Talk Dirt To Me

Gardening in Alaska presents big challenges, whether it's the extra effort in finding plants tough enough to survive our Zone 2-4 climate, communicating with like-minded Alaska gardeners, or keeping up with the latest trends, issues and solutions. We'll try to help with that. We'll also tour gardens from Homer to Anchorage to Wasilla to Willow whenever we get the chance, and post the best garden photos around. Presenting a forum about cold-weather gardening and for cold-weather gardeners is what we are all about. We hope you'll join us on the Talk Dirt garden blog.

Photographer and gardener Fran Durner (fdurner@adn.com) writes the blog.

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Root cellars

This is the first time that I have been to your web site, and would like to offer a tip to the readers.
I made a root cellar by digging a 10'x10'x4' hole and lining it with railroad ties and a roof made from 2x6s and sheet styrofoam. I use this to overwinter potted zone 5 and 6 plants (roses mostly). The first year that I had the cellar, I put an indoor/outdoor thermometer with the remote bulb into the cellar. Even at -20 air temp, the root cellar stayed a nice +20.
I took the top off last weekend (April 14th) and the pots were still frozen. This weekend I will put them into the greenhouse and avoid all of the freeze/thaw cycles.
Don't leave the cellar closed up too long, as that is a perfect environment for mold. The shrews and voles love chewing on the plants, and I lost a lot the first year. Now I put in a dozen moth balls and a couple of mouse poison traps. That put an end to that problem. If you have dogs, put plywood over the roof to stop them from punching holes in the Styrofoam. Steps in the corner make it easy to get in and out.
On the whole, it works very well, with a 90% survival rate. -AlaskaDust

  1     April 29, 2007 - 7:21am | tagalak

I love root cellars

I'd love to see the root cellar... and to be able to dig down four feet - what part of town can you do that? Fab idea to quit whining about not having a basement/cellar and make your own.... I want one.

  April 29, 2007 - 12:30pm | alaskadust

I'm south of Klatt

Root cellar
Here is a photo of a +10 deg geranium that I wintered over with the root cellar in the background. So, from frozen to green shoots in 2 weeks.

I'm south of Klatt elementary school. My lot is big enough that I can give up a piece of the corner.

I actually only dug down 3' and piled the dirt up against the railroad ties, so that the over all depth is 4' from the top of the ties to the bottom of the cellar.

  May 1, 2007 - 7:44am | tagalak

Tours????? Class on how to?????

What corner of the property is your pit? Does it stay snow covered all winter or do you pile snow up on it for insulation? How about a lid? What about the moose? Has any animal fallen into it? How long have you been using the pit? I want one. Ever think about teaching Master Gardeners or Garden club folk a how-to class? sign me up.

  May 4, 2007 - 5:41am | alaskadust

The cellar is in a wooded

The cellar is in a wooded area on the northeast corner of the lot. A friend bags the leaves that he rakes off of his lawn, and some years I take the bags and throw them on top of the lid. A couple of years ago, we had a very warm winter and the root cellar did not freeze. That lead to a loss of some of the plants due to rot. The years that I did not put leaves on worked just fine, so I think that the leaves are optional.

In a typical year, the snow stays on the lid all winter. The lid is pretty simple, just some 2x6 laid across the top, two sheets of 2" thick x4'x8' stryefoam with some scrap plywood on top.

I have a 6' fence around the back yard, which is enough to keep the moose out. I had a 5' fence, but the moose jumped over it. My apple trees kept being pruned into apple sticks. ;>) I figure that if the moose can jump a 5' fence, they can get out of a 4' hole.

My two dogs are smart enough not to fall in, but I did have to rescue their puppies a couple of times.

I have had it for 7 or 8 years now. A couple of years after I made it, I saw a photo of a similar set up at Les Brakes' Coyote Gardens. His is a bit more fancy than mine, with a permanent roof.

The Master Gardener class is a good idea, I'll look into it. I have a heated greenhouse that I've built and I have some pretty neat features in it. A paper on each one would be great to share.

  May 8, 2007 - 3:36pm | tagalak

Thanks

Very interesting... let the Blog know when you are going to teach a class at AMG meeting... I can imagine a lot of us would love to attend your class.

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