In the back corner of our garage there is a room with concrete block walls. When we entered the house through the basement for the first time, and walked through the framed opening to this fairly large space, we immediately thought root cellar. Like many homeowners can relate to however, this project ended up on the back burner. First we had to build an air-conditioned cold storage space, which we did in the barn. Check out our old post about it here.
But this winter the root cellar was built. For centuries and arguably millennia, people have been using root cellars (or the same basic idea) to store vegetables through the unproductive months of the year. The core concept stems from the insulating property of the earth. If one digs down into the ground one only has to go a number of feet, say somewhere between 4 and 10, to find a stable temperature that is above freezing. This allows many vegetables to be preserved without the destructive results from being frozen (of course with a modern freezer one can freeze vegetables without harming their integrity).
The ideal root cellar, then, is a room below the ground that is dark, ventilated, and can be very humid without issue. Our basement room, with its concrete walls and floor was just that. All we had to do was frame up the doorway, add some insulation around the door and on the ceiling (where there was no concrete), and pipe in cold air from outside, and pipe out the rising hotter air from inside. The ventilation helps with temperature and humidity control, and is necessary for keeping harmful molds from growing. Again, we conveniently had one basement window that could be replaced with insulation and used to ventilate by installing PVC piping.
Now we have doubled our cold storage space and will be able to store produce into the winter next year. It should also be noted that vegetables are far from uniform in their storage requirements. Some like it cold and moist others like it warmer and wetter. The root cellar offers an alternative to our AC cold storage, in that it will always be a bit warmer and much more humid (since air conditioners essentially act to dehumidify), which will be good during the heat of the season for a number of vegetables. For example, tomatoes, peppers, and winter squash.
Here’s a link to ideal storage conditions for veggies.
You don’t have to have a full-blown root cellar to take advantage of different spaces in the house for food storage. Basements can be used easily, although low humidity can be somewhat difficult, as it tends to dry out produce. Attics and closests can be used as well.