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Help me design this: small constructed "Root cellar" type thing (when a real one isn't an option)

 
pollinator
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Alright thinkers, help me out here.

I really, REALLY want a root cellar.

I don't have a basement or shed that works, I do have one shed but it isn't insulated and freezes everything. Our winters are pretty cold, we get down to about -10.

I also have a VERY tiny house and hardly any storage space in the house.

I do plan on building a real one someday but right now I can't justify the funds and don't have the time to do the labor myself, it will be about two years before I can do that.

I've read the book "Root Cellaring" and it talks about a few options for little mounds and pits you can dig in to the ground but I seriously do not want to be digging around in the frozen ground in -10 in January and we usually end up with 3-5 feet of snow, cumulatively (it doesn't melt in between). So that's out.

So - I'm trying to think of something I can build or construct, relatively cheap (maybe a few hundred dollars in materials?) that will sufficiently insulate so it can store things like potatoes, celeriac, onions, apples, etc. (I realize some of those can't be stored together very well, but maybe that's something to accommodate.

Now - what I CAN do is have electricity, so I was thinking if I could build a wooden frame, sheath it, stack strawbales around it a couple layers deep, maybe put up a roof onto it, and if necessary run a cord out to it and have some sort of small heater that can keep it at a certain temperature.

Would have to insulate the door somehow too, maybe with some styro insulation although I'd rather keep it natural. I guess that part would be flexible especially if there's a way to get a small heater out there that would control the temperature and just kick on when it got too cold and turn off when it's too warm (accurately) Anybody tried this or made anything to that end?

I need it to be easily accessible in multiple feet of snow (so I'm not interested in burying in mounds), relatively simple for one person to build, and not too expensive. Size is probably negotiable, although I'd had a thought that the best size would be something with an interior that would fit 3 of those wire shelf units put together into a "U" pattern.

Thoughts?
 
pollinator
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How about the buried metal garbage can idea? You can have multiple cans, each for different crops or have a mix of crops in each layer. Insulate the lid or have a straw bale that rests on top. Build a cover over the whole thing so you don't need to dig it out every time you want something. Might make regulating temperature easier than your suggestion.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Jan White wrote:How about the buried metal garbage can idea? You can have multiple cans, each for different crops or have a mix of crops in each layer. Insulate the lid or have a straw bale that rests on top. Build a cover over the whole thing so you don't need to dig it out every time you want something. Might make regulating temperature easier than your suggestion.



That's a thuoght! Except I know for sure I don't have time to dig multiple holes that size this fall - been having some health issues and so while I can build stuff out of wood, etc. most hard labor is not gonna happen :(
 
pollinator
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When I was in university, I chilled and forced tulips in the gaps between the storm windows and sash windows of the old apartment I lived in, and stored eggs there to keep them from my pilfering roommate. After graduation, I used the hall closet of my teensy drafty 400 sq ft apartment, against the wall, and stored veggies there on the floor. How insulated is your house? Is there a closet on an exterior wall or cold drafty corner you could add an insulated box to? Are your kitchen cupboards against an exterior wall? Do you have an enclosed side porch or back kitchen? My grandparents farm's root cellar was the staircase leading down to the basement.

If you are determined to do something outside, my dad heats his very well insulated pump house through zone 3b winters with a single bare incandescent bulb. You could get fancy and put it on a timer or a thermostat. Be careful of moisture and mold though!!! We don't use the fancy built in the ground root cellar at my dad's because it is full of mold due to poor air circulation. Maybe include a small fan if you are bringing power there anyways?  Maybe build on a hilltop to avoid runoff? A traditional root cellar has things on racks and seperately in layers for airflow. How about a plywood box insulated on all sides, top, and bottom with foam board insulation(maybe multiple layers to get R 30+), with wooden slat shelves? They make silica bucket things to keep trailers and boats dry over the winter... maybe put one in the bottom to absorb excess moisture? Alternatively,  I use clay kitty litter in a burlap bag in my car to absorb moisture in the winter and prevent windshield fog up/ice up.
 
Bethany Dutch
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So - yeah I really do not have ANY space inside my house (and it's too warm anyway, my house is really well insulated). I could in theory put stuff under some beds, but I already store canned goods down there, and I don't have a space for them either. My house is just too small, I literally don't have enough space for the things we need (although I'll be adding on soon).

HOWEVER

While I don't have an enclosed porch or anything, I was just thinking, I do have a large 4 foot overhang on the west side of the house. I could, in theory, build a 4 foot by 4 foot box. Make it 8 feet tall, build in some shelves to separate it into 4 different sections. I could surround it with some hay bales, and figure out how to make an insulated door. That would be an interesting experiment. I could butt it right up against the house, which would negate the need to insulate the back side, and it would be easily accessible during the winter since I could position the doorway to be under the overhang.

The hay bales would need to be covered well since I'd be using some of my good hay (I try to get a year's worth at a time if I can) but I suspect a couple layers of tarp maybe with something in between would keep the rain off and prevent condensation issues.

I'd need to put hardware cloth on the bottom to keep the mice out... hmm.
 
gardener
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Bethany Dutch wrote:

I really, REALLY want a root cellar.

I soooo... totally want one to! It's just not making it onto the list.

Can your shed be moved?  Would it be possible to dig a cellar under it (either by moving it out of the way and then back, or by digging nearby and then moving it over it?) Would you have enough money or friends to hire/trade for diggers? You'd then have to have a space in the shed floor to put a trap door, and you'd still have to find ways of insulating key areas and allowing for proper air flow.

One technique I've read of, but not tried, is to get a broken fridge or freezer and partially bury it. You can change it's orientation so the door's on its side rather than the top, stack straw bales all around. You'd still have to place it so that you can access it without having to shovel too much snow. As Jan White suggested, multiples could help increase capacity. Packing skids can sometimes help with giving some structure to a build, but they can be very heavy and too short to get a usable space without getting some longer wood as part of the project.

Good luck at finding a solution, and please post your results!
 
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How about buying a small, used utility trailer?  Make sure it doesn't leak, and then line the insides of the walls with straw bales.  Get some 2" thick sheets of styrofoam for the ceiling (I would use at least 2 sheets for 4" of thickness).  Check around for re-use stores like Habitat for Humanity.  If you could find a really good deal on insulation, forget the straw and just use multiple layers of foam insulation.
 
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I do have a large 4 foot overhang on the west side of the house. I could, in theory, build a 4 foot by 4 foot box. Make it 8 feet tall, build in some shelves to separate it into 4 different sections. I could surround it with some hay bales, and figure out how to make an insulated door.



A 1900-era house I lived in in Washington, DC had a small "cupboard" on the back porch that opened into the kitchen, I think this is the concept you are looking at.  In winter the cupboard was colder than the house but warmer than the outdoors.
 
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I think a simple shed lined with straw bales is a good idea; afterall, people make super insulated houses out them. HOWEVER, I've heard mice can be an issue and you don't want mice living right next to your store of goodies. As for heating, I've seen diy pop-can solar heaters that people use to heat their workshops. Not easy to control the temp though. If the shed is right up against your house, it would benefit from not having cold wind/snow blowing ALL the way around it. If it's on your covered porch it would be easier to access in snowy weather. Some people have taken old refrigerators or chest freezers and used those, but there again, heating would be a problem and they don't hold much. I must credit the light bulb idea: it's amazing how much heat they put off. Just leaving one on in the oven overnight generates an impressive amount of heat. Good luck!
 
pollinator
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Root Cellars are supposed to be humid so putting any sort of heater in an enclosure would probably make it too dry.

How about an old, non-working refrigerator(or two or three) and to warm it up, stick a pot of warm/hot water in it. Might have to do that every day and I'm not sure where the best place to put the water would be. Probably on the top shelf because you wouldn't want steam rising and hitting stuff.
 
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