Every Pit Garden Entry needs a door, and a safe way to get in and out. Our plans called for a set of stairs down to an entry door at the Southeast corner of the pit into the cold sink. You want the entry in this location as it is out of the prevailing wind, and the furthest away from your warm growing surface. The most professional way to build this would be to continue the footing and block walls out to include a staircase. We ran out of time to pull this off, so my goal was to frame a wooden staircase on top of the ramp we built during excavation. My thinking is that this will be strong enough to withstand years of holding the earth out, and will be deep enough not to frost heave, time will tell. As you can see in the cover photo this plan needed a lot of pressure treated plywood and lumber!
The first step was to add 2×6 framing around the door frame against the block to mount the door into.
I used the same sill plate gasket we used atop our pit walls between the framing and the block walls. Here we used concrete screws to anchor the pressure treated lumber into the block walls. Once you have framed the rough opening for the door (we purchased a prehung door to speed the process), just pop it in, make sure it’s true and level with some shims, and then zip some screws into the jams.
Easy… The stairs, not so much… I started by adding additional anchoring lumber into the outer wall next to the door frame. This provided a place to frame what would become the walls for the staircase out from the pit. The dimensions for this were more dictated by how far we had excavated 3ft down (a minimum depth to hopefully avoid frost heaves), than any concerns over stair angle. Luckily this worked out to be an acceptable rise for the staircase.
After building the frame, we needed to add blocking to nail the plywood into. I wasn’t really concerned with any specific dimensions like you would framing a house, just wanted enough to ensure that there were plenty of nailing positions for the plywood, and not too much space to have rocks bend and break through. Definitely consider how to best install your 4’x8′ sheets here with the least amount of waste.
Now, just add the plywood on the inside and outside of both walls. This is a great time to have a friend come help, I managed it alone, but 4’x8′ sheets of pressure treated 3/4″ plywood are HEAVY!
Once your plywood is all on you need to cut the stringers for the stairs. I found these two calculators on the web to be incredibly helpful!:
They made quick work of figuring out the rise and run for your staircase. All I had to do was draw the calculated diagram onto a 2″x12″, and do a lot of cutting. For the additional two stringers, just trace the first one you made as a template onto the other two boards.
Once you have three stringers, install them evenly and level between your staircase walls.
Then add some stairs:
And some more:
Finally stairs! FYI, if you don’t have one, a good framing nailer makes this process, and all the framing work, much easier! A flexible air hose was also a must for us as this project was starting to take place out in the cold.
The last thing we had to do was backfill around our finished entryway.
We’re getting there! Framing and a roof come next….
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