A Damp Root Cellar

July 30, 2012

Root Cellar

storing root crops

It’s been quite a while since our last update on the roots cellar. That doesn’t mean that the project has stalled. In fact, just the opposite. Construction has been completed!

We’re excited about our new underground storage facilities. We cannot wait to begin moving prepping supplies that we’ve stashed in our old farmhouse to the root cellar. Though we still have a bit of outfitting to do before we can move in. More on that in just a minute.

The Lost Art of Root Cellaring

Unlike in the days of old, modern families can run down to the local big box store to buy most anything their stomach desires in any season of the year. Want fresh tomatoes in December? No problem, they are in season in Argentina and are shipped to your local store. Cantaloupe in February? Again no problem.

Root Cellars are not needed in modern day America, it seems. But we wanted one.

As we designed and constructed our root cellar, we consulted printed books and online resources to help us make informed decisions. As good as books and other resources are, it’s always a good idea to find local people who have experience in your area and can offer lessons learned from their past endeavors.

Drawing upon others’ experiences is good. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate someone in our area. The friends and builders that we consulted didn’t have experience using one, much less actually building one.

So we proceeded, making the best decisions we could. At some point, I’ll put together a “lessons learned” on the project.

A Wet Surprise

One of our concerns about creating an hospitable environment for fruits and vegetables along with canned goods and other supplies was that of humidity.

Carrots, potatoes, and other items that we plan to store in the cellar need a cool and somewhat damp place for preservation. We entered the project with a bit of concern that the manufactured environment that we were creating for them would not be moist enough.

However, we didn’t want it so moist as to cause canned good to rust or paper products to mold. We were after the perfect level of moisture.

We didn’t get it initially.

damp root cellar

Although we applied a water barrier to the outside of the blocks and placed a French Drain along the exterior base of the underground wall, far too much moister was seeping in through the walls. This is probably due to the consistency of the soil and how it affects drainage.

Our root cellar had it own ecosystem. Water would seep through the walls, make its way down to the gravel floor where it was cooler, and then evaporate. The water vapor would collect on the ceiling and rain down, starting the process over.

Waterproofing Our Root Cellar

To address this concern, we’re making three changes.

  • We’ve coated the interior walls with DryLok. This waterproof coating should help prevent nearly as much water from entering the root cellar. (We’re currently leaving the doors open and using fans to get the existing moisture out.)
  • We are going to have some rain gutters installed on the topside structure. This will help eliminate the problem of moist soil around the exterior of the root cellar walls. Plus, we’ll be able make use of the captured water.
  • We are going  to place a layer of plastic sheeting over the gravel floor. This will help prevent any moisture that seems in from under the gravel from reaching the root cellar area.

In the meantime, we’ve placed a couple of store-bought canned good items in there to test the environment. We don’t want them to rust.

inside our root cellar

Once these changes have been completed, our next step will be to put shelving units in there.

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10 Comments on “A Damp Root Cellar”

  1. Jarhead Survivor Says:

    Great post. How long do you expect food to last in your root cellar once you’ve got the moisture problem squared away?


    • Joe Says:

      Thanks, Jarhead! I hope that the root cellar with create the ideal environment for canned goods and food buckets and that they will last for many, many years. As for the fresh veggies, I’d love to see them last months so that we could have potatoes, carrots, etc, through the winter months. But I’m far from an expert in this area so I don’t really know. We’re going to have to experiment and see what we can do to make them last longer.

      Have you used a root cellar?



      • Kelly D. Says:

        We just moved into a place that had an old root cellar and it was a flooded mess. So, last week I got up the nerve to attempt to clean it out and make it usable again. It had seven inches of old stagnant water in it and hundreds of jars of various canned fruit, a lot of which had broken to add to the wonderful aroma in the cellar. Anyway, I pumped out the water, shoveled out all the muck and broken glass and rotted wood and I discovered that many of the old jars of canned goods were dated from 1971 to 1985. Their contents appeared to be in good shape and the lids were still sealed so I got up the courage to try some of the peaches and much to my surprise they were delicious!! Although they had lost a lot of their firmness they were still very edible and so were the cherries and green beans and pickles. So now that our root cellar is finally dry and clean I need to repair the entryway to prevent another watery mess. Should be done in a few days I hope. But I just wanted to let you know that canned goods can last a very long time in the right conditions. It was a novel idea to me that I was eating peaches that were only four years younger than I am and were canned seven years before my wife was even born. Still have many jars of peaches and cherries left and was thinking of using some of them to make booze!!! LOL


  2. millenniumfly Says:

    Very nice root cellar. You can pack a lot of food there. Would also double as a nice storm shelter too.


    • Joe Says:

      Thanks, Mellenniumfly. That’s definitely the plan. We’re going to leave a center isle and place shelving units along each side running perpendicular to the center isle. That’ll give us plenty of shelving with some open space to congregate should the need arise.



      • rob Says:

        Joe, don’t forget to leave room along the walls behind shelves, or however you stack your foods, for air flow. That helps keep mold down too. Hope this helps.


  3. Kathy Says:

    We built a root celler two years ago. We have problems with excess humidity in the spring. We use a dehumidifier to remove the excess moisture during that time. If you use outside air which is warmer and bring it inside to to cool air, more moisture ( condensation) is created. We live in Mi with cold winters. The temperature at the lowest got to 40 degrees in the winter. Humidity stays between 80-90. Get yourself a thermometer with a humidity guage and monitor your conditions. We found potatoes and carrots stored very well. I moved my grain out of there because I was concerned about the humidity. Canned goods have been staying OK. Only when we had extreme humidity did we observe rusting on the cans. I am on my third year of keeping over geraniums which we kept in the root celler. Pumpkins did not do well nor did squash in the root celler. It is also way too moist for onions. I have had mixed luck with apples. We have four air vents for ventilation. Three sides are underground. We have a cement floor. We walled off two storage areas and one is kept more moist with a bucket of open water. We use that one for the potatoes. The potatoes stayed from October until June so we were pleased with that. Haven ‘t bought potatoes for two years. Good luck.


  4. Joanne Hughes Says:

    We built a shelter/ root cellar from metal tanks, however we have a problem with moisture. We dug holes in ground, covered them with dirt, we have 1 air vent but , do we need more dirt on top? The temperature changes in winter at 35* and 60 in summer.


  5. Minnie Faye Chandler Says:

    Because of our drainage in my area . my yard stays very wet. Even holds water at times. Is there a way to make a food cellar.



  1. On Top of the Root Cellar | - September 18, 2012

    […] giddy. Our root cellar is done! That’s right, we’ve moved many of our supplies from the nooks and crannies of our home […]

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