Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Building the Garden (a catch-up post)

I thought I'd take a minute to backtrack to building the garden beds.  This first pic shows the plan I started with, superimposed on an aerial view of the back yard.  Of course, like many plans, it's not how it actually ended up, but I think the changes were for the better.

This is the "before" shot, looking east-ish.

For the beds against the fence, we went with a 2x12 (untreated) back.  I didn't want to use the blocks against the fence for a couple reasons; first I wasn't sure how many I would actually need to build the planned beds (we had about 400 that we got free from around the building next door to my husband's work that was being demolished, though it took us about 4 trips to get them, so there was some fuel expense) and second, I thought it was an invitation to a weeding nightmare.  The lumber was in the culled pile at Lowe's which cost around $30 for the 2 bundles we bought.  It was enough for this backing and to build the big potato bed that was a spur of the moment addition.  It also gives a little height and space between the veggies and my boy dog. 
Because I was trying to build the garden and remodel the kitchen pretty much at the same time, we might not have done things in quite an ideal fashion.  I had tried to gather organic materials during the fall and winter but all I really had acquired were some OPBL (Other People's Bagged Leaves) and the compost we moved from the rental house.  I feel I should explain that we brought the compost as a simpler way to clean up the yard of the rental on our way out (we just moved a few minutes away) and I figured I would use it anyway.  It's really not that I was so attached to my compost I had to take it with me.  This winter we did get some horse manure and layered it with some of the leaves hoping to get it to "cook" some, but it was not a very hot pile- just warm at about 75 degrees when I checked it.

When I unpacked boxes from the move, I tried to sort them by condition.  Those that were still in decent shape that someone could use again to move, I put on Freecycle.  Those that had lost their integrity became the base layer for the first half of the garden.  The second cardboard half (pictured) would be the zillion boxes our new Ikea kitchen came packaged in.  If you do this, be sure to peel the tape or you'll be digging it up sometime in the future.

I picked up a piece of plastic (or maybe fiberglass?) edging at the Restore which I taped into the center size (I had made one sample ring out by the block pile) which helped me keep my circles round.  It's not a foolproof pattern by any means, but I found it helpful.

This spring, a man found my Freecycle request for hay or straw and gave me 4 very wet bales of straw he had used for archery practice (before they were wet and rotting).  I was happy to have them.  The first couple of beds I filled, all I had was the straw and horse manure/leaves mix.

I answered a Craigslist ad for rabbit manure, which had the potential to be some really nice stuff.  Unfortunately, what I found was a very wet (it rains all winter here) anaerobic pile.  I took some anyway, and used it in a couple of beds.  I did try to unclump it and mix some straw in with it to make it an aerobic mix instead.  The smell diminished in a day or so.  We ended up getting a yard of triple mix (topsoil, sand, compost) for about $22.  Most of the beds are filled with manure "compost" , a layer of half rotten straw, and topped with triple mix.

I have since acquired a large amount of hay (probably 35 bales worth, though some bales were partial or loose- free from another reply to my re-posted request on Freecycle, but about a 40 minute drive each way, so again, some fuel expense) as well as a bunch of alpaca manure.  The alpaca poo and hay mix have been a good, hot pile.  I will have to consider whether or not to get more, though out of respect for the neighbors, I don't think I should do it during any season they might have their windows open, as it was pretty "fragrant", I suspect because the alpaca people bagged the manure in plastic bags, which then sat in a pile until they posted on Craigslist (free).  It made for pretty easy loading into the truck, but a bit unpleasant to "unpackage". 

I apologize for the switching between "we" and "I" when I write about the garden.  The garden is my doing, but the husband has been very helpful in building this one.  Thankfully, he was on-board with this one from the beginning (not so with the last one), and he's helped me by hauling blocks, hauling dirt, hauling mulch, hauling hay, etc.  This is the biggest garden we've ever built, and while I am again doing it on the cheap, it is quite labor intensive.

These poor little potatoes spent the winter sprouted in a paper bag in a cold room in the house.  I got them out as soon as I could, but they've been out there since the end of March and only one sprout has emerged.  They were probably too far gone, or the slugs are eating the growing tips, but they still look about like this under the mulch.

I also did some wintersowing (or early spring -sowing) so I'd have something to put out when we got the beds put together.
And just for the record, this is NOT good labeling.  First the Sharpie faded (which I did renew while I still could read them) but now the tape is falling off.  Right now, on the deck, I have a plant I do not know if it's a zucchini or a buttercup squash. 
So, there's the rundown. 
There are a couple things I probably should have done but did not.  I meant to use the spading fork to poke holes down through the ground before I put down cardboard, to help the roots go down into the native soil when they get there and to help the whole thing mix together in time.  I totally forgot this step.  My mother also mentioned something to me last week that I never even thought of.  As an adult, I have lived mostly in the west that has alkaline soil.  Now I live in the PNW with acidic soil.  I'm not sure if I should have put down some lime under there as well.  Too late now, so I'm hoping the composted stuff helps keep things neutral in there.  I guess we'll find out.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I see trouble ahead...

See those indents in the soil?  Those would be hoof-prints.

The neighbor has told me in the past the deer would walk through here, between the houses and through the back lot, then across the street to the golf course.  I know the dogs have been barking like crazy every night when I let them out, but I've been chalking that up to the raccoons in the trees along the fence line.  I've actually never seen a deer in this neighborhood (though I've been told they come through, both at this house and the rental, which was just a few minutes away from here).  I'm afraid this adds a whole new level of challenge and one I have not had to deal with so far.  I'm not looking forward to it... 

Monday, May 6, 2013


What a beautiful day today!  It was 84 degrees today, a very warm day in May (average is mid-60's)!

Last night, I stopped by Lowe's to pick up a couple packets of seeds I recently realized I need, and they had asparagus marked down 1/2 price.  The husband has been whining a bit because I didn't get the asparagus ordered, first because the beds weren't built, and then I figured it had gotten to be too late to get any.  I came home and told him if he was willing to help me build another bed, we could go get some.  I do hope they'll come up okay, they were definitely not enjoying life in the packages anymore.  I opened them right away and soaked them overnight in some water with a little splash of liquid kelp.  I figured by the time I planted them, I'd be able to tell if they looked like they just were too far gone.  Other than the one I seem to be missing- and I thought I counted all 15 of them last night, so I'm guessing it's just wound in with another root- the roots did seem okay today.  I guess we'll see soon enough.

I was so hot and tired after working outside all afternoon (I am definitely NOT used to warm weather!) I forgot to snap a new photo, so the details will have to wait.

I did finally get out to take some photos of the new garden:

This is the view from the east:
You can see how the little garlic rings we put together in the fall, really don't fit in well with what we ended up building (oops!). After the garlic is done, I'm going to take them out.  We added the asparagus bed in the grassy area in front of the larger rings on the left and will add another bed or two as well, for next year.  I hope to leave the rhubarb where it is (the small ring on the far right, on the side of the chain link fence.  That poor plant has had a rough couple of years, as I dug it from my rhubarb in Colorado and stuck it in a pot, with what turned out to be awful soil, and it spent some time on an apartment balcony, then the too shaded front yard of the rental, then to a sunny deck but with no attention due to moving and remodeling.  That it is still alive shows it is a hardy plant.  We stuck it in the ground last fall and though the stalks are small, it has put up many leaves.  I don't want to disturb it again.

Here's the view from the other end:
The arch is a cattle panel trellis.  When we rented last year, the back yard was not completely fenced- the last 15' of each side was open because I think it is technically a green belt that didn't belong to the landlord.  The way things were when we moved in, nobody could really access the space anyway as it was very overgrown next door, so we bought two 16' panels and a couple t-posts and made a temporary fence, but one that was sturdy enough to safely contain our labs, and one that I already knew how to re-purpose.  I don't think I'll use the second one this year, but it is an option if I need it.  I'm planning melons in the right side bed (where if you look closely, you can see the kitten, Fred) and winter squash in the left bed. 

This is the long bed toward the east side.  It has a mish-mash of transplants, probably too closely planted, and because these were in wintersown jugs, I had to get them off the deck before I had all my materials for bed-filling, so we'll see how they do. They're pretty much planted in composted horse manure and old, partially rotted straw.

 Anyway, that's all for now.  I'll be back again- hopefully with more regularity than I have been.  It's been hard to get back into the blogging swing.  During the past couple of summers with no garden, I had to stay away from Gardenweb and the blogs, as they just bummed me out.  I am glad to be back, and I'm really looking forward to catching up with everyone's gardens, and keeping this blog up to date.