Playing in the dirt.

Archive for the ‘Building a new bed’ Category

A Quick Update

It’s been very busy outdoors, building new beds.  The salad bed is coming along nicely, and it is officially productive as of Sunday evening, when I pulled the first bunch of radishes to go with dinner.  Corn and beans are between three and four inches high, and the tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons that I planted out are finally starting to recover from what proved to be repeatedly terrible timing.

Salad garden.

Even the parsley and lovage and parsnips have sprouted, and the arugula and radishes are going gangbusters.

There’s still work to do, of course, and when isn’t there?  Still, it has been immensely satisfying, and I may have gotten my money’s worth out of the corn and beans purely on the weight of how much the tiny plants lift my spirits every time I’m out there.

Assorted garden beds with a view of the horizon.

Family photo.

Ch-Ch-Changes

It’s time to tackle Grow Write Guild Writing Prompt #3, which is the first in what promises to be a very interesting series of posts documenting changes our garden spaces from the beginning of the season through the summer.

My garden is dry and brown right now, in part because three days ago, it was under a layer of airy, dirty snow.  We’re also back under a winter storm warning, so it might well be back under a layer of snow by this time tomorrow.  So, while my seedlings enjoy their continued respite from our harsh climate, my garden looks like this:

A raised garden bed with an A-frame cover next to it.

Last year’s bed and cover.

I set the cover on the ground for the winter, deciding that it would be less damaged by contact with the soil than it would be by being continually blown off the bed and into the fence.  (Wyoming is where the wind lives. It just visits other places.)  I wasn’t sure it was going to survive the winter, either way, so I’m pleased to report that it seems perfectly sound and able to withstand a second season.  I pulled chicken wire across the bed and stapled it down to keep the feral cats from using my garden as a litter box all winter, also with success.  The twine strung every almost-foot is broken in several places, but I expected to need to restring my spacing markers anyway.  I’ll pull the staples for that when I remove the chicken wire, and cut it into suitable lengths to leave for birds to use as nesting material.  The robins have started to arrive, but they’re squabbling about whose bright idea it was to return before it was done snowing.

This year, I’m expanding out a bit to the north, where there are few stands of the tough bunched oats to fight through:

Dry prairie with a fence and some assorted junk.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

The dirt pile in the background was pulled off the front “yard” of the other home on the property, after having been soaked in herbicide so the owner could put in a rock garden.  While the herbicide indicated that it should break down into a harmless form in short order, I don’t plan to trust that dirt pile until I see it covered in weeds other than the ubiquitous and invasive Salsola iberica, or Russian thistle, an ironic symbol of the Old American West better known to many people as “tumbleweed.”  The stuff will grow in the absolute worst conditions, in soil still toxic to most other plants.  I usually pull them up in the hopes of keeping their numbers down to a dull roar, but since they’ll help rehabilitate that soil, I’ll leave what grows there alone.

Some assorted trash has blown in over the winter and will need gathered up and disposed of as appropriate, and that ancient CRT monitor marks the resting place of a beloved house cat, for the entirely pragmatic reason of keeping the foxes out of it.

Don’t let the stark brown fool you, though.  The grass is starting to green up around the base, where the dead blades from last year offer a little protection from the unrelenting wind and freezing temperatures.  Since I took the photos, I have scraped off the top layer from the areas for two new beds, leveled out a “bump” across one of them, removed the monitor (it’s been a couple of years, so there’s no remaining risk) and filled the depression in with the excess I scraped off the two new areas.

There’s still a lot of work ahead, but the first bits are done, so there’s that much less still to do.

No News Is No News

Content note: This post contains images of insects, specifically butterflies.

Although it has been 7 days and most of my seed packets say 7-10 days to sprout, there’s no green yet in the garden.  Those first couple of nights the temperature did get down to flirt with freezing, so I won’t be surprised if it ends up taking all 10 days.  I plan to do my next round of planting either Wednesday, if nothing has come up by then, or next weekend if I have sprouts to promise eventual crops.

There were several butterflies and countless bees and pollinating flies visiting the dandelions earlier, so I poured them a puddle of water, since we’ve had next to no precipitation.  I also weeded some of Mom’s decorative annual beds before it finally got too hot to be outdoors, and watered her clematis, which was kind of droopy and sad-looking.  It’s much more sprightly now, between a good soak and the cloud cover that has moved in.  I didn’t get her new shrub planted like I’d planned — I didn’t want it to bake, so it’s still living in a bucket in the shop.  I’ll try to get a hole dug this evening, when it cools off a bit, if the thunder and smattering of raindrops doesn’t portend actual storms the rest of the day.

I managed to get a couple of good photos of the butterflies.  I obviously need to get my hands on good taxonomic keys, so I can have a chance of identifying these.  I think the first is a painted lady, and the second appears to be a Mormon fritillary.

A painted lady butterfly perched on a dandelion.

Painted lady. I think.

 

An orange-and-black Mormon fritillary butterfly perched on a dandelion.

Mormon fritillary. I’m pretty sure.

Now, We Wait

Today was planting day.  Mr. Teaspoon had come across some bright pink nylon twine while he was out shopping one day, and thought I might like it to lay out my “square feet.”  It was a lot more fashionable than my original plan, which was to mark out my grid on the frame edges and lay temporary markers across it while I planted seeds.

Bright pink twine forms a grid over a filled garden bed.

The bee’s knees.

I used a pencil as a dibble to make holes for my seeds, which gave me the brilliant idea to write on the frame what went into each square (some of which are 11″x12″ an others are 11″x11″, to accommodate for the 4 inches lost in each direction).

Labels in pencil on a garden box frame, reading "Peas, 5/27" "Spinach 5/27" and "Rouge d'Hiver 5/27."

Inspiration strikes!

In each square of the northernmost row, I planted Rouge d’Hiver lettuce, nothing, Forellenschluss lettuce, nothing, Salad Bowl lettuce, nothing, Mesclun lettuce mix, nothing.  (The empty squares will be planted later, so we can enjoy a rolling harvest, rather than having everything come on at once, half of it be wasted, and then nothing again for a month.)

In the next row, with the help of Teaspoon Jr., I planted spinach, peas, peas, peas, cucumbers, cucumbers, cucumbers, spinach.  When the peas and cucumbers begin to vine, I will build them a trellis to climb.  They’ll offer the lettuce a little shade during the hotter part of the summer, hopefully helping keep it from bolting as quickly.

In the third row, I planted German Giant radishes, French breakfast radishes, carrots, carrots, beets, beets, turnips, turnips.

The fourth row will be planted later with a repeat of the third row.

A grid layout of a garden plot using "square foot" techniques.

Assigned seating.

Now the waiting begins, to see if the weather cooperates enough to let the seeds sprout, to see how many of my carrot seeds actually fell in their holes and how many blew away when the wind came up before I was finished, and to see whether the whole project together has enough of the right pieces to make food happen.  With a bit of luck, there should be sprouts in 7-10 days.

Soil from Scratch

I’ve talked some about the poor soil in my area, and the need to mix up some decent soil if I want anything to grow.  For reasons of living somewhat off the more beaten paths, I ended up deciding on a mix of 1/3 sphagnum peat moss, 1/3 mushroom compost, and 1/3 steer manure/compost blend.  For a bed 8′ long by 4′ wide by 8″ deep, I needed 24 cubic feet of soil ingredients.  A slight miscalculation, though, since the interior measurement is actually 7’8″ long by 3’8″wide, which means I really only needed about 21 cubic feet of soil materials.

Or so you would think, right?

I’d read that peat moss expanded, so there might be some leftover soil that could be added as the mix settled.  I hadn’t read that “some leftover soil” would be nearly half the materials I purchased.

I had also read about a method to mix soil by pouring the ingredients on one end of a tarp, and walking the end back and forth a few times, then walking it it side to side a few times, but most places cautioned that trying to mix the whole lot at once was too heavy, so I decided to start with a fourth of my materials.  That was also too heavy, but might not have been with a second person to help manage both the tarp and the weight.

Two bags of steer manure/compost blend, two bags of mushroom compost, and one bag of peat moss stacked on a tarp.

There’s actually very little dirt in soil…

I cut the second quarter in half again, and only mixed half a bale of peat moss, one bag of mushroom compost, and one bag of the steer manure mix, but after wrangling the first batch, even that was a little on the heavy side.  The other half of the second quarter I just broke up the peat moss on the tarp and dumped it along one side of the bed, poured a bag of mushroom compost down the middle, and added a bag of steer manure blend down the other side, and mixed it all with a hoe, going back and forth across the rows of ingredients.  I think for a single (mostly able-bodied) person doing the work, that this was the easiest method available to me.  I am considering renting a small cement mixer for next year’s additions.

That first half of the materials filled the bed to within a half inch of the top, so I watered it well and let it sit for a week.  It rained a few times, and the wind has been howling for days, drying everything out, so it should have been alternately beaten down by water and then dried by the wind, shrinking it further.

By today, it had only settled another half an inch.  I threw up my hands and added two more bags of mushroom compost and mixed it into the top layer of mix with a hoe, since part of the peat moss’ job is to make my soil stick together, so it doesn’t blow away.  It would have been kind of silly to just put the light and crumbly mushroom compost on top only to let it end up miles away.  It was late, since I’d had to wait for the wind to die down, so I watered it down and called it a night.

It’s a Box!

With a little help from my father-in-law, who kindly cut my boards for me and loaned me a few tools I didn’t have or that ended up in storage, and Mr. Teaspoon, who kindly helped me argue with the drill and the long screws and the 4x4s, I have a garden bed.

I’ve mislaid the receipt for the chicken wire, which was cheapest by the 50′ roll, even though I only needed 12′, and it was about $37.  I figure that means I just have enough chicken wire to make the cover for the next bed, so between that and the remaining weed barrier, I’m already started for next year’s expansion.  I also ended up buying a five-dollar pair of work gloves, having left mine at work (long story involving transplanting cactuses), and a new staple gun for about $25.  Those two things will be used on a variety of projects though, so I won’t be including them in the expense totals.  I may need to get some kind of fasteners to keep the lid on it, though, since it rolled over in today’s high winds.

Construction of the base involved overlapping the 4x4s and screwing them together in an overlapping pattern to make the corners stronger.

Detail of a garden box frame corner showing countersunk screw holes and the overlapping pattern.

Build it strong to last long.

Next, I assembled the cover frame by making a rectangle with two 8′ 1x2s and two 4′ 1x2s for the base.  Then Mr. Teaspoon and Teaspoon Jr. helped hold the remaining 8′ 1.2 at the peak, each with two 4′ lengths cut to 30 degree angles at each end, to make 60 degree angles.  That’s about the time I discovered that I had missed one of my long pieces that needed the angles cut, so I cut that one with a handsaw.  I drilled pilot holes and screwed the side pieces to the peak at one end, then the other, which let my faithful assistants flee to other activities or a nap or something.  More pilot holes and more screws fastened the four corners to the base.  I measured 2′ intervals and added the side supports.

A triangular cover frame for a garden box, nearly complete.

Almost there!

Then I covered the floor of my box with hardware cloth, a process which made me glad of a habit of measuring all my materials before I start working with them, because it turned out that the 12′ length of hardware cloth Mr. Teaspoon had bought was only 11’4″.  That was irritating, and it meant I couldn’t fold up an inch at each side to staple it to the frame, so I might end up having to fight moles, but I decided just to mark it down as another reason to buy the materials for the second bed somewhere in the next town.

A sheet of hardware cloth in the bottom of a garden bed to keep moles away from plant roots.

No, Mr. Mole, you may not have my carrots.

Over that, I put some weed barrier to keep the remaining grass from just growing up through my good soil, and stapled it to the frame to keep it from blowing out of place while I filled it.

A sheet of weed barrier over a hardware cloth floor in a garden bed.

Keeping the nutrients for the garden.

Finally, I measured out two 12′ lengths of chicken wire to wrap my cover, and stapled that onto the cover frame.  (I still need to clean up the ends, but that can happen any time.)

A triangular garden cover made of thin boards and chicken wire.

No, Mr. Rabbit, you may not have my lettuce.

Up next, soil from scratch.

Sticks and Wire

Thanks to Mr. Teaspoon, I have most of my building materials.  My expense total from the last tally was $95.82.

Today, we go wildly over budget, because shopping local lumberyards in my town apparently means spending four times as much for everything as is reasonable.  Now that I know it’s cheaper to fill the truck and drive an entire hour to the next town, buy my lumber, and drive home, next year’s bed materials will be purchased…not locally.

A pile of 1x2 and 4x4 lumber with hardware cloth, landscape cloth, and a bag of long gold deck screws.

Pickup sticks, anyone?

  • 6 – 4″x4″x8′ #2 & BTR @ 13.58/ea. for $81.48
  • 9 – 1″x2″x8′ furring strips @ 1.17/ea. for $10.53
  • 3’x12′ hardware cloth (1/4″) for $26.50
  • 3’x50′ roll of landscape fabric for $15.79
  • 1.75 lbs. of 4 1/2″ deck screws for $7.00
  • 50 #8 1 1/2″ deck screws for $2.97
  • sales tax of $8.66

That’s a total of $152.93, which adds to the previous total to bring my expenses to $248.75.  I still need the chicken wire for my topper, but that will be the last of the building materials.

Hopefully, the effort results in produce enough to off-set the costs!  I’ll be keeping a comparison tally of produce returns based off the prices of similar produce at the local big box store, major supermarket, and farmer’s market or small market prices.