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Steel trash can root cellar DIY

 
Posts: 19
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Hi Everyone, I am entertaining the idea of creating several of buried steel trash can root cellars. The soil in my area is 100% sand so digging is no issue and water doesn't pool. I am in somewhat Northern Ontario where the summers get hot 35degrees C and the winters -35degrees C. I am wondering if anyone has attempted this project living in similar weather conditions. I imagine I will simply have to dig deeper to below my region's frost line. Other than that, I would appreciate any recommendations. This is the video I referenced so you know what I am planning to construct.



Thank you everyone
 
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Looks like a great plan, man!!
So how do you plan to create the primary cellar room?
 
Katherine Burelle
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John C Daley wrote:Looks like a great plan, man!!
So how do you plan to create the primary cellar room?



I was hoping to install these in the ground under my covered porch or build a simple dirt floor shed and dig them into the ground there. This way I don’t have to clear snow to get to my veggies in the winter. What do you think?
 
John C Daley
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Sounds good, in Australia we dont have a problem with snow at this time, just 44 deg C. and no rain for months!!
Is there good space under the porch?
 
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Hello Katherine! Interesting project. We live in similar climates. I suspect we face different challenges than the charming fellow from Texas in the video.

What sorts of root veggies do you want to store? An effective root cellar allows control of both temperature and moisture/humidity, and keeps them at a consistent level.

In my part of the world, the minimum frost line is 6' / 2m. This is the transition zone between seasonal atmospheric cooling in winter and long-term solar warming stored deeper in the Earth.

As a result, a stand-alone root cellar needs to be deep, and heavily insulated from above. Historically, old-style cribbed wells were appropriate for both refrigeration and freeze protection of foodstuffs.

But a stand-alone was rarely done, unless it was in the centre of a large barn or shed. The large surface area of a structure helps to dry out the subsoil, adding modest insulation, and also concentrating the natural heat rising from below. It's a very real phenomenon: even now, my unheated stand-alone garage is 10C warmer than the outside air during a severe cold snap.

Mostly, in cold climates, root cellars were attached to the house or underneath the house. They may have been insulated around, or above, by straw. But they received some of their heat from the living areas, and had a lot more volume than a trash can to regulate moisture.

There is a modern cheat: if you have a basement that is not insulated from the outside, you can create a cold nook in a corner against the concrete. Create an insulated box around it with whatever you can lay your hands on -- even cardboard. It's a starting point; live with it, experiment, and adjust based on experience.

That's my long-winded 2c. Luck!
 
Katherine Burelle
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:

There is a modern cheat: if you have a basement that is not insulated from the outside, you can create a cold nook in a corner against the concrete. Create an insulated box around it with whatever you can lay your hands on -- even cardboard. It's a starting point; live with it, experiment, and adjust based on experience.

Thank you Douglas! I suppose it would be pretty stupid to dig a trash can 2meters deep. Seems I do need an alternative. My basement is sadly insulated but I do have a cold spot near the walkout. This is a small area but I could attempt an insulated chest or cabinet with venting. I’ll explore this further, again thank you so much!
















 
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This is my third winter with one of these. Here's what I wrote after the first winter.

https://permies.com/t/140268/Garbage-root-cellar-success#1099745

My winters are warmer than yours and our frost depth is only 30". I'm not terribly careful about keeping the top of the hole insulated, though. I'm still using a couple paper leaf bags to cover. Last year they had leaves, not straw stuffed in them. The bags just barely cover the hole, not much, if any, overlap of the surrounding ground. In your climate I could see laying some styrofoam down over the hole in addition to whatever else you use to help insulate. If you make sure you've got good overlap around the hole's edges, I bet it would work.

It turns out, the way I do it anyway, no ventilation is needed. I have a pretty high straw to potato ratio, though. The last couple years I've made sure each layer of potatoes has some straw separating it from the next layer. The potatoes in each layer don't quite touch each other. This year I had more potatoes and didn't want to change my setup to accommodate a second garbage can. So I've got more potatoes in each layer, all touching and piled a couple potatoes deep.

I'm just finishing off the damaged or otherwise unsuitable for storage potatoes, so I haven't even checked the garbage can yet this winter. I'll let you know how they look once I get in there.

I'm super happy with my set up, though. I ate my very last Yukon golds in July last year, after digging them at the end of September. They were sprouting a bit, but still good.
 
Katherine Burelle
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Jan White wrote:This is my third winter with one of these. Here's what I wrote after the first winter.

https://permies.com/t/140268/Garbage-root-cellar-success#1099745

My winters are warmer than yours and our frost depth is only 30". I'm not terribly careful about keeping the top of the hole insulated, though. I'm still using a couple paper leaf bags to cover. Last year they had leaves, not straw stuffed in them. The bags just barely cover the hole, not much, if any, overlap of the surrounding ground. In your climate I could see laying some styrofoam down over the hole in addition to whatever else you use to help insulate. If you make sure you've got good overlap around the hole's edges, I bet it would work.

It turns out, the way I do it anyway, no ventilation is needed. I have a pretty high straw to potato ratio, though. The last couple years I've made sure each layer of potatoes has some straw separating it from the next layer. The potatoes in each layer don't quite touch each other. This year I had more potatoes and didn't want to change my setup to accommodate a second garbage can. So I've got more potatoes in each layer, all touching and piled a couple potatoes deep.

I'm just finishing off the damaged or otherwise unsuitable for storage potatoes, so I haven't even checked the garbage can yet this winter. I'll let you know how they look once I get in there.

I'm super happy with my set up, though. I ate my very last Yukon golds in July last year, after digging them at the end of September. They were sprouting a bit, but still good.



thank you this is very useful information! I am going to research the actual frost line depth for my area, I should have done this first hahahah. Ill keep everyone posted once I have sorted that out, and whether it will be feasible at all to dig that deep. Last thing I need is someone holding my feet as I dangle down a deep whole.
 
Jan White
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For insulation, I'm thinking regular fiberglass or rock wool batts sandwiched between styrofoam. Cover with cardboard to protect the styrofoam, then wrap in plastic or something to keep the insulation fibers from escaping. Each batt sandwich would be light and not too big, so pretty easy to move around to get underneath.
 
Jan White
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Katherine Burelle wrote:
. Last thing I need is someone holding my feet as I dangle down a deep whole.



That's why, even though my frost depth is 30", I only set the garbage can a few inches below the surrounding soil. I wouldn't want it much deeper than it is. I'm only 5'1", though.
 
Douglas Alpenstock
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Jan White wrote:It turns out, the way I do it anyway, no ventilation is needed. I have a pretty high straw to potato ratio, though.



Good idea. Dry straw will soak up any excess humidity.
 
Katherine Burelle
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:

Jan White wrote:It turns out, the way I do it anyway, no ventilation is needed. I have a pretty high straw to potato ratio, though.



Good idea. Dry straw will soak up any excess humidity.



Heck I might just try it anyway and see what gives! I’ll just add extra top insulation. I was thinking 4bails of hay in a square cold frame style with a window on top. Might give me a zone milder within the space above ground. Currently I’m zone 4
 
Katherine Burelle
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Jan White wrote:For insulation, I'm thinking regular fiberglass or rock wool batts sandwiched between styrofoam. Cover with cardboard to protect the styrofoam, then wrap in plastic or something to keep the insulation fibers from escaping. Each batt sandwich would be light and not too big, so pretty easy to move around to get underneath.



Thank you for this recommendation! I will try this over straw on the outside, extra insulation is better if Im trying to compensate on depth.
 
Katherine Burelle
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John C Daley wrote:Sounds good, in Australia we dont have a problem with snow at this time, just 44 deg C. and no rain for months!!
Is there good space under the porch?



my porch is about 5 ft above the ground and the space underneath is about 6x6 ft, so other than the initial hunching over ( I am 5'11") it is completely dry under there so it should be a decent spot. Also because the ground is sand it is easy to dig up in the warmer months. and the space is large enough to cover up easily.

I plan to do this is 2 areas based on feedback:
1. 2 cans under the porch with the recommended rock wool insulation.
2. out in the yard with a straw bale cold frame on top.

This will be my April-may project as most of the snow should hopefully be gone by then and fingers crossed the ground shouldn't be solid. This area is very new to me, and I don't know how sand behaves when frozen (depending on moisture content from melted snow, it could be soft sooner than regular soil, or frozen from the melted snow). What a fun experiment! I can't wait to see what happens.

Regardless of the outcome I will be more knowledgeable for 2023! and the nice thing is even if this completely fails the materials can always be reused for other projects in the future!
 
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