Gallery: DIY: Learn How To Build a Root Cellar From Recycled Materials

Once upon a time, just about every household had a pantry and a root cellar. These small rooms and storage areas were where fresh food would be stored for use throughout the year. While the pantry was close to the kitchen and used for daily items (dry goods, preserves, eggs, etc.) the root cellar would have been in an out-of-the-way location and utilized primarily for longer term cold storage. As the word cellar would imply, these storage facilities were often in the lower section of the house; either the basement, sub-basement, or even a stand-alone cellar built away from the home completely. Keep reading to learn how you preserve your harvest in a way that would make your great-grandparents proud: channel your inner Ingalls and put together a cold-storage container that can keep your foods fresh and lively for months.

Creating a cellar for food storage is an ideal method for many reasons: an underground chamber doesn’t see much temperature fluctuation, and during the colder months the conditions within will be nice and cool. In the days before every home had a fridge (and in places where electricity is scarce), root cellaring has been a way of keeping food from spoiling by simple refrigeration and humidity control. Since the food is kept at a constant cool temperature, it goes into a state of torpor and doesn’t go bad as quickly. Sounds rather spectacular, doesn’t it? When done properly, root cellaring can preserve food right through the winter, and making your own can be ridiculously cheap and simple to do.

Naturally, you won’t be able to create one of these if you’re in an apartment building, but if you own your own home (or you rent one from a really great landlord who won’t mind you tearing up the back garden), you can make an impromptu root cellar out of a sunken garbage can, plastic container/cooler, or even a discarded fridge/chest freezer.


A sunken galvanized steel or plastic garbage pail with holes punched in the bottom for drainage can be buried in your backyard and covered with a bale of straw for insulation. There are many web pages dedicated to the how-to methods of creating these things, with advice ranging from wrapping each individual vegetable/fruit in newspaper and laying them on layered racks, to immersing them in layers of play sand à la Alton Brown. The varieties of food you plan to store (Apples? Carrots? Potatoes?) in addition to the climate you live in will determine what the best method will be for you, so be sure to look into the type of cellar that’s best suited to your needs.


Dead fridges and freezers can find new lives as backyard root cellars, and are certainly spacious enough to hold a lot, but this method can also be a lot of work: most articles on how to create them include plans for ventilation shafts, etc. so if you decide to create a cellar from an old fridge or freezer, please be sure to do your research to ensure that you’re not helping Freon to leak into the surrounding area. There are many DIY articles on how to do this safely, so study up before you start to dig.

Happy homesteading, and let us know if you try any of these methods, and what you thought about them!


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