Once you have grown your own food in your polytunnel, the next stage is determining how you will store and preserve that food to eat and enjoy throughout the year. Storage and preservation can be just as important to sustainable self-sustenance as growing and cooking. One of the problems faced by many UK home growers is a lack of storage space. Freezers can only hold so much, and few of us are lucky enough to have space for a large walk-in pantry or cold storage area in our homes. For those facing a shortage of space – traditional practices could offer a solution. An underground root cellar in your garden could be the perfect solution for storing vegetables and other items throughout the year.
Why Make An Underground Root Cellar?
Traditionally, the best way to keep root crops and other vegetables was to keep them cool in an underground storage area. The ground around a traditional root cellar will tend to keep produce frost free in winter, yet cool during the summer months. The humidity levels of a root cellar can also be kept to suitable levels to allow for the safe storage of a number of harvests.
Options for an Underground Root Cellar
An underground root cellar can be simple or complex. It can be, at its simplest, a box inserted into the ground, and, at its most sophisticated, a fully walk-in underground ‘room’. There are plenty of different options that you could consider when thinking about creating an underground root cellar. Which you look at will depend on your budget and needs, and how much space might be available in your garden.
Small, Simple Underground Root Cellars:
The easiest way to create a space to stow the produce for a small-scale operation is simply to dig a hole and place within that hole a box suitable for cool storage. While complete temperature stability is reached at around 3m deep, placing an insulated yet ventilated box within a shallower hole could be sufficient to allow for safe root vegetable storage. The box could be made of a number of different materials, but remember to make sure that it will keep out pests such as rodents.
Larger Walk-In Underground Root Cellars:
Many choose to built their underground root cellar from concrete, but it is also possible to buy ready-made tank-like structures that could be customised to create an ideal root cellar. You may also be able to look into using reclaimed materials of various descriptions. If you are undertaking a larger and more complex root cellar project, be sure to check carefully for underground services before you commence any digging, and pay attention to land drainage to any underground room does not get flooded with ground water. French drains can help to manage and direct ground water.
Creating a root cellar can be as cheap or as expensive as you like. You can scale up or scale down the project based on how much space you have, how much money you have, and how much produce you have to store.
Have you created an underground root cellar? Please share your experiences in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.