Live and learn, right? That should probably just be the official theme for the garden(s) (and probably the house).
A user requested an aerial view of the current garden layout. Here it is, courtesy of Google Maps and terrible drawing skills.
A: East Slope raised bed
B: Southeast Slope flower bed
C: Raised bed for potatoes (keeping them close to my house/mouth)
D: Cascading/Tiered raised beds
g is for goats. 🙂
East Slope (front of house)
Elliot brought up four very old railroad ties back after Thanksgiving, and thus began our adventures in gardening. We threw them together haphazardly on the east slope (technically front of the house), held up with broken cinder blocks and filled it with goat compost. It looked like crap.* At some point we picked up a free wrought iron fence and threw it on top, adding horribly to the wholly terrible aesthetic of the damn thing.
But there it sat for months and months, right out in front and looking somehow worse than the dilapidated porch behind it.
Several months later we roped the kids and Sergiu into helping us improve it a bit — we dug into the hill to better place the ties, and (most importantly) used some of our new supply of (free) pressure-treated lumber scraps to better support the front end of the square. And we moved the wrought iron onto the side, sort of cradling the garden bed instead of sitting precariously on top of it. Overall, it looks much better (but I wouldn’t say “good”).
We did a bit better on our second try – a circular space a bit further south on the slope. Because of the outline material for this one (plastic edging I bought in a late night shop-session at Gardeners.com months and months ago), we decided this one would be for flowers. Beyond making a circle,** all we did was lay some cardboard to kill the grass and covered it in compost.
It looks alright – kind of like a larger version of our many scattered grass piles from last summer.*** But nicely round. I think once the flowers start (whether we achieve our ambitious top-secret internal design plans or not) it will actually look pretty nice.
You may have heard about a global pandemic that hit the shores of the US a few weeks ago. This means that a lot of people now have more time to not see people and not do social things. I am very lucky: my new found free time is mostly related to the temporary elimination of a 2+ hour each way commute. And with that extra 4 hours or so each day, I found myself antsy to get things done around the house. But instead of doing things on or in the house (where there is plenty of things that really need to get done****) I focused on the outside. I’ve made a lot of progress over the past few weeks, though I feel a little guilty that we’ve been ignoring the house itself…
Raised Bed for Potatoes
Side Note (but relevant) One of my favorite Wassaic residents gave me some potato spuds to plant. This kickstarted my raised-bed making -- the need to grow (and eat) potatoes is very real.*****
I had to build a raised bed for the potatoes, so I turned to the free wood scraps we salvaged from the new Rail Trail construction up by the train station (and yes, we had permission to salvage said wood scraps)
I dug a mini fence post hole for the 4×4 mini posts (with the help of Westley!) and placed 2x6s in a nice rectangular-ish shape. We added more mini 4×4 fence posts in each corner. And support pieces to hold it all together.
Everything went great until I had to attach the pieces together. I grabbed Sergiu’s drill set and found the screws, but apparently used the wrong drill. I got the structure stable, but Sergiu came down and actually finished attaching everything.^*
Because I wanted lots of root-space (aka, potato-growin’ realm) I decided to put another level on top. This time I suckered Elliot into attaching the boards for me.
We added some (organic) topsoil and voila!
Ready for potatoes!
With my potato bed being so successful (at existing, not necessarily at producing potatoes yet…), I was excited to continue on.
Cascading/Tiered Raised Beds
Sergiu and Elliot were off doing other things, so Bridgette and I decided to build a terraced series of raised garden beds into the side of the hill. I googled some stuff, read very little, and we began at the bottom and worked our way up.
Thank goodness for free salvaged wood, this would have cost a lot more if I’d had to pay for lumber.
We dug trenches, made things level(ish) and worked our way slowly up the hill. The true star of this adventure was a random tool whose name and purpose we had no idea^**, but it is absolutely amazing and we took turns using it to outline all of the trenches.
We kept our plans flexible and made choices based on each layer’s terrain, with steeper sections having smaller beds than the more plateaued areas.
Until we started to run out of wood Then it was all about conserving resources.
Over the course of two days we essentially used up all of the available lumber^*** and laid out an absolute masterpiece of uninformed engineering.
We got 8 tiers done and began thinking about how we could secure the thing so that it doesn’t just slowly slide down the hill. Many brains were consulted (my several, in addition to everyone else in the house) and it was decided we should stake them to the ground like a tent. But instead of tent stakes, we used a bunch of giant galvanized nails. Sergiu drilled into some randomly deemed structurally important sections and then hammered the comically large nails through the wood and down into the dirt. Hopefully it stays put.^***
Then it was just a matter of having to use 800,000,000,000 screws to connect all of our short little salvaged wood pieces to each other.
It’s possible that it would have been cheaper to just buy the full-length lumber than to use all of those screws
The most labor intensive part is still to come, but Bridgette and I managed to manually till all but one of the beds before the rain fell (or my elbows fell off – it’s been a few years since I dug that much dirt and grass up. But if we actually manage to grow anything, it will all be worth it.
*Pun not intended, but always appreciated
**Elliot taught us all (reminded me?) some useful geometry. I’ve since forgotten it completely.
***My whole lawn kind of looks like a leopard. Or a giraffe. Or a bad case of chicken pox.
****In my defense, I lack a lot of the skills (and lack of attention span) to actually do most of those.
*****Lets face it: even if I planted my entire acre+ with high-yield potato plants, it would never last me through the year.
^*It’s amazing how many things you can get some people to do by simply starting and failing at it yourself. 🙂
^**Sidewalk Scraper. It’s called a sidewalk scraper. It should be called Miracle Trench Digging Masterpiece.
^***All the available lumber longer than like 7 or 8 inches in length. I have plenty of little brick-sized ones. I have other plans for them!
^****We are also planning to install t-posts at the base, halfway up, and at the top on the eastern side of the fence. This will allow us to easily move the goats’ fence over to incorporate the garden after the growing season has ended – they can clean it up and fertilize it for next spring! While brilliant, of course, this will also require a bit more planning as far as what goes into this set of garden beds, though, so we don’t accidentally poison the ladies.