Author Topic: Root cellar prep  (Read 1830 times)

Offline WKDTOM

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Root cellar prep
« on: July 19, 2017, 06:46:26 PM »
I've searched a bit and couldn't quite find what I need.  I'm looking to use my house's cellar as a root cellar to store stuff I'm growing in my garden now.  I put some of my late planting stuff in this past weekend, and will be replacing some of the early crops and adding more late planting in the coming weeks.  Most of the information out there is for building stand alone structures, rather than using the original cellars as intended as most people these days do not have such a thing.  I'm hoping I can get mine set up with little more than some storage bins and shelves.

background:
My house is a 1770's timber frame with an L shaped cellar under 1/3 or so of the house (the rest is short crawlspace).  It's not huge, but I would consider it large for the vintage and style of house around here, I see plenty of cellar holes in the woods that are barely a shoulder width across and 10-15 feet long. The cellar has rock walls and had a dirt floor until 1987, when my dad poured a slab which is now pretty deteriorated from the decades of spring melt water.  The house is located somewhat on a hill and there is a piece of 4" PVC that drains the low corner down the hill into my field, so while I do get a little bit of water on the floor in the spring, it doesn't hang around and dries out by early summer.  There are two access holes big enough for a man between the cellar and crawlspace, and on the crawlspace side you can actually see daylight in some places around the sill, which is basically a 12x12 or so timber resting on rocks that are partly in the ground (there is brick/masonry around the actual cellar area)... so there is some air flow.  My dad told me that 20ish years ago when we lost power for over a week mid-winter, the cellar never got below 40F, with the wood stove running, but without the boiler for the FHW running (located in the cellar).  My great-grandmother, who had the house before my father, did use the cellar for food storage but of course none of the specific information was ever really passed down.  We are in zone 5b in Southern New Hampshire.


Questions:

I need to get a temp/humidity gauge I suppose, does anyone have a recommendation for something basic and reliable?  I prefer analog and don't mind paying more for it.  I want to get a baseline on the conditions down there and I'll keep a log as the seasons change and adjust my storage appropriately.  Are there any other things I need to monitor?  I don't expect to be able to change the conditions but would be nice to know where I am at to save wasted crop and to compare with others and plan.

What's the best solution for rodents and other freeloaders?  It looks like most of the storage bins people use are open-top so I would assume they can get in there and eat the food, but I don't know if they do or if there is a better solution than just leaving traps out.  As far as I know we have some small mice that the cats get occasionally and possibly some chipmunks, which I have been trying to cull with the 5 gallon bucket trap and my 22.

What's the best storage method?  I've seen Cedar's pics of tilted, open-top bins and seen similar things in stuff I've researched, but not sure if it's the best given what we have available these days.  If this is the best method I was going to grab some free pallets and use them to make some rough boxes.  I also have joists overhead (logs with one flat side) and there are a few remnants of chains and leather straps, maybe they were used in the past.

My oil tank, boiler, electric water heater, and well pump/tank are all in the cellar.  I don't think they generate much heat, but I'm sure the boiler sucks some air through when it's running.  Do I need to worry about any of that?  For reference, oil is my secondary heat and only runs on the ground floor, we use a little less than 100gal per year and primarily heat with wood in a wood stove in the middle of the house on the ground floor.  The furnace is on for pretty much the whole time I would be storing stuff in the cellar.

I have access from inside the house as well as a bulkhead on the South side of the house.  The bulkhead has a thick wood door at the bottom and the top is currently sealed off with plywood covered by a piece of aluminum roofing.  I am planning to remove the cover and convert it into a mini greenhouse before winter so we can get our starters going early next year.  Will this be an issue with the storage side of the cellar?  The area I am going to use for food storage is not adjacent to the bulkhead, and I will keep the door shut, but I am not sure if there are light/temperature considerations.


Sorry not sorry for the long-windedness, it's my nature.  I appreciate everyone's input and just want to give as much information as possible.

Thanks!

Offline Cedar

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #1 on: July 19, 2017, 07:56:45 PM »
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Offline Redman

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2017, 06:30:28 AM »
Zone 9 Texas Gulf Coast here so I can't help on the cellar. I just find it amazing the house still exists from 1770's. Always occupied I would assume so kept repaired. :clap:

Offline Cedar

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2017, 08:20:35 AM »
Instead of a root cellar you might consider it a "cold room".

I would put a hygrometer/ thermometer in there (I usually have them not just in my root cellar, but every level of my house and in my barns as well).

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Taylor-Outdoor-Hygrometer-Thermometer/38473303?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=335&adid=22222222228026495001&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=m&wl3=52562005095&wl4=pla79635815055&wl5=9032963&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=111830463&wl11=online&wl12=38473303&wl13=&veh=sem

And ..
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0050UNPGG/ref=asc_df_B0050UNPGG5084159/?tag=hyprod-20&creative=395033&creativeASIN=B0050UNPGG&linkCode=df0&hvadid=193133932464&hvpos=1o6&hvnetw=g&hvrand=13697221849141335812&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9032963&hvtargid=pla-307395657046

I get the cheaper ones, as in two yrs the digital ones are all toast.

Mice, spiders, snakes, whatever else in your area might live in and/or eat/or contaminate your food. How can you prevent or control them? I had Camel Crickets in my last one, nothing in my first one. Tight enough, no mice. My bins started to be pallets, but it was far easier on time to rip down 2x4s into 1x4s . Make sure your bins are small enough when they are empty you can drag them outside if you can get them through the door for sunshine to disinfect, hose out if needed, and to dry the wood. To whitewash with lime inside if desired.

On my lids, I had fine mesh to keep creatures out, but to allow air. The bottom boards just sat in there, so I could remove some and sweep out if needed.in hindsight I would bolt a board on both sides of my bin lids to prevent the eventual cupping that they will do. The tipped bins you saw I think  are ones from "Cottonwood House", a historical place near where I lived. If there is a wooden boardwalk, and rock in the cellar, that is CH and not mine, although I love that one. My photos might. It show, as my blogs are hidden at the moment, until December. If needed, when i can get back online at a friend's house, I will repost them.

If it has a spring running through it, if you choose to take the concrete out, I would make a wooden walkway to keep my feet dry, but allow the humidity and keep bins legs out of the water. Even with my concrete floored root cellar (second root cellar), I kept the legs up on bricks.. I would probably put sand on the floor like I have done with one of mine.

Is the high humidity going to injure your house? Your metal things down there?  Would it be better to make a root cellar elsewhere on the property? Depending on what kind of veggies you are keeping down there you need 50-98% humidity. You cannot keep canned goods in a root cellar and not have rust, but in a drier " cool room" you can. Also watch what what kind of pallets you are using. Some are toxic. And if they smell strange don't use them. I used for ones, but the one I made for the root cellar first, became a woodbox for the woodstove.

Cedar

Offline WKDTOM

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2017, 08:05:05 PM »
Zone 9 Texas Gulf Coast here so I can't help on the cellar. I just find it amazing the house still exists from 1770's. Always occupied I would assume so kept repaired. :clap:

There are actually a decent number of houses like this around me, some even older than mine, I think the first framed house (not a simple cabin) went up in the late 1760s.  My family bought it in 1896 or so, and we would be the third family to occupy it including the builder and his heirs, it has been occupied for that whole time save a few months in 1987 when it was modernized inside.  "Repaired" is subjective.  If you ever have the pleasure of spending some time in a late 18th century house you'll know what I mean.  Repairs aside, the frames of these old houses are stout, most of my beams are exposed and I have some monsters, all cut from ancient trees, and we have floor board that are 24 inches wide, quarter sawn, the hardest pine you've ever seen.



Instead of a root cellar you might consider it a "cold room".

What's the difference, specifically?

Quote
I would put a hygrometer/ thermometer in there (I usually have them not just in my root cellar, but every level of my house and in my barns as well).

https://www.walmart.com/ip/Taylor-Outdoor-Hygrometer-Thermometer/38473303?wmlspartner=wlpa&selectedSellerId=335&adid=22222222228026495001&wl0=&wl1=g&wl2=m&wl3=52562005095&wl4=pla79635815055&wl5=9032963&wl6=&wl7=&wl8=&wl9=pla&wl10=111830463&wl11=online&wl12=38473303&wl13=&veh=sem

And ..
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0050UNPGG/ref=asc_df_B0050UNPGG5084159/?tag=hyprod-20&creative=395033&creativeASIN=B0050UNPGG&linkCode=df0&hvadid=193133932464&hvpos=1o6&hvnetw=g&hvrand=13697221849141335812&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=m&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9032963&hvtargid=pla-307395657046

I get the cheaper ones, as in two yrs the digital ones are all toast.


The dial ones are what I prefer, I'll use one of those, thank you for the recommendation.


Quote
Mice, spiders, snakes, whatever else in your area might live in and/or eat/or contaminate your food. How can you prevent or control them? I had Camel Crickets in my last one, nothing in my first one. Tight enough, no mice. My bins started to be pallets, but it was far easier on time to rip down 2x4s into 1x4s . Make sure your bins are small enough when they are empty you can drag them outside if you can get them through the door for sunshine to disinfect, hose out if needed, and to dry the wood. To whitewash with lime inside if desired.

I am thinking I may block off the crawlspace area to control the cats' movement, and let them down there.  They seem to do a great job of controlling all those other things when I'm not around.  We do occasionally get rodents down there, which I think is impossible to really control with the way the house is made (aside from with the cats of course).  No snakes really around here, and any insects down there are eated by the legions of spiders that lay 10lb test line for their webs. 

I have pretty direct access to outside via the bulkhead and there is a door out right at the top of the cellar stairs as well.  Any more guidance on the bins?  Would it be ok to make them from rough cut and oil them with Tung or Linseed oil?  I oiled my floors with Tung and since then have been all kinds of wood to use it on at work and at home, it seems to make a durable, water and stain proof finish relatively easily.

Quote
On my lids, I had fine mesh to keep creatures out, but to allow air. The bottom boards just sat in there, so I could remove some and sweep out if needed.in hindsight I would bolt a board on both sides of my bin lids to prevent the eventual cupping that they will do. The tipped bins you saw I think  are ones from "Cottonwood House", a historical place near where I lived. If there is a wooden boardwalk, and rock in the cellar, that is CH and not mine, although I love that one. My photos might. It show, as my blogs are hidden at the moment, until December. If needed, when i can get back online at a friend's house, I will repost them.

Would regular aluminum window screening would work?  I have a lot of large scraps from replacing my screens on the second floor.  Since the window are relatively large and the dimensions didn't divide out nicely with the replacement material I ended up with some decent "scraps" for projects unknown.  If I am understanding this properly, you are saying to make screens to go over the top of an open, five-sided bin with an easily removable bottom?

I think you are right, that must have been Cottonwood House I saw. 

Quote
If it has a spring running through it, if you choose to take the concrete out, I would make a wooden walkway to keep my feet dry, but allow the humidity and keep bins legs out of the water. Even with my concrete floored root cellar (second root cellar), I kept the legs up on bricks.. I would probably put sand on the floor like I have done with one of mine.

It's not really a spring, but during the springtime melt and when we have a lot of rains I do get water through the walls and on the floor.  There is a good amount of dirt that comes with it, when my dad did the slab in '87, they removed over a foot of dirt that had accumulated over the years, and it's evident in what's already accumulated in the last three decades on top of the slab.  A lot of the concrete, I'd say about half the floor is broken or missing, or in one spot there is actually a hole that I can see a pocket under.  Are you suggesting I should remove some of the concrete?  I am not opposed to that idea, as it's already messed up and I could leave it where I need it under the boiler, oil tank etc.  We don't really use the cellar for anything else.


Quote
Is the high humidity going to injure your house? Your metal things down there?  Would it be better to make a root cellar elsewhere on the property? Depending on what kind of veggies you are keeping down there you need 50-98% humidity. You cannot keep canned goods in a root cellar and not have rust, but in a drier " cool room" you can. Also watch what what kind of pallets you are using. Some are toxic. And if they smell strange don't use them. I used for ones, but the one I made for the root cellar first, became a woodbox for the woodstove.

Cedar


I don't think it would be an issue, as the house was likely designed that way and has stood as it is for over two centuries.  I was actually concerned about this when we moved in and was surprised to find that there is really no rot or any soft spots down there, some of the floor joists are logs with bark still firmly on them.  There are metal things down there now and they certainly do take a beating from the climate, namely the breaker box, and I would not try to store more metal stuff that wasn't adequately protected from the humidity.  I do have a nice dedicated pantry with a lot of built in storage in the Northeast corner of the house, so I'm not concerned about cramming all my storage into one situation. 

I am pretty aware of the pallets and fortunately I can get enough that I can be picky, I don't even use the sketchy ones to hold up my firewood outside.  Decent rough cut stuff is not hard for me to come by so I don't screw around with scavenging questionable stuff.

Offline Cedar

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #5 on: July 24, 2017, 08:36:28 AM »
A root cellar has higher humidity. Cold rooms are usually not wet, but have a concrete floor. Both have cold air returns, and usually a top vent.

Two doors at least two feet apart, do help maintaining/ regulating temps.
 

I just left my bins plain sine they were coming into contact with food. Rough cut is fine for potatoes and onions etc, but probably smoother for apples. I was storing 500-600# apples in mine until I could process them, which could be a couple months for cider, until March/April for fresh eating.

Would regular aluminum window screening would work? 
- probably. I had slightly larger than doorknob sized holes, screened from underneath the lid. I used small holes hardware cloth as it was sitting in the barn from some other project. Use what you have.



  If I am understanding this properly, you are saying to make screens to go over the top of an open, five-sided bin with an easily removable bottom?

-6 sided. A bottom with slats (my new like bed slats, but pushed together), the four wooden sides, the lid.

if the concrete is not tripping you, I'd leave it.  Why make more work? Even at that, you could cover it with pea gravel, sand, etc if it was.

Cedar




Offline Applejack

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #6 on: January 17, 2018, 06:56:26 PM »
My grandfather built his house and he had a dirt root cellar under the house. You had to go outside and go through the door that had dirt steps to go down into it. It was dirt floor and walls. It had an air flow from the rest of the house. My grandmother kept all her foods she canned down there. She had a smoke house that they were no longer using as that so she would keep the metal garbage cans of sugar out there as well as apples from her apple orchard. Eggs she just kept in fridge as she never had enough eggs from the few chickens she had to store any. Family of 12 so eggs went fast. Sugar was for the jellies she made.

Offline redrider

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #7 on: January 18, 2018, 09:34:21 AM »
I'm having good luck (knock wood) with these:

https://www.amazon.com/Victor-M753SN-Ultrasonic-Nightlight-available/dp/B00NO6A4DA/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1516292479&sr=8-3&keywords=victor+rodent+repeller

But they take electricity.

I'm working on a cellar myself and find this thread interesting and relevant.

Mine is roughly laid limestone with cement mortar with a poured concrete floor and ceiling.

I discussed rodent proofing and especially snake proofing the cellar with a friend who is a mason. He suggested I get mortar for stone and a "grout bag", which is essentially a large cake decorating bag, and fill any and all voids between stones and where the stones meet the floor and ceiling. Pretty much like caulking but with mortar.

I'm not sure what the humidity would be in ours, it seems pretty dry. I'm thinking of using as a "cool room" but also as a "warm room". I don't have anywhere except in the house to store things that shouldn't freeze and I think this will fit the bill. As a crude tell-tale without having a recording thermometer, I filled a pop bottle up with water until it couldn't hold anymore, capped it tightly and have checked it after each cold snap for bulging, bursting, or leaks. So far so good.

Thanks for starting this thread. I hope to learn more.

rr

Offline Black November

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Re: Root cellar prep
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2018, 01:59:26 PM »