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Root Cellar


Root Cellar Plans

These unique root cellar plans show you how to build a root cellar for food storage by adapting a new concrete septic tank.
By Steve Maxwell
April/May 2014

Make this root cellar by burying a new concrete septic tank into a hillside.
Illustration by Len Churchill


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The cool, moist and dark conditions of a root cellar make it the perfect place to keep many fruits and vegetables crisp and delicious for weeks — even months — of storage. And while there are myriad ways to store vegetables, our innovative root cellar plans show you how to build a root cellar by modifying a new, precast concrete septic tank. By following the plans, you'll cut an entrance, install a door, add a pair of vent pipes and cover the tank with soil to bring an old-fashioned, walk-in cellar into your modern life.

Choose a Concrete Septic Tank

You'll want to buy an unused septic tank for this root cellar design, but look for a deal to avoid paying full price. A percentage of all precast concrete septic tanks end up with small manufacturing defects that prohibit them from being used for sewage treatment. Suppliers sometimes offer discounts on these flawed tanks. As long as the tank is solid and sound, a chipped edge or a patchable hole won't prevent it from being a root cellar. You won’t need the plastic fittings or effluent filter found inside most septic tanks, so ask the supplier to remove these before delivery.

Tank size is another detail you'll need to consider when planning how to build a root cellar from a septic tank. The capacity of septic tanks is measured in gallons, with different models being taller or shorter. While you might be tempted to buy a 1,000- or 1,200-gallon tank because they’re common, you’ll get more food storage space and headroom with a tank that's 1,500 gallons or larger. Standard 1,500-gallon tanks typically measure about 5 1/2 feet wide by 5 1/2 feet tall by 10 feet long, while a 2,500-gallon tank provides more than 6 feet of interior headroom. Don’t choose a low-profile tank because it will be much too short to work in. Prices for new, undamaged 1,500-gallon tanks start at about $1,100, and 2,500-gallon models can be found for as low as $1,600. Discounts for damaged tanks may be as much as 50 percent.

Most septic tanks have an internal partition that must be opened or removed to build from these root cellar plans. Try to find a tank without a partition, or ask your supplier to remove it before delivery. You can also punch through the partition yourself as part of the doorway-cutting process.

Best Sites for Root Cellars

The perfect location for a root cellar is nestled into an existing soil bank in a well-drained location 10 to 20 yards from your house. Ideally, the door should face north to keep out the sun’s heat. You’d be fortunate indeed to have all of these conditions, and most people have to modify their sites. Expect to pay from $50 to $100 per hour for a backhoe and operator to excavate your site for three or four hours.


Fall Foliage

Not all leaves turn vivid colors in the fall. Only a few of our many species of deciduous trees—notably maple, aspen, oak, and gum—produce stellar performances for our annual autumn spectacular in North America.

Several factors contribute to fall color (temperature, precipitation, soil moisture), but the main agent is light, or actually the lack of it. The amount of daylight relates to the timing of the autumnal equinox. See when fall begins.

As the autumn days grow shorter, the reduced light triggers chemical changes in deciduous plants causing a corky wall to form between the twig and the leaf stalk. See how day length is changing in your area!

This “abscission layer” eventually causes the leaf to drop off in the breeze. As the corky cells multiply, they seal off the vessels that supply the leaf with nutrients and water and also block the exit vessels, trapping simple sugars in the leaves. The combination of reduced light, lack of nutrients, and no water add up to the death of the pigment chlorophyll, the “green” in leaves.

Once the green is gone, two other pigments show their bright faces. These pigments, carotene (yellow) and anthocyanin (red), exist in the leaf all summer but are masked by the chlorophyll. (The browns in autumn leaves are the result of tannin, a chemical that exists in many leaves, especially oaks.)

Sugar trapped in autumn leaves by the abscission layer is largely responsible for the vivid color. Some additional anthocyanins are also manufactured by sunlight acting on the trapped sugar. This is why the foliage is so sparkling after several bright fall days and more pastel during rainy spells. In general, a wet growing season followed by a dry autumn filled with sunny days and cool, frostless nights produces the most vibrant palette of fall colors.

Of course, if freezing temperatures and a hard frost hits, it can kill the process within the leaf and lead to poor fall color. Also, drought conditions during late summer and early fall can trigger an early “shutdown” of trees as they prepare for winter, causing leaves to fall early from trees without reaching their full color potential.

Does your area experience fall foliage? Some level of autumn foliage changes in many regions on North America. However, it is the northern tier of states, especially New England, that hold the jackpot for leaf peepers. A combination of the right climate and light conditions and an abundance of the tree varieties that hoard colorful pigments come together there.

While tradition has it that Columbus Day weekend is when the color peaks in New England, the mythical maximum occurs in northern Maine in mid- to late September and “travels” south, reaching the Connecticut shore by late October.

How do you determine the best location in your area for vibrant fall foliage?  Check out this Foliage Leaf Peepr app which reports on the best and brightest colors in the United States.


Feed Your Family & Your Wallet

Owning land is having possession of a tangible asset that has a host of benefits, one being the ability to farm.

It may sounds like a lot of unnecessary work to many, but there's a growing movement of people growing their own food. This food-to-table trend is also allowing some to feed their families and sell the excess to others for extra cash.

Farmers markets allow small-yield cultivators the ability to help others, and themselves, by selling everything from fruits and vegetables to herbs, plants and flowers. Consider container gardening if your land isn't well suited to farming.

Even in varying climates, here are some of the most popular choices and easiest to grow.


Green (Bush) Beans - Sow seeds every few weeks to enjoy a continual harvest through the summer.

Beets - You can plant your beets as soon as your soil can be worked in the spring.

Carrots - Plant carrots as soon as the soil can be worked. They thrive in fertile sandy loam.

Cucumbers - Give your cucumber plants generous amounts of organic matter and good fertilization and they will respond with lots of crunchy cucumbers; harvest them regularly to increase production.

Lettuce - Lettuce thrives in cooler weather so plant it in the spring and fall, sowing every few weeks for a continuous harvest.

Snap Peas - Plant your peas so that they can mature as early as your planting schedule allows and sow more seeds when cooler fall days return.

Radishes - Spring radish varieties are often ready in just three weeks and are more mild in flavor—hotter summer soil produces spicier radishes.


Basil - Plant basil in rich, moist soil where it can enjoy full sun. Sow your basil every few weeks for continual harvest.

Dill - Plant your dill seeds in warmer temperatures: it thrives in soil around 75 to 80°F.

Cilantro - Plant cilantro early in the season and sow seeds regularly for a continued harvest.

Parsley - Plant parsley in fertile soil with good amounts of organic matter and moisture.

Thyme - Grow thyme in an area that will receive full sunlight.

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Let Us Know What You're Looking For!

Many times, the best new properties go to customers who have already made contact with us. Often, even before we get pictures to put on the website. So, be sure to get in touch and let us know what you're looking for so you don't miss out on your dream property.

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