Back before the days of refrigerators, a root cellar was not a luxury, but a necessity. Today, if you live off the grid, having a root cellar can be a way to save both power and your produce, assuring your harvest is safe throughout the winter.
But what is a root cellar exactly?
A root cellar is a storage space that uses the natural cooling, humidifying, and insulation properties of the earth itself to preserve your food. Essentially, it provides the storage space of a walk-in refrigerator in a restaurant, but using no electricity at all.
While there are many different styles of root cellars that you can create with a shovel and a strong back, there are some fundamental tips to keep in mind when building one, providing you want it to last a lifetime.
Dig to the Right Depth
When digging a root cellar, it is crucial that you reach the right depth in order to get natural temperatures that will actually keep food from rotting. Typically this is around 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity of between 85 to 95 percent. In most soil, this would be digging down at least 10 feet, but if your off the grid homestead is built on sandier soil, you may need to go even deeper.
Head for a Hill
It should be common sense, but a lot of homesteaders fail to keep in mind the water table when they dig their root cellar. This means that your temperature controlled storage will turn into a muddy pit before it even begins. Be sure to build your root cellar higher than the water table. Building it into an actual hill is the easiest method.
Don’t build your root cellar around any trees. Not only is chopping through roots a real pain, but if any big storm comes through and rips out that tree, it is going to take your root cellar with it.
Install an Exhaust Pipe
Even though your foods aren’t rotting in a properly dug root cellar, they are still releasing gases that can build up and prevent your food from preserving properly, even if you are in and out of your root cellar daily. A simple pipe that connects your root cellar to the surface can be enough to prevent gas build-up. Just be sure to position it in a way that rain or snow won’t go leaking in.
Use Wooden Shelves
Unlike metal shelves, wood does not conduct heat. This will help keep temperatures more stable in your root cellar. Unfortunately, wood shelving comes with its own unique set of problems – it rots. As a root cellar is a cool, moist environment, wood can rot or grow mold. Keep any wood shelving from pressing up against the walls to slow this process down. You also may want to install concrete flooring in order to keep any standalone shelving stable.
Install Monitoring Tools
Don’t just rely on guess work. Install a thermometer and hydrometer inside your root cellar to monitor temperature and humidity respectively. Make sure that your root cellar is still at optimum levels after you have moved in all your shelving as well. After all that, temperatures should not fluctuate much throughout the seasons. If it does, you may want to check your ventilation system to make sure the opening is not letting too much air in.
A root cellar is a key feature of any successful off the grid living homestead, but it is not the only thing you will need for a successful off the grid life. To learn more about off the grid living and to get access to some of the best tools to live your dream off the grid life, contact us today.
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