Before there were refrigerators and freezers, there was the earth cellar, an underground area surrounded by soil but protected against water infiltration and animals where a family could store food, drink and more.
Now, as energy prices increase in Austria, many are looking into this solution again, as it can store fruit, vegetables, cheese and wine in ideal conditions for several months – all without consuming electricity.
The earth cellars take advantage of the “temperature-compensating and moisture-regulating effect of the soil”, according to broadcaster ORF. Even in cities, some old apartments still have storage facilities that are underground and would fit the criteria – though not every Keller can be considered an “earth Keller” (Erdkeller).
In parts of Austria, it’s not uncommon to find communal earth cellars owned by garden associations and available through a membership – or even places where you can rent a spot at an earth cellar.
In Vorarlberg, a communal earth cellar that has existed since 2019 is now more popular than ever as people look for ways to reduce their energy consumption. The 40-square-meter underground storage area was built with an excavator and used bricks to keep temperatures always cold.
The conditions, temperatures between four and seven degrees, humidity between 78 and 96 percent, and darkness make it possible for produce to last longer. Potatoes and beetroot, for example, can stay up to one year in such a place.
Isabella Moosbrugger from the Bezau-Reuthe Gartenbauverein told ORF that such storage would also be suitable for residential complexes.
Smaller private solutions
Even though it can get expensive to build a large “earth cellar” with the proper insulation, depth, drain and ventilation pipe, there are some smaller home solutions that could work.
Technically, a closed (so it’s protected from animals) area or storage unit underground (and in contact with the soil) is an earth cellar. That means that even a barrel buried in the ground can act as a small earth cellar.
Such small solutions are environmentally friendly storage options even for private households – they require no electricity and, therefore, not only save on your energy bills but work even in case of a blackout or power outage.