A galvanized garbage can makes an ideal miniature root cellar.

How to Make a Root Cellar From a Garbage Can

by Victoria Bailey

A hundred years ago virtually every home had a root cellar. These naturally cool rooms held vegetables and some fruit fresh and kept them crisp for months. You probably won't grow enough food to justify building a root cellar in your home, but if you have a bumper crop of edible roots, you can turn a garbage can into seasonal food storage. You'll eliminate the indoor storage problems of sprouting potatoes (Solanum tuberosum) and hairy carrots (Daucus carota) while keeping food in fresh and tasty form throughout even the toughest winter weather.

Turn a new trashcan over so that the bottom of the can is facing upward. Put on a pair of heavy work gloves to protect your hands. Make a random series of holes in the bottom of the trashcan by hammering the point of the nail into the bottom of the can. Make holes over the surface of the can to serve as drainage holes.

Dig a hole in your yard as large as the trash can and deep enough so that the top is below the soil surface. Choose a well-drained site that doesn't collect moisture after a rainstorm.

Place three or four large rocks or bricks in the bottom of the hole. This lifts the can above the surface of the soil and prevents water from seeping in through the drainage holes.

Place the garbage can into the hole. Add a 3-inch layer of straw or dead leaves, then add a similar-size layer of potatoes, carrots or other food to store. Cover the food with another layer of straw or leaves and then keep layering the food and insulation until the can is filled.

Put the lid on the can and place some bricks or large stones on top so that animals can't pry it from the can. Cover the lid with a 12-inch layer of straw, some spare plastic foam or any other insulating material you may have. Cover this with a tarp to keep moisture from the insulation. If you normally get deep snows during winter, hammer a tall pole into the ground next to the can, to help you find the miniature root cellar during the winter.

Items you will need

  • New galvanized trash can
  • Work gloves
  • Long nail
  • Mallet
  • Shovel
  • Straw or leaves
  • Insulating material
  • Large rocks
  • Tarp
  • Stick or pole


  • Some fruits and vegetables don't store well with others, so create a separate root cellar can for each type of food you store.
  • Some of the foods that work with this storage method are apples (Malus domestica), cabbage (Brassica oleracea), sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) and celery (Apium graveolens).

About the Author

Working in sunny Florida, Anne Baley has been writing professionally since 2009. Her home and lifestyle articles have been seen on Coldwell Banker and Gardening Know How. Baley has published a series of books teaching how to live a frugal life with style and panache.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images