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