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