The refrigerator. A miracle of modern living. Think about how many times you open and close that magic box every day. Now think about your life it it were gone. How would your life be different? How would your eating habits be different?
Artificial refrigeration was first introduced in the 1750’s but the modern refrigerator as we think of it today wasn’t available in most homes until the 1920’s. That’s less than a hundred years ago. That means that In many cases, your grandparents didn’t have refrigerators. Ice boxes were around, but many families, especially in rural America depended on Root Cellars to keep foods cool.
1. Keep the food you grow fresh longer
If you do any type of vegetable gardening, you have run into the issue of having too much food all at once. Whether it is tomatoes that really took off or zucchini or peppers, many times gardeners have more food than they can possibly consume before the season is over. Many of these fruits and vegetables can be canned, dried or frozen. In the case of other foods such as cabbages, potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables, you need a different type of storage. Using a root cellar can keep these vegetables fresh and ready to use for weeks and even months after the season has ended.
2. Know what’s in your food
There are so many processed foods out there. Pick up a can of just about anything and you are almost guaranteed not to be able to pronounce at least one of the ingredients. If you can’t pronounce it, is it the best thing to put into your body ot the bodies of your growing children? Maybe not. When you have a root cellar and you go down stairs to grab potatoes to mash up for dinner, you know what the ingredients are. Potatoes (and your hard work) Neither of which you are going to mind eating.
3. Security in knowing that you have food to eat.
If there were a major catastrophe in the United States tomorrow. Would you have enough food to get you through? One of the scary statistics I see out there from time to time is that most grocery stores only stock about four days worth of food on the shelves. I have worked in grocery retail and that figure is alarmingly accurate. If the supply of food was cut off; No trucks, no trains, no planes to replenish the supply of food, how would you eat? We take grocery stores and the supply of food in our country for granted almost as much as out refrigerators. With a root cellar, You know you have food to eat. You may get sick of potatoes, but you won’t starve.
4. Your food is close by.
This kind of goes with the last point. You have quick access to your food. Getting your next meal doesn’t require that you get in your vehicle and drive a mile or 3 to the nearest Walmart. Your food is at your fingertips. Just go down into the basement or out to the back yard and your food is at hand.
5. You don’t need to run an extra refrigerator (Energy savings)
Root cellars aren’t just for root vegetables. You can store other items that need to be kept cool, but not frozen. (Beer comes to mind) by using your root cellar for these items, you cut down on the need to keep an extra refrigerator running. And let’s face it, usually the extra refrigerator that gets stuck in the basement is the old “Harvest Gold” model from your last remodel that you didn’t want to send to the dump or have the appliance guys haul away because it was still “good”. Well, It may still work, but it is chewing up the kilowatt hours. Older refrigerators weren’t the most environmentally friendly units.
6. Save Money on Groceries
Even if you don’t garden and you purchase your produce from a roadside stand or the grocery store, you can save money with a root cellar. I see a lot of zucchini and summer squash around the end of September and the beginning of October. It is usually very cheap at road side markets and tables set out along the road by gardeners who have produced too much. You can bet that the 4 zucchini you bought for a dollar in September is going to be a better price than you will find it in the grocery store in January and February.
7. The feeling of Self-Reliance
There is a feeling you get when you eat food that has a direct link to your own hard work. It is kind of hard to explain if you have never done it. It is just a feeling you get, like eating a meal cooked on a fire that you collected all the wood for. Like laying down in the grass after a hard day of mowing the lawn. It is a feeling of satisfaction mixed with pride wrapped in accomplishment. It is like no other feeling in the world and I highly recommend it.
How does a root cellar work?
Traditionally, root cellars were under ground. The term cellar kind of gives that away. Root cellars would be dug into hill sides and lined with brick and logs and used to store items that needed to be kept at a cool constant temperature to stay fresh. These dug-in rooms were well ventilated and because they were surrounded by earth, they stayed a constant temperature and humidity year round.
A root cellar doesn’t have to be dug into a hillside. A cool area in your basement can be modified with composite decking and the right ventilation to keep your vegetables fresh.
I don’t want to eat Potatoes every day.
You can store more than root vegetables in a root cellar. With proper care and advanced planning, you can store fruits like cantaloupes and apples and other vegetables like tomatoes and squash in your root cellar and keep them as fresh as they came out of the garden for months. Imagine having a BLT with a fresh tomato from your garden in February. It’s possible with a root cellar.
What about southern states like Texas and Louisiana?
Having a root cellar in Texas and Louisiana is tough, but not impossible. The high heat of the summer in Texas means you would have to dig in pretty deep to keep anything cool and those cool dark places would become a popular hangout for snakes, scorpions, spiders and out other poisonous friends. In the fall and winter months, though you could still benefit from a dug-in root cellar. In Louisiana where the water table is so close to the surface, it is next to impossible to dig in. They even bury the dead above ground. Above ground cellars are viable in both of these locations. They cost a bit more to construct, and use more resources up front, but can still be a way to go to get the benefits of root cellaring.
I live in an apartment or rent a home
Just because you do not own your home, doesn’t mean you can’t use the same properties that are applied in root cellaring. An attic is a great place to store foods in the winter. It is cool and usually has a lot of ventilation. Attics are also well insulated, so you don’t have to worry about temperature fluctuation much. Another option would be storing food in an area under the stairs where it is cooler and dark. There are many sites out on the web that have instructions for building small dug-in root cellars out of buckets and garbage cans that you may be able to utilize.
Root cellars have been around for hundreds of years. Our forefathers counted on them to keep their food stores fresh and get them through when times were lean. The modern conveniences of our society has us spoiled in many ways. We take for granted things that our grandfathers would have marveled at. While a root cellar is not a necessity for us in our modern lives and hopefully we won’t have to give up our refrigerators any time soon, it’s nice to know that you could rely on yourself should the need arise.