Earthquake (or Tremor) Proofing the Root Cellar

**UPDATE — Click to see our latest renovation, in the fall of 2012!**

Last week I posted about our root cellar renovations on our little farm here in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley.

This week we made an adjustment — we added a lip to the edge of each shelf to help prevent the jars from slipping off the edge of the shelf. I read that Virginia has had over 50 aftershocks since the “big” (big for Virginia!!) quake in August, so this little bit of prevention could be valuable. Note that each of those aftershocks had zero effect on my jars, but I needed an excuse to add the lip.

In addition, I painted each 1″ x 2″ board with blackboard paint and labeled with chalk. (This is NOT my idea, and I wish I could remember/find the website that inspired me! If you know, please add it in the comments below.)

On the right I stacked boxes of jars, mostly the half-gallon jars I use for dry storage. I keep the majority of empty jars in storage near the kitchen, which saves one trip up and down the stairs when needed.

If I find cushioned flooring on Craigs List or Freecycle, I think I’ll add that, just in case I drop a jar. Hubby and I have each dropped (and killed) a quart of tomato sauce. I’d like to prevent that from happening again if possible!

What else can I do to improve my root cellar?

chalked canning shelves

chalked canning shelves

wine rack

wine rack

spare canning jars

spare canning jars

closeup of chalkboard shelves

closeup of chalkboard shelves

*** This site is comprised solely of the opinions of its author, Stacey Morgan Smith. She works to promote gardening and tourism in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, from Roanoke to the Potomac River.***

58 comments to Earthquake (or Tremor) Proofing the Root Cellar

  • Bonnie White

    what is stored in the big containers under the shelves ,I LOVE THE CHALK board it really beats ,pealling off the stickey notes,or lables,Also do you ever buy can goods from the store to stock up on,ORa is everything home canned.

    • Thanks, Bonnie! Right now the baskets under the shelves are empty. They were left there by the previous owner, who also had a lot of gardens, both flowers, and veggies. In fact, she had a HUGE potato bin in there, too. I put the really ratty baskets in the barn, but I liked the look, so I left the others. I suspect I’ll replace them with sturdier storage to hold root vegetables.

      The chalkboard is working well. I would advise sanding the shelves really well, though. I didn’t, so next fall when we do the annual clean out, I’ll have to sand and repaint.

      We do buy some canned goods, but we store most of those in a room that isn’t as damp and cool. We home can most things, though, when we are able!

  • Gertrude E.

    As an Alaskan who has been through tons & tons of earthquakes, I would suggest adding that rubberized shelf liner, and also to put anothe row of lip across your jars.

    • Thanks, Gertrude! I appreciate both suggestions — it’s always good to hear from someone who has experience. We have very few quakes in Virginia, but I want to be prepared. I did get to visit your beautiful state two years ago, and I hope to make the trip again!

    • shirley

      Thank you so much for the additional idea of the shelf liner. So. Cal doesnt get as many as you do so it is easy for us to not be as careful as we should be. Going to fix this now

  • Stacy S.

    I’m in earthquake country and I wholeheartedly recommend thick rubber floor mats. Also instead of adding another wood lip what I do is use small upholstery nails or thumbtacks that are hammered into the sides of the shelf walls and I use strong mono filament thread, like fishing line, to tie across the front in an “X” pattern. You can reach through to get the jars you need, but it prevents items from being bounced out of the shelf during an earthquake.

    • Thanks, Stacy. I agree — I want to find a rubber matting to put down. I also love the idea of the monofilament. We have little earthquake activity here in this part of Virginia, but I’ll consider adding to the “protection system” when we do our fall cleanout!

  • Do you have anything between the rows to keep the jars from banging or rattling together? I’m going to need to be doing all of this soon; we are in Memphis, TN and overdue for a large quake.

    Love the chalkboards, so much better than labels!

    • Shauna, I don’t, but that is a good idea for your area!

      I do still label the tops of my jars — it’s the neat freak in me :-) The chalkboards make it easy, though, for hubby and guests, who don’t necessarily know where everything is.

      By the way, I love chalkboard paint! I think I’m going to use it on paint stirrers to make garden markers this year.

      • Susan Dunaway

        I love chalk board paint too, but not for garden markers. The chalk will wash away. Use a more permanent solution for garden markers and you’ll be glad you did. Paint stir sticks are great, but you can also decoratively paint flat stones, use a polyurethane to seal your marker, and you’ll be able to use them year after year!

  • marlene

    I have seen other canners put several of thicker rubber bands around thier jars to keep them from clanking tog in earthquake or they bump against each other lowers risk of breaking jars. thought was pretty cool, cheap trick to try.

  • Tiffany

    Make the shelves deeper to have more room for more jars.

    • Hi, Tiffany — I’m limited in the shelf depth by the door, but that’s a great idea for anyone building a root cellar from scratch! Our little blessing was already here. I’m plotting new shelves in the back, though, and those will be deeper! Thanks for commenting :-)

  • sandra cook

    Do you think the monofilament idea would help prevent cats from knocking over jars etc? I love your system. Thank you for the ideas and inspiration.

    • Sandra, I’m not sure how the monofilament would work against cats. If yours are as crafty as mine, they’ll just jump over :-) (We don’t let the kitties into the basement yet because we need to block off some areas.) It’s worth a try, though! Thank you — glad you enjoy the blog!

  • Helena Whitstine

    I live in Alaska..Earthquakes everyday somewhere in Alaska. I can all the time. Meatloaf, meatballs, groundbeef,Moose, deer, fish, you name it, I can it. Anyway I use the board-lip idea to help keep things somewhat safe. I also use large rubberbands on each jar so they don’t bang against each other. I use to use old Socks that I cut into 3 in. cuffs..Works well But I never have enough old socks to do everything I can. Sept.2nd. to the 30th I canned 283 jars of food. My goal was 300.

    • Helena, hello! I toured your state with CruiseWest before it closed, and I loved it :-)

      I’ve canned a lot of beef this year. We get it at a local farm and it’s so tender when opened! I’ve put it over some canned potatoes, and it’s a perfect and fast dinner. I always wish I kept track, but this year my note taking has been horrible. You’ve definitely added to your stores, though!

      I’ve read the rubberband idea, so I may try that. I’d hate to see all that work crash to the floor. It’s our annual fall root cellar cleaning, rearranging, and improving, and I’m just full of ideas! Hopefully in early November I will get to see them come to life. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Michelle

    Hi there! I’ve been following your Facebook page and have learned a lot from you. I really want to learn how to can stuff. Your set-up here is not only beautiful but functional too! BTW this is the first time I’ve seen your website so will check it out. Thanks for sharing all of this!

    • Thanks, Michelle! There are a lot of wonderful resources out there for learning to can. One of my favorites is “The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.” My real estate agent gave it to me when we moved in, and it’s very well used after 3 years! Thanks for stopping by :-)

      • Glenda

        Hi Stacey. You mentioned the “Ball Complete Book” … I love mine and wanted to mention the (probably my favorite) recipe: “Zany Zucchini Pickles.” This year, we planted extra zucchini and I harvested (several times) while the squash was fairly small. It’s very tasty!

        • Glenda, thank you for the recipe suggestion! I’ll have to try those next summer. I’m pretty limited in my pickling to cukes and beets. I keep saying I’ll branch out, and I bought “The Joy of Pickling” last year. Ball Complete rocks!! Thanks for dropping in!!

          • Elizabeth

            I bought the new version of the BBB 3-4 years ago. My original one was purchased in the 70’s. The corn relish recipe is very good and we make that every year. Also the pickle relish…that is great for using the cucumbers that have grown too large. Once we finish off a jar of pickled beets we drop hard boiled eggs in and let sit a few days. They make very pretty and pink and tasty pickled eggs.

          • Elizabeth, I want to make pickled eggs for Dad. Thank you for the reminder! I use the BBB pickle relish, too, and it’s pretty darn tasty. Thanks for stopping by!

      • Dawnia Sanborn

        Hi Stacey,

        Thank you for creating this website and for sharing your own and other people’s knowledge gathered on livinW a better lifestyle. While I have acquired several books over the years it is nice to have “real life” experiences to learn from” and figure out what will work best where my family lives. I love learning from people who think “outside of the box”!

  • Deanna

    You can get the flooring mats from any construction supply, I get them in interlocking squares so I can fit them anywhere. At Harbor Freight, a packet of four costs about ten dollars.

    To reduce rattle, cardboard bottle dividers work, too. I didn’t see if you had, but it’s a good idea to make sure the shelves are well anchored to the wall studs or wall itself. Carriage and anchor bolts are fine for that.

  • Debi

    Thanks so much for the great information and INSPIRATION!!! Found this on Pinterest (and passed it along as well) I love the solutions of using rubber bands or cuffs, and even to use the cardboard grids. As far as the second rail for added security, I saw someone use strips of innertubing for bungie cords. They just put a nail on either side of the shelving and pulled it across… easy to move to get out one or two jars, or to remove to organize the whole shelf. We don’t have a root cellar, but we did build a cold pantry room (about 8×12) with vents at the floor and ceiling like the old kitchen larders that our grandmas had. We had them use moisture proof wallboard and we will put in flooring and shelving surfaces that act as thermal mass to hold the cold. We live on the Oregon Coast so the temperature is never hot or freezing for more than a few days a year. Thanks again for the info!

    • Thanks, Debi! I’ve seen the bungie idea, too, and it’s definitely great for earthquake-prone areas. In my area, the lip on the shelf is probably overkill :-) I should probably update the post to just “tremor proofing”!! This is the first root cellar I’ve had. I used a closet in a previous house. I love your part of the country, and the temperature sounds lovely! Thanks for stopping by.

    • Lynda

      So a cold pantry room is inside your house? We are new here and I have made a laundry room off the kitchen into the daily pantry and it seems to stay pretty cool. We are in No. AZ, so avg summer highs are not too horrible. I have longer term ‘storage’ in the small bedroom we converted to a laundry room. The window faces south and I have blinds I keep closed full time with room darkening curtain I keep closed. I also have a ceiling fan kept on 24/7. We have drywall to replace in that room and I would like to add even more insulation or even the insulation boards (wonder if they can be painted) on the drywall to keep my rolling wire racks of food cool.

      I do not can, but have purchased regular and dehydrated canned good. The addition of restraints to the shelves is a good idea, but will have to figure out a good way as I put the cans on one of the roll forward racks, so they are horizontal. Bolting those racks to the wall is something we would have done in CA, but earthquakes here, in the past have been up to 5.4.

  • This is amazing! I dream of having a cellar/pantry like yours. Mine is much smaller and unfortunately more cluttered ( Perhaps I’ll be inspired to put in some new shelves. I especially love the lip with the chalkboard paint.

    • Thanks! We all have to work with what we have. I wish I had some sort of storage on my main floor near the kitchen. Our cabinets are too small and I would LOVE to have what you have! As it is, we had to put short cabinets down the hall to hold flour and sugar, etc. Not idea :-) Thanks for commenting, and I love your blog!

  • Vanessa L

    I love your idea for the chalkboard labels. Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks, Vanessa! I need to sand them better when we redo the room, but other than that, it’s handy when I send hubby down to pick up a jar of blackberry jelly…which looks a lot like blueberry from the front!!! :-) Thanks for stopping by!!

  • Pam M.

    Love the chalkboard paint idea! Looks like I found your site just in time! My hubby and I scored a vinage woodburning cook stove, and we added onto the kitchen to accomodate it..of course I had to include a well appointed pantry into the design. We’re at the electrical,insulation stage right now, so it’s a “blank canvas”. You all have given me so many ideas on how to make my pantry more efficient! One thing I have had a problem with in the past, is rotating our canned goods. Our present storage has alot of shelves that are too deep and some are 24″ tall…it’s a big hassel to pull out all the cans and jars..add the new stock and replace, so if I’m not the one putting away the groceries…well, you get the picture. We’ve toyed with the idea of having shelves we can walk around to stock from behind, but it really uses up space. Then we concidered the idea of building some slanted shelves for a gravity feed type system, but again, it’s limiting. I would love to hear some different ideas for that.
    We do live in an area where the potential for a “big one” looms. (We’re in the New Madrid zone)So I love the chalkboard strip idea…but more than that..even though I keep my shelves fairly organized, my hubbie can’t seem to find anything..even if it’s right in front of him..LOL!!!! I’m very excited to put that idea into our design. Thank you so much for all your wonderful ideas!

    • Pam, you are at the perfect stage! There is a lot I would do to make the shelves on the left better spaced if we had started from scratch, but right now it’s not in the cards. I’m going to hopefully build a nice unit in back, though, to my exact specifications. We have very little seismic activity here, but if you read through the comments, you may find some to help with your area. Thank you for stopping by!

  • bearz

    Would you be willing to share the plans for your wine rack? At the moment we are keeping ours in boxes and it isnt easy to get to what you want. Thanks

  • Deb

    Instead of labels on the jars I write what is in the jars on top with a marker

  • Laura

    For flooring you might want to look at grease mats. It is what restaraunts use back in the dishwashing and cooking area. They are rubber, come in sections, are easy to roll up and wash if anything gets spilled on them and they are non slip. We got ours at Sam’s Club. Costco or a restaraunt supply should carry them too.

  • Marlene

    What do you mean by annual clean out? I hope you do not mean you throw out everything you haven’t eaten from the past year! I have heard of people doing that. That is such an unnecessary waste!


  • ann

    I saw this post several months ago and LOVED your pantry since then we have moved and I had a space I could build a large pantry. here is my version

    • Ann, thank you so much for the kind words. I’m happy to see my tips out in the world. Congratulations on having a nice, roomy space to store your canned goods and a handy hubby to build those beautiful shelves! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Everett

    Unless they have changed you could get bubble wrap from UHaul for a fair price that is about 1 foot wide but in a long roll. You can zig zag it thru your jars on the shelves. If you can contain yourself while you are handling it (no bubble popping) you can use it year after year. You can also wrap the posts on your shelves so the jars won’t break against them. Wish I had a root cellar but I haven’t been able to build one yet. Yours makes me want one even more.

  • Susan

    Silica Gel – Keep the rust away

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  • […] right size.  I sanded and then painted the boards using chalkboard paint (inspiration taken from here).  Using my electric drill I made pilot holes in the shelf and then hammered the boards in (yeah, […]

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