A Nerd In The Garden: Hardscaping

One Side with Elephant Ear plants

Along the fence

Along the fence

By K. L. Zolnoski

This week I did a little bit of weeding out front but not as much as I had hoped to get done. It didn’t rain this week and without rain the ground is not soft enough to really get the roots of the weeds out. So I’m going to postpone the serious weeding out front until next week.

There is plenty to be done on the side yard though. We have a narrow path that runs from the back yard proper to a patio on the side of the house. This is where we focused our efforts today.

When the house was first built the contractor used landscaping timbers to border the brick walkway that leads to the patio. Landscaping timbers are decorative and inexpensive at around $4 per 8’ timber.

Preparing for a new border

Preparing for a new border

Over the years these landscaping timbers have rotted away and a constant wash of silt and soil has buried the bricks. Every summer we have to clean off the walkway. It’s a task that’s tedious and labor intensive. Also, right across the walk way is our foundation and the vents to the crawlspace need to be cleared of debris every year. And, as if that weren’t enough, the rain will wash away the hazelnut shell mulch I put down when we planted the ornamental plants we got on sale this last summer. This is all quite sub-optimal.

So we need to replace the border with something that will cut down on the runoff. I have approximately 80 linear feet on a north south axis that needs some kind of border. That would work out to 10 landscaping timbers but in a few years I’d have the same problem as they rotted away. But they are cheap. We’d be talking about $40.00.

The thing is, I don’t want to have to dig out the old rotting timbers again. I don’t want to have to deal with shoveling a layer of silt off my brick walkway again. I really don’t want to have debris from the slight grade up to the neighbors yard introducing itself to my crawlspace. Something a bit more durable is called for. Something like either clay or concrete bricks. Use of these materials is called hardscaping.

Consulting the Google provided information on a variety of shapes, sizes and prices on bricks of all sorts. There were even molds that could be used to make custom bricks if one has the time and inclination. Budget your time as carefully as you do your money.

Preparing a channel to set bricks in

Preparing a channel to set bricks in

Since I work full time and have a household to keep up I don’t have a lot of time to devote to my garden/borders. My plan is to do 2 to 4 hours a weekend. That’s a modest amount of time that leaves a little bit leftover for other things even after I’ve summited Mt. Laundry and cooked for the week. I don’t have time to make custom bricks.

I work hard for my money and I’m on a budget. So I needed to find a brick that was decorative enough that I could live with it and inexpensive enough to fit in my budget. What I finally landed upon is a scalloped top concrete brick that runs about $1.50 per 16”. Needing 80 linear feet for the first phase means I’d need approximately 60 of these bricks. (80 linear feet X 12 inches/foot = 960 inches. Divide by 16 inches to get the number of bricks you need: 60.) It’ll run me just under $90.00 (because the bricks cost just slightly less than $1.50). That’s quite a bit of my budget but I won’t have to reinstall in a few years. My time is worth something too.

Buying materials

Buying materials

I cannot stress this enough: Do the math. If you know how much you need of something, (for example I need 80 linear feet for this part of the project) you can easily calculate exactly how much of a material you will need. This will allow you to accurately budget and prevent overspending on materials you don’t need. Don’t let the terminology turn you off. Linear feet is exactly what it sounds like–a straight- line distance measured in feet.

Additionally we need a level surface, ideally 18” above the surface we want to water for our rain catchment system. Concrete cinder blocks are inexpensive and sturdy. At around $0.99 per block I can afford to set up a proper base for the barrels.

Not wanting to overload my car I made two trips and got just over half of the number of bricks I’d need for both projects. I got 32 of 60 bricks for the border and 6 of 8 cinder blocks and I still need two 8X8 square cinder blocks to complete the base for the rain catchments. I’m going with 8” high rather than 18” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which are weight and stability.

Setting the border

Setting the border

We then spent some quality time using the hoe to chip out the rotted landscaping timbers and prepare a channel to set the concrete border bricks into the ground. I used a smaller hand tool to level the bottom of the channel and then we back filled with dirt from the channel to set the bricks and stabilize the border. The bricks I chose are interlocking so the border is very stable.

I didn’t think either brick red or concrete white were very appealing. Both colors have a rather institutional look to them that I am trying to avoid. Those are the only two colors the bricks come in so I opted to go with a pattern of red and white, which perhaps breaks up the monotony of a single industrial color.

Next week we will finish the other side and possibly continue on down the line of the patio. It may take three weeks to finish the north south line. Then I will consider whether I want to do the much shorter east west line for completeness sake. Probably I will. I like it when things look finished and I enjoy looking at something I have made. K.

End of our work day

End of our work day

some assembly required

some assembly required

In Progress

In Progress

A Nerd In The Garden: Spring Gardening Pt. 2 & A New Cosplay

Looks Professional

Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business

Last weekend I started a project to expand my raised bed flower garden. I installed the original raised bed quite a few years ago and as things changed I found myself able and motivated to expand it that last 10 inches. You can read about it here. Taking that wall apart and rebuilding it was backbreaking work.

Not to be outdone, this weekend I decided to finish up what I started last weekend. There was one corner on the upper left side that had not been finished. It was super difficult to get the established weeds out of that spot and the little bit of rain we got wasn’t enough to soak the soil and make it any easier to get them out.

There was also a third level of raised bed that had sunk into the soil over the intervening years and I decided to unearth those blocks and raise them up a bit. All of this along with my intention to weed a small area each weekend until I have the whole thing weed free.

Also, I bought a bunch of pansies. Winter pansies to be specific. They should bloom all through the winter. Plus I got to quote the movie Madagascar where King Julian says, “They’re just a bunch of pansies,” until everyone around me was sick of hearing it. The pansies were on sale so I got 10 of them for less than 10 dollars.

Intending to only spend a couple of hours on this finishing up project, I ended up spending half the day on it. The results are so nice though. It looks finished.

Just a bunch of pansies

Just a bunch of pansies

I still have a few of the decorative blocks left over and I’m going to clean them up and finish up the back level next weekend. Because I purchased a rather large amount of them when I made the original purchase years ago I’ve been able to reuse the blocks, moving them from one spot to another and this has saved me quite a bit of money. I did not have to purchase any more of them.

I was planning on using the ones that hadn’t been put into the wall as bases for the rain catchment system I’m putting in this year but that’s not going to happen now. I’ll have to see if I can find a low cost replacement for my rain catchment barrels. That’s my next garden project.

Finishing touches

Finishing touches

I did a lot of research on rain catchment systems and while I can’t afford to have a professional outfit come out and install an underground tank and all that, I do have the budget (thanks to Craigslist) to get a couple of 55 gallon barrels and the downspout kits for them. The important thing about this, well there are several but when putting things next to one’s house one very important thing is weight. A full 55 gallon rain barrel weighs in at around 450 pounds. So you don’t want to set it on a slope or someplace unstable. You want to make your foundation stand sturdy and level from all angles.

Anyway more on that when I get to installing them. I’m also planning to do a year of my first garden recap when I get the vegetable garden cleaned up and ready for winter. I’m about half way through that now. I’ve got a few tomatoes I’m hoping still ripen up a bit before I have to tear the plants out.

At the end of the day, because I’m clearly a glutton for punishment, I sat down and ordered a few small things to plant in the spring so that I have some summer flowers too. Tulips and lilies are gorgeous but they bloom in the spring and I need something to carry my garden through the summer with some flowers. We’ve already established that I never fail to order twice as many bulbs as I want to plant but this time I out did myself.

You see one of the flowers I love the most in my garden is a blue dutch iris. I’ve only got one and I’ve not found them online or in the garden centers by themselves. They always come in a mix and I always get a ton of white and yellow and almost no blue in the mix when I buy them. The white and yellow are gorgeous but my favorite are the blue. Well this catalogue had blue ones on sale by themselves and they were fairly inexpensive: $15.99. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Well I did order them but come spring, when they arrive to be planted, they will be coming in a lot of 50 bulbs. Thankfully I have a great spot for them and they are tolerant of partial shade.

Cosplay:

I’ve finally had another idea for a cosplay. Last time I did Mothra on a budget, which you can read about here. This time I think I can make a wearable Biollante Rose Form. I went through several design ideas, starting with a mermaid under dress. While gorgeous and the right shape for the understructure it would be a royal pain to wear to a convention, so I reluctantly discarded that idea. I’m currently working with a wide leg palazzo pant and tank top for the understructure.

My budget is $100.00 and my time limit is 5 months. I have to work my cosplay creating in around my gardening and right now is the ideal time for gardening. We will see how it goes. K.

Looks Professional

Looks Professional

Mothra Cosplay

Mothra Cosplay

A Nerd In The Garden: Spring Gardening Pt. 1 & A Recipe From The Garden

All planted and partially mulched

Taking the retaining wall apart

Taking the retaining wall apart

Pretty much all of the landscaping that happens at my place will be not just because of my own hard work and planning, but also be a labor of love. Many years ago I built a raised bed. Due to certain obstacles I was unable to go to the edge of the area I had chosen for the raised bed.

This resulted in a strip of weeds that was too narrow to get a lawn mower down and too far away for the weed eater. In short it was an unsightly pain in the patookus. So this weekend I decided to take apart the corner of the raised bed border and extend the bed to use up this narrow strip of yard.

I have never wished so much that I had half-arsed something in my life. Apparently when I put the raised bed in, in the first place, I meant for it to last. That was some solid construction. With a little help I got it taken apart, dug the base for the new border and got the blocks into place. The result was 10 inches wider along the entire side of the bed.

Why oh why did I make this so sturdy?

Why oh why did I make this so sturdy?

Once the bed was rebuilt with the new border I got my trusty little rototiller out. After borrowing an indoor/outdoor extension cord from my neighbor (because mine was 6 feet too short), I got to rototilling. The soil hadn’t been worked in years and I could tell. It was terrible, hard, filled with rocks and gone to clay.

So a trip to my local favorite nursery was in order. I got steer manure and peat moss to amend the bed with. This created a much nicer soil for my planting. I had to make three passes with my rototiller to get it all mixed in and the underlying clay broken up but the results were worth it. This also gave me the opportunity to get a lot of weed roots out of the bed too.

Building it out.  Sturdy.

Building it out. Sturdy.

Also the nursery had huge, gorgeous mums on sale and then on top of that sale price they were buy one get one free. Also winter pansy were on sale. It was only by repeating to myself that anything I buy I would have to plant that I got out of there with just two mums and four pansies. I’ll need more pansies but that will be for a time when I’m not exhausted from rebuilding the bed.

Now, when I order tulips and lilies to plant for spring, I never fail to order approximately twice as many as I actually want to plant once I get deep into the planting. This year was no exception. Add to that the mums and pansies, plus all of the stuff I had managed to save when rebuilding the bed and I had quite a bit of planting to do.

This also was my opportunity to rearrange some of my favorite plants so that they had better position and would be better displayed. Lets just say that with all the planting I had to do, I failed to complete it before the rains came. I ended up completely soaked but well pleased with my new flower bed. In the spring it will be gorgeous.

Saving a plant overnight for tomorrow's planting

Saving a plant overnight for tomorrow’s planting

This really takes little more than a willingness to do back breaking work (I ached so bad I had trouble sleeping the first night), some research into plants and planning on where to plant them. Granted I probably spent close to $200 on materials, including the bulbs and amendments to the bed but the end result is gorgeous and will be spectacular. And I don’t buy bulbs every year. So if you spread it out over years you can spend very little and still end up with a gorgeous yard.

One of the things I really love about bulbs is that if you treat them right they will come back year after year. I have calla lilies that were gifts from loved ones for my father in law’s funeral and I remember him and them every year when they bloom.

I have tulips and gladiolus that I planted years ago that still come up. Every time I work the soil I try to dig up the bulbs and save them. This year I spent more than I normally do by quite a bit. Some years I have spent less than $20.00 but because they keep coming back I have more flowers than I buy in any given year. IMG_0029

The vegetable garden has done well. Especially since this is the first year we had the vegetable garden. We learned some lessons this year. Namely that the pumpkins and squash are banished to the side yard. Also the tomatoes will get huge so don’t cram a bunch of other things into their bed. Plant the melons sooner and not near the tomatoes. Plant the brussle sprouts sooner. Water vegetables slightly less than the ornamental plants like to be watered.

We are adding two more raised beds and maybe one more after that if I can get the spot weeded out and ready for it. I think maybe we can put strawberries in one. We will have to see.

This year we got around 10 pounds of potatoes from the garden. Not bad for our first try. I used them to make ham and tatoes which is a favorite around here.

Layering Potatoes and Ham into the crock pot

Layering Potatoes and Ham into the crock pot

Oh and for those who asked:

Ham and Potatoes (approximate)

Enough potatoes to fill your crock pot 1/2 full
Ham hocks or ham steak or leftover ham from easter (the best) Basically some ham.
1 cup of gorgonzola cheese
4 cups of cheddar cheese
1 Onion — sliced medium thin
1 Stick of butter
2 cloves garlic (or so, if you like garlic add another clove, if you don’t like garlic don’t use it)
1 t. pepper
1 C. Cream
4 C. Milk (or so, you’re making a cheese sauce here)
1/4 C. flour (for the roux)

Slice the potatoes thin and if you like, par roast them in the oven with olive oil and seasonings like garlic powder, paprika, onion powder, and a pinch of salt. Just a pinch though, you don’t want this to be too salty and the cheese and ham both have salt in them.

Grill or caramelize the onions. You want the onions to kind of melt into the ham and tatoes so slice them a bit thin. Make a medium roux with the butter and flour. Add the milk and cream and stir. Add 3 cups of the cheddar cheese to the sauce and stir until well incorporated.

In your crock pot, layer potatoes, ham, onions and cheese sauce, top with remaining cheese and Gorgonzola. I usually get two layers. Cook on low until potatoes are cooked through, stirring occasionally. Enjoy the noms.

Cheese it up

Cheese it up

Sauce and more cheese

Sauce and more cheese

Nom nom nom

Nom nom nom

A Nerd In The Garden: First Fresh Veggies

Squash Blossoms

Squash Blossoms

Squash Blossoms

So i tried to grow my squash up cages to keep them all contained and well behaved. They grew up the cages, oh yes, and then they grew down the other side and started taking over the entire garden space. They look gorgeous and they are setting squash like there is no tomorrow. The squash are growing visibly from day to day. I cut up an old shirt to make little slings to support the squash so that their weight doesn’t damage the vine before they ripen.

Saturday I went out to water and there were all manner of pollinators in the garden just loving all the gorgeous yellow squash blooms. The bumble bee colony that has taken up residence behind my favorite rose bush was well represented as were other species of bumble bees and yes, even honey bees. I was gathering some roses to put in a vase inside and a honey bee, already heavily laden with pollen really wanted one of the roses I had cut. I held it for her and she alighted and gathered even more pollen then flew off.

The cucumbers, likewise, have grown up and out of their cages. Although to be fair I used smaller cages for them. Actually I used a couple of really small, really old tomato cages I had from my long ago garden. Now they are vining up the tomatoes.

Squash

Squash

Speaking of tomatoes, the Vintage Wine is just covered with little green tomatoes. The Yellow Brandywine haven’t set any fruit yet. They are just starting to flower so their tomatoes will come on after the Vintage Wine is slowing down.

There are only a handful of pea plants that have survived the squirrels digging in the garden. They are just starting to flower.

On a whim I picked up a packet of watermelon seeds. Yes it is really too late in the season to plant them but they were on clearance and watermelon is delicious. I put exactly two of the seeds in the ground and they have both come up. Now I’m just hoping for a little bit of an extended growing season. It could happen.

New Leaf on Black Magic

New Leaf on Black Magic

The elephant ear plants have new leaves on them. They were worrying me a bit since they were planted at the height of the heat wave and they hadn’t put out any new leaves for a few weeks, but now they have and I am quite pleased. They are gorgeous plants. I believe I have a Black Magic and an Illustris but I’m just guessing since neither one came with name tags when I got them. To be fair I got them on super close-out sale. I’m hoping that with a heavy mulching I won’t have to dig them up when the cold weather hits.

I also replaced the Gunnera and it is doing well. It was planted at the beginning of the heat wave and lost almost all of its original leaves to sunburn. One leaf survived and the crown has put out almost a dozen new leaves that are on short stems and protect the crown from the sun. it’s looking lush if a bit short. I have high hopes that it will get huge next year if I can get it to winter over. Again I’m looking to mulch it heavily when the cold weather hits.

The hummingbirds are very shy this year. I’ve only seen the mother bird a couple of times and I almost never hear the chicks any more. I only heard them once a couple of weeks ago. The mallow bush and crocosima are still blooming though and I am glad because I know they like to sip nectar from those plants. The little mother hummingbird was also sipping nectar from my clerodendrum which has approximately eleventy-billion flowers on it this year.

Illusins new leaf

Illusins new leaf

the clerodendrum has such a lovely scent when it blooms and it makes the whole yard smell just gorgeous. It has gotten about as large as it is supposed to and it does shade a corner of the yard but I really like it. The only thing is that it does try to propagate underground so I have to keep plucking out the suckers that try to come up. I didn’t know it would do that when I first got it.

A lot of this I’m learning, and figuring out, as I go along. Sure I consult the Google on occasion but mostly I’ve just jumped right in and I’m seeing how it works out. Next year I’m planting the squash away from the main garden so that when they vine all over the place they won’t take over the other vegetables.

squash in slings

squash in slings

The other major thing I’ve learned so far is not to use the cocoa shell mulch in the main garden. Hazelnut shells are better. The cocoa shells mould and get very slippery when they are watered. Also they draw flies.

I will keep updating the growth of the garden and what I learn. By time this season is over I hope to have weekly photos documenting the garden.

A Nerd In The Garden: Landscaping & Hummingbirds

Vertical gardening

3 yard^3 of hazelnut shells

3 yard^3 of hazelnut shells

This weekend the hummingbirds made their return presence known. I was delighted to see them visiting the crocosima and I’m pretty sure that I heard the chicks in their nest. The crocosima and my mallow plant bloomed about two weeks early this year and I was worried that the hummingbirds would be late. I hope the blooms last long enough for the chicks too.

A local nursery was having a sale and we picked up four plants for the empty flower bed. We got two Rose of Sharons and two elephant ear plants. I also re-planted the gunnera that died in the unexpected freeze last year.

This week we had 3 cubic yards of hazelnut shells delivered so that we could mulch everwhere we didn’t want to have to weed next year. There were a surprising amount of whole nuts in the delivery and we set them out for the squirrels and the crows.

I like the look of the hazelnut shells and they are lightweight so it is easy for me to shift a bunch of them by myself. Since we had a heat wave this weekend I was glad that I was able to get a lot of the work done myself.

Vertical gardening

Vertical gardening

The gunnera got pretty badly sunburned before we got it properly mulched. It spent a week in the ground before we were able to get the mulch delivered. Thankfully there is a bunch of new leaves coming up. It seems a lot happier now that there is a whole thick layer of mulch over it.

We planted the Rose of Sharon and the elephant ear plants inbetween a rhododendron and two pink roses. It’s a long narrow strip of a bed that follows along a fence, and I’m using the term bed very loosely here—it’s more a strip of dirt that mere weeks ago was a long narrow strip of weeds.

Garden

Garden

The pumpkins and squash are taking to growing vertically very well. We picked up some more tomato cages and they are vining up them quite merrily. We also have a nest of bumblebees living behind a rose bush. I’m fairly certain they are the ones who are so kindly pollinating the tomatoes. I made sure not to bury the entrance to their nest when we were mulching.

It’s been a very busy few weekends but also very satisfying as the garden and yard start to come together. Next weekend will be more gardening and also 4th of July celebrating. K

Along the fence

Along the fence

A Nerd In The Garden: Heartscaping & Raised Beds

Taboo

Solar Lights In The Garden

Solar Lights In The Garden

Because that is how it feels to me. An oasis of calm in the midst of chaos. A little place of rest and a tiny slice of nature in my backyard. It de-stresses me after all day at work and brings a surprising peace to my soul. It’s not much, I don’t have a lot of land or anything, but I get a little corner of the yard and with a lot of help we are turning it into a place of rest for mind if not body (gardening is hard, sweaty, dirty work; make no mistake).

We are also decorating a little bit. Apparently it’s called heartscaping. I’d never heard that term before but I kind of like it. I ordered solar lights that light up in the dark. There is a hummingbird, a butterfly and a dragonfly. We put them out and then weren’t out late enough to see if they actually worked. Sometimes decorative solar lights are a bit dicy and we’ve had spotty luck with them. To our delight all three of these work and they cycle through colors too.

We have, in the course of clearing out the spot and putting in the beds and weeding henseforth, been scratched, stabbed by thorns and bitten by little bitey insect things. We’ve dug up blackberry roots the size of my fist and had to leave pieces of blackberry root in the ground because we just couldn’t get them out. We pruned back an own-root rose that we planted a long time ago named Jude The Obscure. We weren’t sure if we had killed it or not between the brutal pruning and digging all the blackberrys out but in the last week it has leafed out all over. I’m pleased that it survived and seems very happy.

Growing Garden

Growing Garden

Some critter has been digging up the second bed of potatoes, could be the mole that invited himself into the yard the week after we got all the beds installed. Could be a raccoon, we do have a family of them living around here. Either way it killed the onion sets on its way to the potato bed, so I had to rake off the mulch and replant seeds.

Peas had to be re-planted too, as some of them had been broken off by the night-time visiting critter. The cages I put up around the surviving peas seem to have discouraged said critter from climbing into that bed. The brussel sprouts had to be thinned and I was able to transplant the few that were too close to others into bare spots in the bed.

After loosing the original Gunnera to a late freeze, we finally got a new one and put it replacement Gunnera in the ground just slightly south of the spot I planted the original one. Then we had some very hot days and it got a tiny bit, well ok about 30%, sunburned. I’m taking care to deeply water it every day now until it gets its root system established.

Vintage Wine

Vintage Wine

The first tomato has set. It’s on Vintage Wine. The other two tomato plants, both yellow Brandywine types are growing huge but havent’ got any flowers yet. The Vintage Wine has quite a few flowers on it already.

We picked up two cucumber starts, a lemon cucumber and a more traditional heirloom whose name I forget, my apologies. We also picked up an heirloom melon start at the farmer’s market. I planted all three in the same bed with the tomatoes. There’s quite a bit of basil and purple basil coming up in that bed too.

My roses have been blooming like crazy this year. I’ve been pruning them and getting a vase of roses every week. While I remember the names of most of them, I must confess that I’ve forgotten the names of a couple of them.

Honor, my only white rose, was languishing in the spot it was in. It was a bad spot to begin with but I was new to rose gardening and didn’t know better. Finally after many years of talking about moving her, we did today. She may not survive but she was dying where she was anyway.

Taboo

Taboo

Either Amethyst or Peace will have to be moved next. Both are unhappy where they are at and I’d like to give them a better spot. I finally dug the blackberries out from around Chicago Peace and it is very happy. There’s still one blackberry root I need to get out and eventually I will. We transplanted Taboo last year and at first it was very happy but this year not so much. I don’t know what has changed but I’ll be keeping an eye on it. Taboo is my only red rose.

Distant Drums

Distant Drums

I’ve been looking for the hummingbirds this year. The mallow bush is in bloom but I haven’t seen them. I am afraid things are blooming too early and the hummingbirds might be late. They need that food too. I will keep you updated, gentle reader. K

A Nerd In The Garden: The Raised Beds Are In

Raised beds

Raised beds

Raised beds

Last time I wrote we had just cleared the space for my raised bed garden. I had calculated the linear feet of lumber I would need and due to pricing had gone with cedar kits which Amazon was kind enough to deliver to my door. I was too busy actually putting the beds together, filling them and planting them to blog. Now that the garden is in, though, I thought I would post about the almost completed project.

There was a minor hiccup with the fill dirt for the beds. I had calculated I would require around 3 cubic yards to fill all of the beds. On the garden site I was checking out they had a free fill dirt calculator and I went ahead and checked myself against their calculator. Their calculator came up with a fraction of what I had calculated and, being an idiot I trusted their number over mine. This was a somewhat costly mistake.

Some Assembly Required

Some Assembly Required

I purchased the amount of soil they said I needed and it barely filled 1 bed. Ugh. So I ordered the amount I calculated I needed and it was the correct amount. Trust yourself, fellow gardeners.

It took two days to move 4.5 tons of fill dirt. As it turns out a cubic yard of dirt weighs about a ton and a half and I ordered 3 cubic yards. A friend loaned me his wheel barrow–it was very barrowy. That helped a lot. I was using a tote in a wagon assembly that was comprised of items I actually had until he dropped off the wheel barrow.

Assembled

Assembled

Once the beds were in and we had mulched the walkways with cocoa shells and hazelnut shells I planted. I have 8 4X4 beds and in them I planted a variety of squash, including pumpkins and spaghetti squash, a mix of lettuces and spinach, tomatoes and herbs, peas and brussle sprouts, onions and potatoes (in two beds). I top dressed some of the beds with the remaining cocoa shells and intend to top dress the rest of them soon.

I also added a few decorations since I really do enjoy my garden and I want it to be lovely as well as functional. I’m going to clean out the sides and perhaps squeeze in a couple more beds and some more decorations.

A Nerd In The Garden: Designing A Raised Bed Layout & Clearing A Space

After tilling

Sort of Before

Sort of Before

Good day, gentle reader. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks designing and researching a raised bed garden. This has involved measuring the area I will get to use for the garden, compiling a list of vegetables and herbs that we would like to have in our garden and preparing the spot chosen.

The design side took quite a bit of time. Once I had the dimensions I made some graph paper layouts in Excel and printed the grids on paper so I could draw raised bed layouts to scale and find what appealed to me the most. The most efficient use of my space took several tries to get. Each bed needs a 2′ walk path around each side of it so that a gardener can reach the middle of the bed. To get the maximum amount of useable garden space with that restriction that also appealed to me aesthetically took several layouts.

Once I had a layout that I liked I used it to calculate the linear feet of lumber I would need to build the beds as I had drawn them. Once I had that number I went online and began looking at the kinds of lumber I could use to build the beds and the costs. Different board widths, heights and lengths gave me varying options not only for construction but also price-wise.

Calculating how many pieces of which size helped me reduce waste. For a raised bed garden wood that is bug and rot resistant is a must. I wanted cedar but it was so expensive. There was no size I could afford to get in sufficient quantity for my project. In the end for economic reasons I decided I would go with 2x12x16 pressure treated wood, which for the size of my garden would be pricy but worth it. I could already imagine the fresh vegetables and herbs.

The lumber is pricy and once I purchased it I would have to load it in my vehicle, bungie cord it and put the red safety flag on it to get it home then unload it. I would also need to get corner fasteners, posts and other little things to actually construct the bed.

OR…the interwebs was happy to suggest that For $50.00 more I could order pre-made raised bed kits made from cedar (superior and preferable) from Amazon and get them delivered free to my house. Hmmmmm….I’m already committed to spending quite a bit of cash….And I really wanted cedar to begin with, I just couldn’t afford it if I got it at any of the number of local home improvement/lumber yards I’d checked out.

Still $50.00 is a lot of money, so I went to the store I’d found online that had the pressure treated wood for the price I was willing to pay. There I found that they didn’t actually carry the lumber I had chosen for the price listed. The price they did have was more by $2.00. Multiply that over the number of boards I would need and suddenly the pre-made kits were in range. I was sold–on the pre-made kits that is.

Let’s be honest here. If I constructed the beds they would be basic boxes. I am not mitering any corners to give them a finished look and I’m not buying end caps for the post tops. My basic garden would look like someone bought some wood and made boxes. Since this is intended to be a semi-permanent installation the beauty and finished look of the superior cedar beds was really worth the little bit extra they cost me. It was the free delivery that put it in range. If I’d had to pay for delivery I wouldn’t have done it.

Now over the course of the past month we have been cleaning up the garden space. We have been cutting out Himalayan blackberry vines, which are vile things with huge sharp thorns and digging out the roots, cutting out Clerodendron runners (apparently it propagates underground too–who knew?) and catnip that was planted in one little spot 15 years ago. Catnip is invasive. It was an absolute mess back there. We have filled our yard debris bin to overflowing every weekend for the past month. The day finally came when we had enough space cleared to rototill the spot.

After tilling

After tilling

I researched several little rototillers online, even going so far as to watch youtube videos of people reviewing some models. I finally settled upon a lightweight model that was reasonably priced and that I felt I could operate myself without having to ask someone else to do it. Once again my local hardware store did not carry it. This is the same place I went for the lumber I had chosen. Oh I could order it online and have it shipped to their store for free but this involves a wait while the item ships and then I still have to pick it up.

For the record, offering to have something shipped to a store is a bad strategy for a local store. If I want to wait for something to ship, I don’t want to have to then go pick it up. The only reason to buy something like this locally is if you want to pick it up the same day. If the shop is forcing me to wait for it anyway, then I’ll order from the place that not only gives me free shipping but also ships it right to my door.

Thankfully, another garden center nearby actually carried the little rototiller and I picked it up there. With the added bonus that this was a locally owned place. I try to support locally owned places whenever possible and had I known beforehand that they carried this item I wouldn’t have even tried to get the tiller at the other place.

This week the kits arrive and next weekend we will assemble the first beds. Stay tuned.