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The building of the root cellar

8638 Views 5 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  PorkChop
This project is one of the longest running projects we have ever had here on the homestead. It began about 4 years ago and we are just now finishing it in time for this falls harvest.

When we began digging way back when we were simply going to dig in to the side of the hill and then once we had it dig in were going to frame in and brace it etc. Things did not go according to our plans however and the folks that had been helping dig got a bit crazy about a year and a half ago and simple built a cliff rather than a cave. This made for a huge change in plans ...

I will begin the pics from when we first began digging. The pics are older and i am on a different computer so i can not direct link some of the pics but to give an idea of the process i will post a few links to them from our farm picture galleries.

this was the ground breaking picture. The young guy in the picture is a great brother and is probably the best working person we have ever had visit here.

this pic was a few days into the digging process. The bale of straw sitting there was for our first earth oven build we ever did here.

here it is progressing nicely.

the cave, in this pic was 8-9 foot into the side of the hill. This was shortly before the folks that were here shaved it off to a cliff instead. One they did that we were sort of at a loss as to how to proceed with it in order to finish off the root cellar, we decided to simply let it sit n rest for almost two years

Over last winter we pondered just what we were going to do with it. We had this gaping would in the side of the hill and we have no tractor or other earth moving equipment besides a shovel and wheel barrow. The earth taken from the hill had been moved for whatever reason to odd places on the land and resembled something like ski moguls but in really bad places.

We had some pieces n parts of various old chick incubators (what the chicken coop ,feed shed , tool shed and part of the goat pasture is made from)still left over and we had the spare parts left of the ones we had already used laying around as well. We decided that although it was going to make a whole lot of manual strenuous labor we would have to build the root cellar out of those materials and some others we had laying around and then manually move the earth back around it once it was built.

Although this is not an ideal way of going about things as it is very labor intensive as well as time consuming ,we needed a large root cellar for this years crops. The ways we had been doing things was simply no longer enough for storage of our produce.

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The pics here on the bottom are where we basically started back in June

Note the cliff in the first pic where the cave had once been We simply finished leveling it out and then began to assemble the panels within the dug out area. Sounds much easier than it actually was since the earth here is made mostly of clay and ,limestone type material (A pick came in very handy throughout the whole process.) The panels we needed to have down in the holler are very heavy and bulky and weigh between 200 and 350 pounds apiece. They were also up top here and we had to find a way to get them down the hill closer to where we needed them. We moved one of the three panels by hand, flipping it end for end which proved to be all but impossible and it did horrible things to our backs as well. We have a 4 wd however it is a blazer so we could not simply throw them in the back of the truck to move them. After another month or so of sitting , pondering and recuperating ( the backs were very sore and manthing tried toe amputation and weather issues) i came up with an idea of making a skid type device and attaching it to the car and skidding the panels down to where we needed them . IT WORKED GREAT!

The panels are 8 x8 are coated on both sides with metal and are two inches thick of wood walls between the metal. We only had three panels of these incubators left and we wanted to try a shot at earth bag construction and see how it was to work with, so we decided the front wall would be bagged earth. The roof as you can see in the picks are something sort of resembling steel girders. They in fact are steel but were also out of the incubators as were the sheets of metal that fill in the small gaps between the beams.

We coated all parts in tar and then we coated them in black plastic before placing them where we wanted them in order to help preserve the pieces n parts. As mentioned the front wall is going to be bagged earth and then we have a door to hook on where it is framed in, also from the incubators.

We are now at the point of filling in behind and to the sides of the structure and doing the earth bags. The tube sticking out the top is a vent and there will be another vent near the bottom of the earth bags. We are hoping that the filling in and covering process will only take a month or so but DAMN its a lot of dirt, most of which will have to be carried in buckets (or pullied) up to the top( we need to cover with 2 foot of dirt) or behind the structure. The sides will also be filled in but that should be a bit easier, we atleast can use a wheel barrow for moving that earth...
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We are earth bagging it in the front then will cob over the top of it in order to make it a bit more pleasing to the eye.. I am using fifty pound dog food bags that we have been saving over time. They are the plastic on the outside with burlap plastic type stuff on the inside. The bags basically have to be filled in place or very near where they are going since a lot more than 50 pounds of dirt fits into the bags. Once they are filled and folded over and secured shut (duct tape) we simply laid them on there side and fit them in between the frame work and flattened them out as best as we could.(my butt sitting on them and bouncing around works quite well. Any small areas where the dirt in the bags didnt quite mold like we wanted it to ( around the frame work and outer edges) were filled in with your typical double bagged plastic grocery bag. It is actually quite fun using the smaller bags. Almost like building a sand castle but instead of molds i used bags. As the front went up I also began filling in the sides of the root cellar , just to keep the small bags from bulging off the ends too much.

The manthing worked on filling in the back of the cellar all day long. I asked him how many five gallon buckets he had put behind it at the end of the day and he didnt have any idea... I guess he doesnt count while doing repetitive tasks like i do...

The small hole in the front toward the bottom is a vent hole. We put an adjustable crawl space vent in there so that we can adjust the amount of airflow into the cellar.

After about 5 hours of moving dirt our arms began feeling like they were going to fall off so we called it a day. Anytime i went back down to the garden to work over the remainder of the weekend manthing went and hauled a few more buckets or wheelbarrow loads to the cellar. By our estimates, the back and sides are a bit over half way done. We are seriously contemplating having the feller that will be grading and scraping the driveway in the next week or two spend a few minutes of his time down there putting some of the dirt on the top for us using the bucket of the tractor . Would save us a whole lotta time and effort and is becoming evident that i am going to need the space in the very near future.
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Very nice! Please keep us updated as it progresses.

Is the temp. going to remain fairly stable throughout the year? Are you going to insulate the front portion?
lol it is actually done now and i was going to finish posting the pics and explanation but i got frusterated n had to step away from the computer :D...

i will explain the rest soon as i am unfrustrated enough to mess with them dang pictures some more..
lol it is actually done now and i was going to finish posting the pics and explanation but i got frusterated n had to step away from the computer :D...

i will explain the rest soon as i am unfrustrated enough to mess with them dang pictures some more..
Great thread. I've got a root cellar project on the radar, so keep the updates coming.
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