Root cellaring is one of my favorite methods of food storage, so much so that we built a homestead root cellar on our Missouri homestead (and even wrote this eBook with instructions to teach you how to build one!).
When we moved to Vermont and started to build our new off grid homestead and house, we realized very quickly that a freestanding root cellar would not be a simple project.
To start, our land is full of rock and ledge. Excavation is time-consuming and costly, sometimes requiring very heavy machinery or explosives.
We decided not to build a root cellar on this property, and instead to pursue root cellar alternatives. Fortunately, there are other ways to store vegetables without a root cellar, and this article explores some of them.
Before reading on, I highly suggest that you read these other articles so you are familiar with which crops store well in a root cellar and how a root cellar works.
8 Ways to Store Vegetables without a Root Cellar
Let’s take a look at some of the different ways you can store vegetables without a root cellar. Some take a bit of construction while others are easy and cheap DIY projects.
1. Leave the Vegetables in the Ground
The simplest way to store vegetables without a root cellar is to leave them in the ground!
Depending on your climate, this may be quite simple. Because I live in Vermont, in zone 4, I know that once the ground freezes, these vegetables will not be accessible to me until the ground thaws.
I know some local gardeners have had success leaving certain vegetables (carrots, for instance) in the ground all winter long, covered by a very thick mulch of hay. But, because vegetables stored in the ground may be susceptible to rodent damage and rot. I prefer to harvest my veggies in the fall.
If you live in a mild climate, you will have better success with this method.
Examples of crops you may be able to leave in the ground are:
- Winter Radishes
Cover your vegetables with a thick mulch of hay or straw. Harvest vegetables as needed, but be aware that frequent freeze and thaw cycles may cause the veggies to rot. Pay attention to their quality.
2. Create a Cold Room in Your Basement
If you have a corner of your basement that is unheated (and not full of stuff!), you can turn it into a cold room. This is how we plan to store vegetables in our new home.
Creating a basement cold room requires sectioning off a part of your basement, typically a corner, and creating vents that have a siphon effect. This regulates the flow of cold outside air into your new cold room.
You can add humidity to this storage environment by placing pans of water in the space or storing root vegetables in dampened sand or sawdust.
The downside of this option is the cost to purchase lumber and insulation to create a space whose temperature will not fluctuate greatly. But a basement cold room is one of the most efficient and long-term root cellar alternatives, and worth the investment.
3. Make a Trash Can Root Cellar
Do you have a metal trash can with a lid available? If so, you can try this root cellar alternative.
This is one of the simplest methods for storing vegetables without a root cellar. Simply dig a hole the same size as the can, then place the trash can inside of the hole and fill it with your root crops, layering them with straw, sand, or sawdust. Then, cover with the lid and lay a tarp over the top.
You can use this same concept to bury an old chest freezer for more storage space!
4. Use an Extra Refrigerator to Store Vegetables
Many storage fruits and vegetables prefer a cold temperature and keep well in a refrigerator. After all, refrigerators are the modern day version of a root cellar!
If you have an extra fridge, fill it with carrots, beets, winter radishes, cabbage, and apples.
5. Make a Pallet Root Cellar
Here is another DIY root cellar alternative that could be constructed with very little effort and expense.
A pallet root cellar creates a “room” made with pallets. You use one pallet for the “floor,” four pallets for the “walls,” and another pallet for the “ceiling.”
You will need to dig a large square hole that is the length and width of a pallet, and the height of a pallet plus 6-12″.
You will need to line a pallet “root cellar” with plastic, and I would suggest storing everything in buckets or plastic tubs to prevent water or pests getting to your food, but this could be a simple and very inexpensive way to store food in the ground!
6. Use a Garage or Outbuilding
If you live in a climate where winters hover around 35-50 degrees F, and you have access to an unheated garage or an unheated shed or other outbuilding, you have another alternative to a root cellar for storing veggies.
When we lived in Oregon, this is a method of root cellaring that we used on occasion, simply layering root vegetables in sand or sawdust in a rodent-proof plastic container or cooler.
7. Build a Spring House
Building a spring house is an excellent root cellar alternative if fresh water runs on your property. Note that it cannot be a pond or stagnant water – it needs to be a fresh spring or stream.
Spring houses are a traditional way to store food and keep things cold at a steady temperature.
The cost and time to construct a spring house makes it a bigger investment, but it could be a fabulous option for storing vegetables!
8. Store Vegetables in Sand
If you do not have any of the above options available, find the coolest part of your home (a mudroom, or north-facing room, often) and try the method below. While it may not keep your food fresh for months, I have had good success keeping food fresh for a month or two with this technique.
One of the easiest ways to store vegetables with a root cellar is to use storage containers and moist sand to keep the root crops stable for as long as possible.
Old coolers or Rubbermaid totes are perfect for this method. Alternate layers of damp sand and vegetables, ensuring the veggies don’t touch. Store your container in the coolest part of your home.
While a root cellar is one of the most useful tools I’ve built on our homestead, the reality is that a root cellar is not always appropriate for your site, region, or budget. These root cellar alternatives help bridge the gap between what might be ideal and what you have on hand.
I’d love to hear from you: How do you store vegetables without a root cellar? What have been your successes and failures?
Tam Ross says
I’m just about to harvest my first-ever homegrown crops, including sweet onions and garlic. There are too many to eat at once, so I’d like to store some later. The problem is that I live in a house with no basement, viable garage, no ‘cool’ spots, no place to dig in the backyard, and on a green belt with lots of wildlife. It’s your typical super tight, cookie-cutter suburban home in a master-planned community in the boonies. I know. I should have planned better for this. Honestly, I didn’t expect much to grow. But with moderate success, I’d love to do more if I can find a good solution for longer-term storage. Thanks for this article!
Teri Page says
Yes, it’s definitely a position many people find themselves in. Sweet onion is generally not something that stores as long as storage (non-sweet) onions, so choose the coolest, darkest location you have. Garlic should be fine in a cool, dark, dry corner. You won’t really need a root cellar for it. Otherwise, you may want to invest in an extra fridge space for your root crops! have fun growing!