I’ve lived at the Not So Seekrit Lair for almost 18 years. It didn’t take long for me to want a garden, because I like to tend things and watch them grow. My first efforts were built from plans out of Sunset magazine, and looked like this:
We built them over a couple of weekends in the heated garage of the Best Sister Ever. It was a team project led by our dad and the BSE’s husband Gadgetron. Once we had them constructed, we toted them on over to the house and laid them out. The bottoms are covered in metal mesh to keep the burrowing critters out, and I’ve had reasonable success with that. We also opted to use the PVC hoops. Those hoops are worth it, in my opinion. They lengthen my growing season, if I want to do so. I’ve been able to have year round lettuce and spinach, using plastic sheeting to cover the hoops.
As you can see, though, this original version had no fencing. The native deer population was pretty excited about this new restaura…I mean, garden bed, and my first few years were frustrating indeed. A former flame volunteered to put up some fencing, but it was only about 3 feet tall. My city deer looked at that puny effort and laughed, jumped over, and had their way with all of my tender young produce. A couple years back I went to Lowe’s and bought some garden netting, which comes on an 8 foot roll for a very reasonable price, I think around $35. The BSE and Gadgetron came over and we properly fenced in the beds in an afternoon.
The city deer were disgusted indeed. I stood in the living room and watched them amble out of the woods, en route to the farm-to-table gastronomy to which they had become accustomed. They stopped. They nosed the netting. They looked at the house. I laughed and laughed, and if a deer can look disgusted, these deer certainly did.
Now, this fencing does nothing for the rabbits with razor sharp teeth. They gnawed their way through in short order. They decimated my beds last year, but I have a surprise for them this year. Where the beds meet, illustrated here as where the Tub of Eternal Chivery resides, I plan to use steel mesh stapled over the openings. Chew through that, will you?! Should they find egress to the Promised Land anyway, I plan to plant things that discourage their voracious tendencies. That’s another post, though. For starters, this is what my garden beds look like, and they are very, very easy to maintain. Raised beds are great, because if you keep the filled with decent soil, and dig in compost from time to time, weeds are effortless to pull.
Eventually, I wanted to expand my gardening space, and began reading up on how I could repurpose the blank canvas of my lawn. I had a little garlic bed out front, but it seemed like a heck of a waste of space, plus I’m not a giant fan of cutting grass. Neither am I a giant fan of the oil and gas combination engine. Gadgetron can and does tell a particularly hilarious story of how I thought a lawnmower took a quart of oil. But I digress. This is what I started with:
I read about lasagna gardening as a way to build up soil. It’s laborious at first, but oh, it pays off in gorgeous growing medium over the years afterward. First step is putting down newspaper, then covering that with compost as illustrated below. Cardboard goes over that. Then I used wood chips, to make it look like I meant for it to be that way and not to overly alarm the neighbors. I did this many years back, and now I have happy and healthy dirt there, full of worms and other beneficial activity.
I did this on both sides of the garlic bed, bookended by two iris beds. So, I had this prepared area, and by now I’d heard about Growing Vegetables in Straw Bales. This sounded like a complete fairy tale to me, so of course I signed right up. Now my former greensward looked like this. I plan to do an entire post, very soon, about my love affair with rotted straw, so hold your horses.
After that, I was fortunate enough to be gifted two apple boxes! They were amazing, and one is still in use to this day. I grow corn in it, to the delight of passersby, who always ask me “is that sweet corn?” as though it could be anything else but corn. An ever spreading patch of some kind of flower/weed grows up by it every year, and I think it’s pretty so it stays. That’s essentially my landscape ethos. If I like it, it stays.
And if I do not like it, then it goes. That would explain what happened to the other apple box, when highly aggressive wasps decided it was the perfect place to spend the summer. I was ignorant of their residence until I leaned in to pull out some carrots. Along with the carrots, I got a laser shot of vicious waspery that chased me across the yard, stinging me repeatedly, rebuking me in the strongest possible terms for my egregious invasion of their home. Fortunately, the BSE and Gadgetron were able to mitigate the invasion quickly and decisively. The size of that hive was absolutely astounding, and it’s a miracle I was not seriously injured with the stinging. There were hundreds of wasps not that far under the surface. The box has since been dismantled.
Casting about for yet more ways to maximize my space, Dad and I decided to try to make planter of a 55 gallon plastic drum. There are numerous videos online of how to do it, and I realize mine looks like it should be on the “Nailed it!” section of CakeWrecks. There are drainage holes in the bottom, then gravel, then dirt. If I had it to do over, I’d do more holes, but smaller. You can barely see it here, but down the middle is some perforated PVC drain pipe. The thought is to be able to water down that pipe and thus keep the planter hydrated. The directions said fill the pipe with sand. I think that was probably the dumbest thing to advise, because OF COURSE the sand ran out the holes in the pipe! Again, if I had that to do over, I’d use gravel, like river rock, not pea gravel.
Yes, that is indeed a disco ball hanging in my garden. Vegetables like to get funky too, you know. Nobody puts broccoli in a corner!
The first year I dutifully filled it with strawberries, which the city deer enjoyed as they didn’t have to bend down to eat them. The chicken wire slowed them down a little, but they soon figured out how to get that off there and eat unimpeded by my amateurish attempts to be smarter than a deer. In subsequent years, I’ve done tomatoes with great success, lettuce, and strawberries again. Now I have a formal strawberry bed, so I think I’ll be planting this entirely in basil this year. Because pesto. Why else?
Dad and I also “built” a cold frame. Cold frames are great when you want to start your plants, or have lettuce in wintertime, or other such pursuits where warmth is at a premium. We built the box, with the back higher than the front, and then we got annoyed trying to get the sides to fit. This year I have straw bales on either side, so that’s worked. I used some old windows for the glass. The bottom is covered in pea gravel, and with the south exposure (not really the best illustration in this photo) it gets a LOT of sunshine. It gets reasonably warm inside.
In the continuing spirit of repurposing things, the BSE found some pretty nice fencing on the curb in her sub. She scooped it up and we contained my unruly mess of blackberries. It looks much nicer and it is much easier to maintain. The panels lift off posts, so it is easy to get in to prune, or pick. We looked up the price of these panels, and this certainly wasn’t something I would have paid retail to get. Sometimes you luck out, while curb surfing.
Note the sweet old Coleman cooler, one of my favorite curb suring finds. It’s currently being prepped for another season of lettuce outside the back door of my kitchen. At the time of the photo it was kicking out a MESS of heirloom tomatoes! At least, it was till the jackrod rabbits decided they liked tomatoes.
In my pursuit for more growing space, I prepared two plots in the back of the yard. I put down cardboard that I got from our former cafe at work, and from a coworker who had a passel of it that she wanted gone. I laid straw down over the top of it and let time/nature do its thing. The neat frames you see there were donated to me by two dear friends who decided they didn’t need them, as they came with the house they bought. Another friend drove to the west side of Kalamazoo and brought them to me!
So, you see the basic structure of the space I have right now. My next posts will be about growing things in straw bales, growing potatoes in pots, and the plans I have for making my yard a yarden this summer. I’ve bought plants and seeds, and I can’t wait to tell you about them!