Underground cellars are the ancient way in which people store food, without this going badly for months. They maintain the correct relative humidity and keep it fresh, so that the food can be stored for longer periods. Not only that, but the winery is always in the dark, which also contributes to the conservation of food. After all, people in the past did not have refrigerators, so they all had a cellar in their backyard.
Historically, root cellars (underground) date back to 40,000 years ago, when people discovered that if they buried their food underground, they would remain fresh and edible for a long period of time. And yet, in order to build your own underground root cellar, you need to know some basic and very important details. We will share them and explain them in this article.
The basics before starting to build.
The idea behind the root cellars is that keeping food fresh means keeping it alive and prolonging its life. To achieve this, the carbohydrates packed in the product must have an adequate contact with oxygen, thus creating heat. Therefore, for this process to be repeated, we must analyze three main factors that contribute to this process: humidity, temperature and ventilation.
Temperature It varies depending on what you produce store. Foods, which can tolerate lower temperatures, such as crops or fall roots, can be kept at a temperature of 30 to 33 degrees F. When it comes to softer and warmer vegetables, such as tomatoes, they should be stored at about 50 degrees F. So, as you can see, it’s better if you can control the temperature and, if possible, regulate it.
When it comes to humidity, Generally, around 90% is ideal for most products. This is especially true for all types of root vegetables, such as carrots, potatoes, etc. Leafy vegetables also benefit from highly humid environments. Onions and garlic, on the other hand, should be stored at a slightly lower moisture level, around 60%. In case you need to increase this percentage, you can keep the floor wet or place some buckets of water.
Finally, let’s see ventilation. This is important since ventilation will remove excess heat (which is produced by the food, as explained above) – by # 8216; by breathing ‘, the food produces heat and carbon dioxide. In addition, ventilation eliminates certain chemical compounds, naturally produced by some (or all) foods, and these can affect neighboring products and cause outbreaks. Such a compound is ethylene. Therefore, to ensure that ventilation is taken care of, you should plan air pipes (or other forms of ventilation) before beginning to build the underground cellar.
How to build the root cellar?
Here are the construction instructions and tips. You have some options before you start building and digging. If you have an underground basement, part of your house and any additional heat source is off, then you can use it for the cellar. Of course, think before committing to this decision and consider whether it will be possible to add ventilation pipes. If not, then it’s probably best to start digging out of your house.
In any case, the underground cellars are usually located outside the house and its perimeters. You can build a totally underground basement and build a vertical tunnel, to which you can attach a ladder so you can enter the room, or you can use an existing hill near your house, which can be accessed from ground level. The hill itself will act as the winery. Any of these is fine, and it depends on whether you have access to a hill or not. You should also bear in mind that it is better if the winery is facing north. This will keep the cellar cool even during the hot summer days.
Whichever of these two you choose, it’s time to start digging. Decide how big the root cellar should be, how much you plan to store (especially during the winter season) and make an underground cellar of the right size. When you finally decided how big it should be, it’s better to dig a little more to the sides so you have enough space to continue the construction process.
Now that the hole is ready, you must assemble the construction material. It is better if you build the walls and ceiling of the warehouse with some concrete material. Wood can also be used, but since it is an organic material, it will not last as long in highly humid conditions. The wood can rot quite quickly and can crumble, destroying its food products.
Therefore, the ideal is to commit to concrete walls and begin to build and strengthen the hole. It is best to leave the floor uncovered and keep the floor exposed. Since the soil retains the freshness and humidity, it will contribute to the necessary conditions in the underground cellar.
As the ground is not going to be covered, rodents and other terrestrial creatures can crawl into the basement and eat their product. To avoid that, you can use a metal wire and cover the floor with it. After all, you should expect some insects and bugs. If the perspective of these does not appeal to you, of course, you can cover the floor with concrete, but you will have to use other methods to maintain the high humidity in the cellar. Keep the buckets of water or wet soil / sand on the floor near the products, and water them every time you see that the humidity level is low.
Hold the roof with stone pillars to prevent it from falling apart. The roof should be several feet below ground level, so you can meet the necessary conditions.
So far so good. Next, you should think about adapting a ventilation system to your underground cellar. Remember that cold and cold air falls to the ground and warm hot air rises above it. Therefore, in order to keep the fresh air inside the basement, you must have a ventilation pipe that reaches the basement floor and exists above the basement. To ventilate hot air, you need to have another pipe that goes into the basement from above, but only a few inches and exists above the ground, just like the first pipe.
Therefore, hot air inside the cellar can escape through the second vent. The best positioning for the intake and exhaust pipes is that they are located in two opposite corners of the room. In this way, the air must move in a circle from one corner to the other. In addition, the ventilation process will be smoother in this way.
To prevent insects from entering the basement through openings in the vents, you can place a metal wire frame or metal net over them.
You should also consider a good and reliable door for your cellar. It should not be made of wood, as it can rot or be damaged much more easily, so it is better to have a metal door. Of course, a wooden door can also be an option (to some extent), since the other and the # 8216; The face of the door is exposed to the outside environment, and some moisture can escape. In any case, this is the best for both types of underground cellars: totally underground or built on a hill. For the first type (totally underground), the basement door will be joined to the roof and entered from above.
For the second type (built on a hill), the door can be placed on a horizontal level to make it much more accessible and easy to enter. You may also want to build a third variation (combination of these two): totally underground, but you can build a sinuous stone staircase that leads to the cellar. The entrance and the door are on the ground floor. This facilitates the access and transportation of food in and from it.
Designing the interior of your cellar and storage advice.
Now that you have almost built the warehouse, you may have to proceed to make the shelves. Ideally, they should be made of wood and not metal. This is because metal can easily transmit and accumulate heat; while the wood will help you better control cold conditions in the cellar. Due to the high humidity level, wooden shelves can deteriorate over time, but this is a small change that should be made from time to time. Of course, you can substitute wooden shelves for metal ones, but you will have to be more conscious about how to keep conditions under control.
In addition to the shelves, you will also have to think about where to store the food: containers, boxes, etc. Ideally, food should be open to the environment and not be closed in containers. So, wherever you put them, they should be able to breathe and be # 8216; alive ‘in the basement of the root. You can definitely use cardboard boxes, for example, as long as you do not close them. Due to the possibility of bugs or insects, you may have to keep the product in metal wire meshes with small holes, but large enough to allow vegetables and fruits to breathe easily.
In addition, in order to store your products in the best conditions and to extend their useful life as much as possible, you should not wash them or rinse them before storing them. Keep them as natural as possible; You can also imitate nature by placing the products in wood shavings, sawdust, newspapers (wood material) and other similar organic materials. Do not cover the products completely, but place them in a bed (like a nest) of these materials.
Another thing to keep in mind is to always check your food and your condition. You should know that a root cellar can prolong the life of the product, but the food has a limited life cycle. Over time the food will deteriorate and rot. You should always be attentive to fruits or vegetables that have already matured. These are the first to go wrong.
Always try to consume products that are already mature first. If you identify a defective product, remove it immediately or it may compromise the health of the neighboring products (or even the entire box). Whenever you remove a product from the underground cellar, consume it as soon as possible. Once far from the conditions of the cellar, it will spoil quickly.
As we mentioned before the ethylene, we need to explain a little more the details that surround it and why it should be taken into account. Ethylene is a gas (chemical compound) emitted by ripening fruits (and some vegetables). If the hold is small, this gas can accumulate faster than it can escape through the vents. You should know that apples are one of the main culprits in the emission of ethylene. If you plan to store apples along with all your other products, you should be especially careful with this gas.
If too much is produced, it will accelerate the maturation of all other products. Root vegetables such as potatoes and carrots will harden and become bitter to the taste. Soon they will be inedible if they are exposed to too much ethylene.
So your options are the following:
- You can have a separate underground cellar just for fruits, to keep them away from the vegetables.
- You can also simply not store apples, but this is too limiting.
- The third option is that, if you want to build only one large root cellar, simply keep the apples very high, near the ceiling, near the ventilation pipes, so that the ethylene does not accumulate and can escape faster. Of course, it depends on the amount of apple products you plan to store. If you tend to eat lots of fruit during the summer, it is much better to have a separate cellar for fruits. If your apple production is small anyway, just keep them on a higher shelf near a vent.
If you want to store different types of products in the same hold, remember that products that thrive best at low temperatures should be placed in a low position in the hold (ideally at ground level). On the other hand, products that need slightly higher temperatures to stay fresh should be kept on higher shelves (mostly fruits). This ensures that the ethylene in the fruit can escape more easily through the ventilation pipes.
One caveat: do not store canned food in the basement. Keep only fresh products and nothing else. Due to the high percentage of humidity, the cans can rust and compromise the seal. This is also true about metal caps or jars. For canned foods and aspirated jars, a cool, dry place will be ideal. Keep them away from the wet root cellar.
You should also place humidity devices (hydrometer) and a thermometer on the door, so you can control these values regularly. During the winter, these conditions will be easily met, while during the summer, it can make more heat inside. Of course, your main concern is to keep your summer products during the winter season, so it is a relatively low concern.
You can also have some electricity running in the basement, so you can have light when you need to take something inside or outside. The bulb should be well insulated, since high humidity can cause electric shock if the cables are poorly insulated. In addition, some heat from light, during the winter, can be beneficial if the outside temperatures are too low and can affect the temperatures of the underground cellar. Light from bulbs can raise temperatures by several degrees, reaching the optimum average of around 40 to 50 degrees F.
Final tips and tips to keep the food alive.
Here are some important final notes and tips on how to build your root cellar. Do not build the cellar near a tree. The roots of trees can spread more and more over time and can compromise the stability and walls of your cellar. Stay away from the trees.
Another thing to consider is to dig a drainage hole in the center of the hold or at the corners of the floor. If the ground floor is the ground, water can accumulate as a result of heavy rains or long periods of rain. To ensure that the water can drain, it is better to dig a few holes, add pipes and surround them with some sawdust or wood shavings. Protect them with metal screens to block the pipes, so that rodents and parasites do not enter the basement.
You can also place garbage cans near the center of the hold so that water can drain into them, but remain for some time. The idea is that it does not accumulate throughout the warehouse. Again, keep some organic material (preferably wood) around the opening of the cans to mix well with the hold.