot of infrastructure projects on the property and that's one of them that we really want to get in.

Carolyn: Because you can store a lot of food really quickly in a root cellar, especially when you have a well designed one and so culturally there was a lot more root cellaring going on because you have to survive off of what you were producing yourself a lot of times on the land and that is a really really good way to do that. A lot of the things that root cellar kind of survival crop, right? Potatoes, carrots, squash. Things like that that you can really get a lot of healthy good calories out of for your wintertime. I'm really excited about that addition to the food program here on the homestead.

Josh: Really is and they're so important and that's why there are all those alternative methods so find a way to get started and jump into it and start learning now and get in on that journey.

Carolyn: Yeah, even if it's not ideal, just find place, think about it, think about what you could do on your homestead and give it a try and some experimenting this year.

Josh: Yep, absolutely. You guys, it's been great hanging with you this time and we will see you soon.

Thanks for listening to this episode of The Pantry Chat:Food For Thought. If you've enjoyed this episode please subscribe, rate, and review.

Carolyn: To view the show notes and any other resources mentioned on this episode you can learn more at

Josh: We'll see you soon.

Carolyn: Goodbye!

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