With only the glow of a small flashlight she slowly makes her way down the aged, moss covered stone stairs. Her hand reaches for the door, which creaks as it slowly opens. She sees a mouse scurry, a spider climbs back up to its web in the corner of the dark room. The smell is damp, musty, … lifeless.
An eerie feeling comes over her as the light flickers, suddenly she turns around and screams…….... “this place is a mess!”
“What?” my husband asked making his way down the stairs.
“I said, this place is a mess,” I answered back.
This spooky room, which has been known to frighten many a guest, and sometimes repairmen from the Gas Company is our cellar.
We live in an old Victorian farmhouse, which boasts a cellar with a dirt floor under the house. Aside from the modern furnace which takes up most of the middle of the room, it’s relatively roomy. After cleaning out some refuse from past homeowners last summer I noticed it was lined with multiple wood shelves, as old as the house itself. It dawned on me. It’s a root cellar.
If you don’t know what a root cellar is, you’re probably not alone. They are not exactly something most people use anymore. Root cellars were the refrigerators of the past; the place to store fruits, vegetables, herbs, home-canned goods, etc. long before electricity was ever an option. Using the naturally stable, cool and semi-moist temperatures down below people kept their produce from spoiling. People have used everything from cellars to caves, crawl spaces to basements (different than a cellar) as root cellars; any cool and dark underground place with ventilation will do. If you’re looking to construct one or use an existing room there are plenty of resources to guide you.
“Root Cellaring: Natural cold storage of fruits and vegetables” by Mike and Nancy Bubel is the best book I’ve found about root cellaring. From construction to recipes, its exhaustive content will answer all of your questions and then some. There’s also “The Complete Root Cellar Book: Building Plans, Uses and 100 Recipes” by Steve Maxwell and Jennifer MacKenzie, which I’ve heard is also good.
Our root cellar will receive its first official makeover in the coming winter months. Earlier this week we discovered that our shower was leaking into the cellar causing moisture, mold and all kinds of "fun", so we're working on resolving that. But I am looking forward to the overall overhaul. My husband has courageously agreed to vacuum up all the webs and debris (spiders?!) hanging from above. I will tackle cleaning up and reinforcing the shelves. I would also like to bring in some rock for the floor and replace the broken screens that lead to the outside. We’ve talked about growing Portobello mushrooms and storing wine down there along with our fruits, vegetables and canned goods. The cats will monitor the mice population and a mounted thermometer will monitor the overall temperature and humidity throughout the year.
Our spooky cellar will once again become what it was created to be, a lovely root cellar perfect for decades of harvests to come.