Trash Can Root Cellar: Why, How To Use, Food Storage

Trash can root cellars can be one of the most beneficial tools to have on any off-grid home, be it a homestead or a primarily self-sustainable home. 

An essential aspect of any home that is off-grid is farming. This requires effort, but not just in elbow grease; you need to store the food properly!

Trash can root cellars are used as a storage container during winter for fruits, vegetables, and nuts, among other food.

Trash can root cellars help prevent spoilage of the food and slows or stops the growth from potatoes, onions, and more. 

Since they can be super valuable, we’ve created a guide on how you can get started and what steps you should take once you’ve installed one!

Breakdown of a Trash Can Root Cellar

DIY Trash Can Root Cellar

Trash can root cellars are one of the most basic yet most credible variants of a root cellar. To begin, dig a hole that is as deep as the rim of the galvanized trash can.

Second, place the trash can in the hole and begin organizing the interior. To prepare the inside, set up small shelves on each side, preferably stainless steel. 

After this, place tin foil or paper that is moisture-wicking to put the food on top of. The final outcome will be shelves that can comfortably hold the food of your preference. 

After placing the food inside, put the lid on top with a plastic sheet between the lid and can. This will help to seal the lid and trash can together, preventing moisture and air from seeping in. 

Once this is done, place something over the cellar, such as sand, to trap out air, moisture, and invasion by pests. 

Make sure to make some kind of ventilation system covered in frequently asked questions.

How it Works

Trash can root cellars are very simple in terms of the way they work. Most of the magic comes from clever use and avoidance of mother nature, (i.e., humidity, etc.).

However, there are other mechanisms as well. For starters, root cellars are dark, keeping all exterior light from seeping through any cracks. 

Light can accelerate the time it takes for food to age and, eventually, become spoiled.

Root cellars also keep out humidity, which is another element that makes food age much faster. 

If you’ve ever heard of dehydrated foods, you’d understand why that route is a popular one; the food last! That’s pretty much it; there isn’t much to it.

How To Use

Root cellars are not hard to use, as they do not have many moving parts. However, placement is critical, sealing the cellar correctly to avoid any incoming humidity, heat, etc. 

Most root cellars have shelves in them, commonly around five, stacked above one another. 

The harder the fruit or vegetable is, the higher in the cellar it goes. Each shelf should consist of a container where each particular product should be stored.

So if you place three one-gallon buckets on each shelf, it’s best to put only potatoes in one, and onions in another, and so on for each bucket and shelf. 

Make sure to place something to wick away moisture, such as sawdust or sand, in the bottom.

Foods To Store

There are a multitude of foods to store in a root cellar. The popular choices are potatoes, garlic, onions, squash, and okra. 

Of course, you can store many other kinds of food; there is no limit. Keep in mind, though, that the softer the food, the less chance you’ll have of pulling out a fresh product after winter. 

To help keep the food fresh, make sure the interior temperature is as cold as possible in your climate. 

The importance of this grows with the softness of the food – the softer the food, the colder it should be, but cold, in general, is always better. 

Remember that fruits and vegetables that are fully ripe store better than those that aren’t yet.

The Shelf Life

A root cellar’s primary purpose is to extend its contents’ shelf life by placing food inside and walking away. 

While it does certainly extend the shelf life, it’s not comparable to canning or dehydrating food. 

The average shelf life is one month, less or more, depending on what kind of food you’re storing in the root cellar. 

For example, Artichokes last up to three months, while Broccoli only lasts two weeks. 

This brings an important question to ask yourself: what will you be storing? 

If you plan on using it as a food ‘backup” during winter, which can span up to 6 months, then you should aim for food such as carrots, beans, and beets. 

Common Questions

Can My Basement Be Used As A Root Cellar?

Basements already have half the work done; depth, so they’re a great place to put a trash can root cellar.

Ensure the cellar is placed in a corner away from any entrances that could have moisture flowing by, such as exhaust from air conditioners. 

Other than that, you’re set. It’s also a good idea to place the cellar near masonry walls, which may help keep the temps down.

What About Ventilation?

Airflow is essential in a trash can root cellar, as lack of airflow can lead to a build of humidity, heat, and spore growth.

Luckily, creating enough airflow in a trash can root cellar is easy; just drill a few holes in the bottom, then cover with mesh and place the sand or sawdust on top. 

It may be a good idea to place a dehumidifier near the root cellar if in the basement. This will help further your attempts at decreasing the chance of moisture ruining your cache.

Can I Store Meat?

Yes! Any root cellar can store meat, though it’s best to only store meat that has been salted, dehydrated, or canned. Fresh meat can spoil much faster.

If you attempt to store meat in your root cellar, make sure the meat is stored in a moisture-wicking material.

Canned goods won’t require as much prep but should also be stored in a root cellar that’s cool inside, as dark, warm areas are asking for trouble with canned food.


Trash can root cellars are one of the most underrated tools on an off-grid home. If you live off-grid and do not have one, you could be missing out.

During winter, the cold temperatures can wreak havoc on produce, especially if it’s humid. 

Fortunately, trash can root cellars can save you from the trouble of losing your food cache and hard work by keeping out moisture, pests, and more.

The most important thing on a homestead is to be sustainable, and if your food storage goes to the dumps because of poor storage conditions, you’re out of luck.

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