The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Fridge root cellar video

Temperature is the real test of a successful root cellar, with optimal temperatures from 32 F to 40 F, but with temperatures from 40 F to 50 F considered quite good.  I've seen quite a few fancy root cellars constructed with vast quantities of labor and cash which fail the simple temperature test.  Can our $10 root cellar do better?

We won't know for sure how our root cellar holds up until it has to deal with really hot days and really cold nights, but so far it's running great.  Over the last few days since Mark completed the fridge root cellar, it has held a semi-steady temperature between 40 F and 52 F.  I'll keep you updated on the temperature variations as the year progresses.

If you missed parts of the construction details, you might want to read back over our old entries (linked below), or watch the video here which sums it all up in a two and a half minute nutshell.  I hope that some of you are inspired to eschew the fancy root cellar craze and make your own root cellar for cheap.

This post is part of our Fridge Root Cellar series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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What is significant is: a) the difference between inside and ambient air temperatures b) how consistent the inside temperature is.

Comment by Errol Mon Nov 23 09:12:02 2009
Good point! I figure we won't really know how it works until the end of the winter, once we've had to deal with some really cold nights.
Comment by anna Mon Nov 23 09:46:17 2009
Curious to how this worked out for you?
Comment by JT Tue Aug 17 12:33:24 2010
I wish I had a better report, but in a heavy rain last winter, the bare dirt behind the fridge pushed it over on its face. We haven't had time to go dig it out and put a roof over it to channel the rain away and prevent another landslide. Until then, temperatures inside the fridge were good, but the landslide makes it a failure so far!
Comment by anna Wed Aug 18 07:46:05 2010
I thought making the frige into a root cellar was a good idea. Did you fix it after the rain made it fall forward? Used braces maybe?
Comment by Pat Tue May 7 15:06:12 2013
Pat --- We did indeed get it back up and running, and the root cellar kept masses of carrots fresh for us all winter. I've got an ebook nearly finished about our experience, but since the garden year is heating up, it might not come out until this fall. Stay tuned to the blog for more information!
Comment by anna Wed May 8 08:21:17 2013
I'm curious where you are located. I am looking for a good root cellar option up here in Vermont where our winter nights can get well below zero degrees.
Comment by Nic P Sat Sep 14 22:06:06 2013
Nic --- We live in zone 6, in the mountains of southwest Virginia. I'll be curious to hear how your fridge root cellar works if you try one in Vermont!
Comment by anna Sun Sep 15 11:32:59 2013

Hi, love the fridge idea. Have thought about a cellar for many years but have never got around to doing it. Now as we need to conserve our produce I am looking for ways to store it as we are not connected to a power grid. (I live in Australia in the mountains, occasional snow here but more like weeks and weeks of frost over autumn winter spring). I w8uld like to know more about the fridge idea and the only suitable place is in a hill side that faces west. Any suggestions and did younget your book done. Any help will be gratefully received. Thanks Eluzabeth

Comment by Elizabeth Benton Sat Oct 18 22:23:38 2014
Elizabeth --- Since you're in the southern hemisphere, a west-facing hillside should get morning sun only (I think?), so it's a pretty good location for a root cellar of any type. You can read much more in my ebook, which is indeed completed. :-)
Comment by anna Sun Oct 19 10:33:29 2014
Could I use an old freezer can I dig a hole put it on it's side open the door to get our food out.
Comment by Pamela Tilley Wed Oct 21 22:11:22 2015
Pamela --- We haven't built a freezer version ourselves. But folks who have built them tend to do so coffin-style, (meaning they sit in the ground just like they did on your floor). I'll be curious to hear how your project turns out!
Comment by anna Thu Oct 22 11:24:09 2015

Hello Anna, I'v researched so many sites collecting info on all types of Root Cellars,wow so many kinds. I'm a renter, not an owner of my home. I'm 500mt from a main river,8-9mt above high tide line,on a low rising hill. At times we are -0 degrees in Winter n can reach 35+c in Summer. No-one has 4 seasons in a year anymore,more like 6 now.Can't win - hey! For ease of doing, I'v chosen Coffin style F/F hole. Dig into the side of a dirt bank,for 3 sides,2 short n 1 long side. Door(s) lift open up from 2nd long side. The hole needs to be 8" wider than around the coffin n 12" deeper. Pack the base n inside walls smooth,then line it with a 3ft wide x 6ft long pc of weed-mat. To stop the mat from unravel-ing,use Gorilla tape then cut down its center.No frayed edges,no waste. Cover the mat with lge marble sized crushed rock or stones 3" deep,then level out.

1st choice)Build a wooden frame around the outer edge of the hole on 3 sides,make a 4th side that can be screwed on after F/F is set inside the space. Line the outside of the frame with flat steel or roofing iron. For longevity of the Metal,paint with a rubber based sealer,or use Fiber-glass or Cement Sheeting. Didn't like this option, to much money n messing around, waste of time n energy.

2nd Choice)Build a brick retaining wall around 3 sides,1-long 2-short. DO NOT cut the bricks off even, on the x2 short walls-as the F/F.It'll be easier to roll in on Trolley Jacks,over a flat board under each Jack, over the rock/stone base. Place 3 sets of 2 cement bricks on there sides or on there long edges. Make sure they are settled and even,as this is where your F/F will sit. On the outside of the brick retaining wall,put weed-mat 6"up the bricks from the base,then up the dirt wall,do this all the way around the wall, then back-fill with more of those large marble size rocks/stones making an easy french drain.
Far easier and safer than hoisting the F/F up 4ft and over,n down into the hole. I borrowed 2 Trolley Jacks and did this myself.
It took a little longer,but I achieved it in the end. Go Lady Power !!!

Sorry Guy's, just couldn't help myself.

Anyone can DO ANYTHING - if they're Taught to DO or USE it Properly. I taught my son to cut kindling at 14 mths old, with a real axe. By the time he was 4yrs old, he was splitting 2ft x 18" Firelogs with my block buster, by 12 he was taught to use a Chainsaw. Never been Hurt. That's how I was raised, not allowed to use the word 'Can't', unless I'd tried at least 6 times with real effort. I'm learning to use a MIG Welder now,to make Metal-Work Art n Customized Fire Pits. At 28 I was told, I was Over Educated, Over Qualified, Over Aged, and Un-Employable. Now at 56, I'm a Hundred times more of the first two, and neither of the last two. Don't ever let anyone judge you, by 'there' Limitations.

Time to prep the Frig/Frezr. You will need to buy 2mt/6.4'L of Poly Pipe 7.5cm/3"D,x2 R-angle bends, x2 T-joints, x1 tube of White Acrylic Sealant n x1 tube of Bath/Kit clear Silicone Sealant, 30cm/12"x 90cm/3' of metal Fly Wire, n x2 Caps that fit snug over the poly pipe. For the PVC pipe you will need a pack of self tapping Screws 10/12mm long. For the Timber you will need x2 different lengths of Wood Screws, 12-15mm/1/2-3/4" for the crates,n 50-60mm/2-2&1/2" Screws for the thicker Timber In n On your F/F. You will also need x6 Cement Bricks 14cm,D x 19cm,H x 40cm,W- with holes through them. Like square No.8.if stood on end. You also need some 4"W by 3/4" thick timber, depending on the size of your F/F,how many feet/meters in length you'll need to buy.

In the top n bottom of F/F, cut-out x2 holes, 1st 5" from the bottom at the center,the 2nd 5" from the top-DO NOT Include the Door/s that open. Do the same to the other end, going all the way through to inside. File these holes,so clean n smooth,no cut fingers,okay.

Cut x4 pc of poly pipe 12cm/4.3/4" long. They go into the holes you've cut. Glue n Screw the R-angle Bends to 2 of the 12cm pipes, now Glue n Screw the 2 T-joints to the other 2 12cm pc of pipe. Push the pipes into the cut holes,to sit snug,now carefully measure the length between the bottom of T-joint n top of the R-angle Bend. Cut 2 of these lengths,then Glue n Screw them together. Now cut x4 10cm/4" Circles of the Metal Fly Wire. Place the wire over each pc of pipe,center it,n gently press leaving a slight indent of the circle in the wire. Do this with all 4 wire circles. With wire/metal cutters,cut from outside to the circle,just 3mm/1/8th" short of the circle bend, when all 4 are done, clamp the pipe into a vice gently, pointing upwards. Cut 6 short pc of Gorilla Tape n have ready to use. You will need 4 lots of 6 pc of tape.You can do these all at once,or one end at a time, up to you. Take the wire off the pipe,now squeeze a single line of Sealant around the pipe,half an inch from the rim, smooth downwards a little with yr finger. Sit the wire back on top of the pipe,then using a 4"x4"pc squ by 1/2" thick pc ply-wood,place this across the wire, so you can see the inside line of the pipe. Putting pressure on the ply you can now start to press each fold of wire down into the sealant,put a pc of tape on every 4-5 pc you bend to help hold in place. Use the Gorilla Tape to do a full circle around, covering the wire n the pipe-But not the sealant-Do the other 3 pipe ends the same. Once dry,to make sure they'll slide through the holes, use a Rubber Mallet to smooth out any small bumps. Push the short pipes through the holes into the F/F,so only a 1/4" pops through, this lip is where you place the Sealant. Because this is an awkward position,squeeze a 1"line of Sealant on the pad of your finger so you can feel what your doing.It's easier to do the outside where you can move around. Allow the Sealant to set. Go n have a Coffee Break. Back now,Good.
Glue n Screw the Caps on the last two pieces of Poly pipe,lid all done. Lay the pipe into the vice,as you need to drill 1/2" holes around the top 7"s of each pipe. Start an inch down from the base of the Cap, do one line at a time across, make sure you have 1/2"min space between the holes - But, only in the 1"-7" circumference. You can always add more, but you can't put them back. If you think there's not enough ventilation,you can drill more holes,a few at a time,later. To protect the outside Vent Holes, cut x2 pc of wire mesh 20cm/8" deep and the circumference of the pipe +1" extra to over-lap.Squeeze x2 rings of Clear Silicone Sealant around the pipe,just above n below the drilled vent holes, now roll the wire around the pipe pressing it into the sealant as you go. To ensure the mesh will stay on, no matter the weather, use small gauge twitch wire. Two loops around the top in the Sealant n twist off,then continue to wrap in a downward spiral to the bottom ring of Sealant,do two loops,cut the wire n twist off in the Sealant. If you need to, add another ring of Sealant over the loops top n bottom, then smooth out with your finger. When Sealant is dry, you can then Glue n Screw this pc into the top section of the T-Joint. I prefer to use Screws, than Nails, as Nails tend to wriggle loose over time and use. Do it Right Once, no mess around on Repairs Later.

For the Lid of your F/F, Glue n Screw your 4"W x 3/4"T timber cut to length around the outside frame of the door,just covering the rubber seal of the door(s),protection against the weather. Using 1&1/4"timber battens x3-4 on top, side to side. In the gaps between the battens, fit in cut pieces of Insulation Batts, then cover with a sheet of steel or roofing iron n screw down to battens on the lid. Using the rubber mallet make the metal bend downwards to protect the F/F.
Attach a good size handle to the lid, for easy opening. Have a piece of timber 2"x1&1/2",with a V notch cut into each end, at the right length, to prop open the lid to collect out what you need. When finished lay the stick across the top boxes for easy use for Adults, Elders and children alike.

Depending on the size of your F/F, I would recommend that you make some wooden crates,made to measure, that fit just right. They can be Wide n Squat Crates or Deep n Slim Crates. Choose what's best for the inside Dimensions of your F/F.
Glue n Screw 1"x1" strips of timber across the inside base of your F/F,leaving 1&4/8" space at each end, and 2" apart across the bottom. For good Cross-Flow Ventilation.

When you pack your vegetables into the crates,the biggest need to go into the bottom crates,as they keep longer,so use your small ones first. You can pack Potatoes,Carrots,parsnip,n Beets in your F/F Cellar, as they are all root Vegetables.

Potatoes go in as is,give a gentle brush with a scrub brush to remove excess dirt,But, Never Never Wash them. Carrots,Parsnips n Beets,you need to pack in layers of wood-shavings or dry straw,use Nylon Fly Screen to line out these crates,Wood-Shavings n Straw stay in the crates. As you do each layer,tops to the crate side, you can get more in each layer(but not Crammed in)a straw width between each one. Don't fill the sides of the crates up,as it blocks air flow. As before, place the bigger one's in the bottom, n smaller at the top.

It's 2am here,and I'm going Cross-Eyed. I found it more difficult to write down how to do a F/F Root Cellar, than when I physically did it. I'm hoping, that what I'v written makes sense to you and others,n can be of benefit,and isn't a load of giberish.

I think I'll stop for now, but next time I'll write about how med n long term Renters can have Root Cellars too, if you'd like?

Thanks for reading what I'v written,n hope to hear back from you soon.

Bye for Now, from Suzanne in Tasmania - Australia. A New Friend. Everyone stay safe, n look out for each other, Blessings to all.

Comment by Suzanne from Tasmania - Australia - Hello - Thu Oct 6 11:35:14 2016
Sounds like the perfect plan for the broken refrigerator on the porch.
Comment by Anonymous Sat Apr 22 13:22:04 2017

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