Root Cellars—Cold Storage for Fruits & Veggies

Published by: Nancy Meissner

This is the time of year every gardener or anyone who loves to eat fresh garden produce looks forward to!  The tiny seeds you planted in the soil months ago are now large plants with home grown food ready to harvest and enjoy; fruit trees are loaded with ripening sweet fruit, and berries are waiting to be picked! 

Even if you haven’t made your move to the country yet, perhaps you’ve been growing produce in pots or window boxes. At the very least, you probably have a local farmers’ market nearby!  

Hopefully you have so much produce available that you can eat fresh and still have plenty to preserve for future meals!  

The question is—what methods should be used to preserve all of the various types of produce?  I want to take a look first at what I would consider the most basic method of food preservation.

To preserve fruits and vegetables as long as possible in their natural, unprocessed state, you must have some type of storage set up, such as a root cellar. Actually, the term “root cellar” could include anything from a hillside cave to garden trenches. It’s simply an underground storage space that uses the earth’s temperature to keep your produce cool for long periods of time. Basement rooms can also be used as root cellars if you set them up properly. 

In a broad sense, fresh produce cold storage can be done in garages, on porches, in buried containers, or in outdoor piles—sometimes known as “clamps”. 

There are three basic conditions that a good root cellar must provide:

  • Correct Temperature (32-40 degrees is optimum)
  • Humidity (most root crops and leafy vegetables require 90-95%). 
  • Ventilation (you need properly placed air inlets and outlets). 


The best book that I know on this topic is “Root Cellaring—Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables”* by Mike and Nancy Bubel. 

Story Publishing also carries two very inexpensive booklets. The first, “How to Build Your Own Underground Root Cellar”*, Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin, describes an 8x12 root cellar that can be built by one person. It includes info on tools and materials needed, and divides the construction process into 14 steps, so you can buy the materials as you go along if you want to. This root cellar can also double as a storm shelter for your family. 

The second booklet is called “Cold Storage for Fruits and Vegetables”*, Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin. If building a concrete block root cellar isn’t possible right away, this booklet tells how to make a root cellar in your basement, plus how to store fruits and veggies in pits, trenches and barrels. It also gives detailed charts of storage life expectancies and recommended storage conditions for a variety of produce.

Not all fruits and vegetables store well in a root cellar. I plan to cover other methods of preservation in future posts.

*Affiliate link, which doesn't cost you a penny but helps support this blog. Thanks!


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