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September 20, 2014
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Build a root cellar; For storing root vegetables long into fall and winter

The Michael Denman family of Grahamsville, NY built their house at the top of a hill and then terraced the slope for an extensive vegetable garden.
Photos by Billy Templeton

By Billy Templeton

Up from Michael Denman’s self-dug pond, on his land in Grahamsville, NY, a great blue heron swoops low in an attempt to pilfer his brown trout before it recognizes the humans below, abandons its landing and disappears into the woods. We follow a trail around the water, trod many times by his daughter and her horse, Oreo, over to the chicken coop and up stone steps to a gate and arbor overflowing with a massive trumpet vine that leads into the Denmans’ terraced gardens. Standing there, amidst the orange trumpet flowers, the hum and chirps of ruby-throated hummingbirds and buzz of bumblebees sound as if they are being fed through a sound system.

Each of the three tiers of raised-bed gardens has been carved into the sloped landscape by Denman and then reinforced with a series of stone walls. As we walk around beds of carrots, cabbages, sunflowers and lettuce, Denman leads me along a narrow path aside the greenhouse to a small wooden door set between two rock walls and tucked under a giant slab of stone. This small, dark room is Michael Denman’s pride and joy—his root cellar.

In the early 1990s, Denman purchased a few acres of land just south of Denman Mountain, where his ancestors lived for generations, and he began work building his own home and laying the foundation for a modern-day homestead. Soon after he purchased the land, Michael got married. With his wife, Kathy, the two began designing and working to create their dream home. Much of their property consists of a steep slope, but rather than attempt to work against nature, the Denmans decided to utilize as many of these unique characteristics as possible. Digging a root cellar into the side of the hill was one of the first projects they completed.

Underground storage facilities have existed in one form or another ever since food has been harvested with surplus. Some experts claim that Native Australians were the first to bury their yams to keep them fresh over 40,000 years ago. Modern root cellars like the Denmans’ have come a long way since then. Although his structure is built into the earth, Denman has constructed the room out of reinforced concrete to ensure a secure, well-insulated structure that does not suffer from leaks or drainage problems.