Before the refrigerators were invented, people used to bury food in the ground to preserve it longer. Without a refrigerator, one of the oldest and easiest methods to preserve food is through a cold underground storage called a root cellar. It is a cold, underground room built in a basement or outdoors. Root cellars have cool temperature, enough humidity, and are well-ventilated. Here are things to consider in building root cellars:
When storing food in root cellars, temperature is crucial. The cooler temperature, the longer the food can be preserved. Generally, 32 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit is a good condition for keeping fruits and veggies. However, temperature will also depend on the produce that you will be storing.
To successfully stock food, humidity also must be maintained. Root cellars can be naturally humid, a tool for humidity could be used. You may increase your humidity by either watering the floor or by packing veggies in sawdust. In contrast, you may lower the humidity by increasing ventilation or by adding tons of rock salt.
This goes hand-in-hand with the last two factors that are important for food preservation without the use of refrigerators. Root cellars must at least have two air vents, inside and outside. Inlet vents are placed lower, while the latter must be on the upper side. These must also be closed during extreme conditions to keep a stable temperature inside your root cellar.
Storing in root cellar
Carrots, potatoes, onions, and apples can be kept for months during the cold season. Tomatoes, cucumbers, and cauliflower can also be preserved, but with appropriate packing. Shelves in a root cellar must be organized so your food will have sufficient air circulation.
Do not let them be crowded. If placed on the floor, use something to elevate them to let the air flow underneath. Food with a higher amount of ethylene gas like apples and tomatoes must be stocked on a higher spot closer to the outlet vents. Food with a strong smell like cabbages must also be wrapped in newspaper to prevent other food from absorbing the smell.
One problem of root cellars is rats. To prevent them, cover all entry points with wire mesh. Moreover, regularly check if there’s food that is about to spoil to avoid the bacteria from spreading. Do not stock canned goods as high humidity may cause rust.
In a tropical country like the Philippines, root cellars are difficult to maintain. However, root cellar can be effective as long as your areas’ condition matches the requirements stated above.