Have you ever stopped to think about what people did long before refrigeration? Was it easy, did people think people back then had it easy using underground food storage?
Well, history tells us they made use of facilities called root cellars.
Root cellars were essentially the first refrigerator built. They can keep your fruit and vegetables that you grow good all year round by keeping your food 40 degrees lower than the summer temperature outside and in winter.
The root cellar will keep your underground food storage just above freezing.
Making a root cellar can come with its own difficulty but i would highly recommend it for those of you who have an excess amount of resources that you’ve grown. This will also help you become more self-sufficient.
Creating that underground food storage space and properly having resources just in case something does happen is important.
Build a Root Cellar
There are 5 very important elements that root cellars require. If you want to make the most out of your underground food storage make note of these elements.
- Ventilation: Some fruits and vegetables give off gas, specifically ethylene gas. This gas can cause other produce to spoil. You want to make sure fresh air can get in even though a tightly sealed cellar is important, you want air to be able to circulate around the produce.
- Earth shelter: the soil insulates and maintains a cooler temperature. A packed earth floor or gravel floor is better than concrete, this keep moisture (humidity) levels higher.
- Humidity: A high humidity level of 80-95% keeps produce from drying out. Also, too much humidity can be a problem also, so try to keep it below 95%.
- Darkness: light can trigger sprouting, try to limit the light coming in.
- Shelving/storage bints: Wood shelving and bins are naturally antibacterial. Wood also conducts heat more slowly than metal and won’t rust. Aim for rot-resistant wood like western red cedar.
Underground Food Storage
Underground root cellars should be important to preppers, especially if you produce more than what you can store in your refrigerator or on canning shelves.
The different types of foods you can store in a root cellar are many. Although you have to aim for the ideal temperatures to get the most out of the shelf life of what you are storing.
This is a lost art that was once a common part of life. Yet it still very essential and greatly benefit those who want more storage. Below I will go over the different fruits and vegetables you can store.
Store Food Underground
Many varieties of apples store better than others in a root cellar, especially tart apples. Sweet apples don’t last as long. You want to aim for Fuji, Honeycrisp, Pink lady, Rome Beauty, and Yate apples.
Apples make a great fruit for your underground food storage as they can last 2-7 months depending on the variety. The ideal temperature would 29-31 degrees F.
Beets are a great vegetable that is ideal for food storage, you want to aim for 32 degrees F temperature if you can get that your crop will last 3-5 months.
Although before storage, you want to remove the greens, along with one to two inches of the top of the root.
You want to take take care to not damage the root tip at all.
You also want to store them in a container, aim for plastic, and layered in either damp sand sawdust or peat moss.
You also want to make sure the beets are not touching; you will risk spoiling them!
Cabbage is another awesome candidate for long-term root cellar storage. If you are planning to store your cabbage with this method, red cabbage typically does better, and late varieties are better for underground food storage than early varieties.
Harvest should take place after the first frost. Pull the entire plant out of the ground and trim off the outer leaves. For storage, typically create an outdoor storage pit.
Some gardeners prefer to keep cabbages outside because the odor tends to take over your root cellar, another option would be to use garbage cans for storage.
The odor of cabbage stores inside can influence the flavor of other products such as carrots and apples. The ideal temperature for cabbage is 32 degrees F and the shelf life can ideally be from 3-4 months or even longer.
For centuries, carrots have been one of the staples on the dinner table, partially due to their ability to stored for months after harvest.
Carrots are a root crop and can store for up to six months! Well, 4-6 months if you can maintain that 32 degrees F temperature.
You want to make sure to harvest them before the first frost. You also want to cut off the carrot greens or snap them with your hand. Also don’t leave the greens on your carrots because it can remove moisture.
For ideal storage time, layer a box with moist sand, peat or moss. Then, place the carrots in layers, separated with the material you chose.
Garlic can be planted for a fall or spring harvest. The Garlic heads should be a nice size, but you need to harvest before the bulbs start to split.
You want to dig up your bulbs and remove and loose soil, shaking gently.
You want to first cure your garlic for 10-14 days in a well-ventilated area, such as your basement or you even your kitchen.
The bulbs must stay dry and out of the sun. After curing, braid the tops of the garlic together and hang. You can also remove the tops and store them in mesh bags.
The most important thing is to keep your garlic heads dry. Moisture will cause the bulbs to sprout, and you will lose your harvest.
When you properly store garlic it can last between 5 to 8 months!
Leeks are root cellar hardy, capable of stories for 3-4 months. For root cellar storage, store them upright in a bucket of sand or soil. Some of the best varieties to choose from are Arena, Elephant, and Zermatt.
Aim for 32 degrees F as well for ideal temperature!
Onions just like garlic, are ideal choices for root cellar storage. After harvesting you have to cure the onions, you can do this by placing them in a newspaper or a screen, in a dry location.
You want to do this for 10-14 days. Make sure the onions are out of sunlight!
To keep the onions in the root cellar, they must be kept in ventilated containers. Choices include net bags, paper grocery bags, and pantyhose (if you have any laying around).
If you can keep onions dry the shelf life can 5 to 8 months. Pick varieties that store well, such as Brunswick, Norstar, red burgundy, and the yellow globe.
This is a less popular root crop but it can do well in underground food storage. You can expect this crop to last about 2 months in your root cellar. Although the best choice is to leave them in your garden with a heavy layer of mulch.
To store in your root cellar you can store them the same way you do carrots, there very similar just with a shorter shelf life.
Here is another fruit you can to your underground food storage. To keep pears for long terms, the cellar must be between 29-31 degrees F. Each pear must be wrapped in a newspaper, then stores in a wooden box.
A cardboard box could work as well. Then line each box with plastic.
When you think about veggies that store for months and is made for underground food storage. Potatoes should top your list.
They can last for months in your potato box or your cabinets. Although you have to cure the potatoes and prepare them for long term storage, this crop lasts up to 4-6 months the ideal temperature being 40-45 degrees F.
If the temperature is too low it can change the flavor and too high they can begin to sprout.
We went over some of the general things about a root cellar in the future that will go over different cellars, basic how to’s in order for you to have your own root cellar. But for the start I just wanted you to get a better understanding of one and how it can be useful to you.