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Underground Food Storage Options

Underground Food Storage Options

Do you like eating fresh, local food even during the winter months? That may be easier than you think—especially with crops that store well, such as potatoes, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes and other root vegetables. Of course, freezing and canning are great options for putting up all kinds of fresh food to enjoy during winter, but underground root cellars are great, too, and are an oft forgotten option. Here are three simple setups for underground food storage.

1. Dig a Trench Silo

Dig up root crops such as carrots, parsnips and beets and cut the tops off, leaving about 1 inch of the stems. Next, dig a trench that’s about a half foot deep and 2 feet wide. “Replant” your veggies close together at the bottom of the trench, add soil back in, and then heap soil in a small hill over the top of the trench. Mark the area with stakes so you know where you buried your goodies. Because your veggies are buried deeper in this setup than they would be if just left in the ground where they originally grew, they’ll be protected from the cold. Dig some of them whenever you need them all the way through winter into the following spring, simply replacing the soil after you harvest crops from your trench.

2. Make a Garbage Can Cellar

Dig a hole about 6 inches deeper than a standard-sized garbage can, and place the garbage can in the hole. Next, add a layer of leaves or straw to the bottom of the can, then a layer of root vegetables, then a layer of leaves/straw, etc., until the can is full. Put the lid on the can. Fill and pack the area around the can with soil, but don’t put soil right on top of the can. After that, cut some foam and plywood both to the size of the lid. Set the foam cylinder on the lid first, then the plywood cylinder. Cover the plywood with a large rock to keep it all in place. That’s it! Harvest from your garbage can cellar throughout the winter. (You can use this same method for storage apples, but keep apples and root veggies separate. Apples release ethylene gas as they ripen, which will shorten the life of other foods if stored together.)

3. Create an Old-Fashioned Root Clamp

If your region doesn’t have super-hard winters, you can use this method. To make a root clamp, mound your vegetables on a bed of straw. As you work, create horizontal tunnels of straw that extend beyond the edges of the pile (this will allow air to pass through the pile so that excess moisture won’t build up and cause rot). Next, cover the whole pile with a 6-inch layer of straw followed by a 6-inch layer of soil.

If you didn’t grow many root crops this year, get down to your farmers market and stock up. Then, make a fun weekend project of creating an underground root cellar, and you’ll be enjoying delicious, local food this winter.

For more information on these three methods, plus two more ideas for creating underground food storage cellars, visit Outdoor Root Cellars.

Illustration by Mike Biegel

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Shelley Stonebrook

Shelley Stonebrook is an Associate Editor at Mother Earth News—North America’s most popular magazine about sustainable, self-reliant living—where she works on exciting projects such as Organic Gardening content and the Vegetable Garden Planner. Shelley is particularly interested in organic gardening, small-scale, local food production, waste reduction, food preservation and cooking. In her spare time, she posts in her personal blog, The Rowdy Radish.


+ add your own
8:44PM PST on Feb 28, 2013

Fabulous ideas, do live in a very cold climate so the last idea won't work as mentioned in the article.

3:24PM PST on Nov 9, 2011


11:30PM PST on Nov 8, 2011

I will remember this for when I grow up!
Unless zombies happen - then I'd rather not bother with the outdoors at all.

8:40PM PST on Nov 7, 2011

I grew up with a cellar in the house. Connected to it was the old coal cellar, which had no heat in the winter, but was fitted out with shelves for food storage.

10:43PM PDT on Nov 3, 2011

when i was a kid we had a root cellar and things kept very well in it all winter. Now I live in an apartment and my food storage options are extremely limited.

11:58AM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

Shelley thanks

7:42PM PDT on Oct 31, 2011

Worth reading. Thank you.

1:21PM PDT on Oct 31, 2011

Sounds great except for here in north central Texas. We have black clay soil! Digging that deep a hole here would be back-breaking work. The soil is hard.

10:36AM PDT on Oct 31, 2011

The garbage can cellar sounds like a great idea!

8:59AM PDT on Oct 31, 2011

My Mom used to talk about her Mom, having a root cellar, root veges and canned food stuffs also, great Ideas thanks.

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