DIRTY DIRTY DIRT!

Turns out 6 yards of dirt…is A LOT of dirt.  I had a relatively small rainfree window one evening this last week to move the dirt I had delievered from my driveway to the awaiting garden beds.  Turns out it takes me about an hour to move a yard of dirt.  The hardest part is getting the dirt into the beds (seems obvious).  It took me a while to devise a small ramp I could roll the wheelbarrel up and dump it so I wouldn’t need to shovel the dirt in and out of the wheelbarrel.  It also took a while to learn how to dump the dirt without damaging the bed, my wheelbarrel has a very large screw on the bottom of the front (unfortunate) which gouged (very unfortuate) the 1st bed I filled.  Live and learn…once that issue was resolved, and I had the ramp system in place, it was load dump time for the next 4 hours.

With the dirt in place I was able to plant a few of starts I have ready from seed.  In the long 8′ x 2′ bed along the back fence I planted 5 Sungold tomoto plants, 6 basil plants, 3 red onion and 3 leeks.  In the 8′ x 4′ bed I planted 3 different types of strawberries, 2 Junebearing and 1 Everbearging.  I threw in some borage and on the very end put in a small growing rasperry bush.  Finally, in one of the 6′ x 4′ beds I planted 3 Black Tula tomoto plants, 6 romain, 6 red oak, 6 red leaf, 3 space saver cucumber plants with some Alaska Oragne Nasturtium strewn about (trying out companion planting this year).

I feel like I’m off to good start and still On Plan (actually I’m about a week ahead)!  Portland’s theoretical last frost day was April 26th…Let’s hope that holds true this year!  Next up…more raised bed building (I now have orders coming in from family), dirt moving…and…deck demo…All of this “building” has given me the itch to do some demo!

“P2P” Points to Ponder: “Don’t Look at the Rock!” and “Don’t Carp!”

A very long time ago, in a place not so far away (here actually), I used to river kayak.  One spring I took a series of  lessons and by that summer I was cruising down class 3 rapids – mostly upright.  There were 2 main instructions that were drilled into me that summer:

  1. Don’t look at the rock!
  2. Dont Carp! (Carping is defined as gasping for air while trying to roll yourself upright once you’ve capsized, your head comes out of the water for a brief moment…you gasp…and then you fall right back to your upside position.)

These two instructions sound simple enough…sure…but to actually put them into practice you must ignore your initial instincts and trust that if you do the opposite, things will work out perfectly.

1.  Don’t look at the rock!

Here is how it works…when you are cruising down the river and there is a obstabcle (usually a rock) right in front you, your instinct may be to look a the rock, focus on it intently, and as you approach the rock you may lean away from it because you don’t want to hit it.  Well, a couple of things happen very quickly when doing this in a boat on water.  When you look at the rock you are pointing your head at the rock, in kayaking your head determines where you body/boat are going to go, so by looking at the rock, you are pointing your boat directly at the rock!  As you get closer and try to lean away from the rock, your boat edge will catch on the current coming downstream and flip you over. Exactly the WRONG outcome!

What you are supposed to do; locate the rock but LOOK WHERE YOU WANT TO GO, focus on the path of raging water right beside the rock and your boat will head that direction.  As you do come closer to the rock you actually lean towards the rock, the water coming downstream will slip harmlessly below your boat edge as you effortlessly pivot around the rock.

Easy Peasy right?  Wrong…this was a hard leaned lesson for me…often times I ended up tipping over at the 1st big rock and taking the rest of the rapids upside down or “sans boat”.

Which leads me to the next lesson….

2.  Don’t Carp!

Ok, so you’ve tipped over, no big deal right?  You’ve trained for this and can roll back up in pool practice with no problemo.  But, rolling back up in raging water, while you are spinning around hitting things is a slightly different scenario.  You are also “trapped” in your boat by your spray skirt, and there is that pesky little issue of being under water and not being able to breathe – which sometimes can cause a wee pit of panic.

All your instincts are telling you to get your head out of the water – fast – but that is exactly the wrong thing to do.  Your head should be the last thing that comes out of the water.  I won’t go into all the physics involved…but you basically need to trust that if you focus on rolling your hips out of the water first the momentum of your lower body will carry the rest of you right side up, with your head coming out last.

I don’t river kayak any longer, but I do think of these 2 instructions often when dealing with the everyday obstacles in my life and when I find myself focusing on the obstacles instead of the paths around the obstacle.  Also, when I feel like I’ve been capsized and I’m desperately looking for air, and I keep trying the same old move over and over and not getting the desired outcome.

Life Lessons:

  1. Sometimes it’s best to ignore your initial instincts and rely on training to achieve a different outcome and lean new instincts
  2. Look where you want to go
  3. Sometimes, when dealing with a sticky situation,  your head needs to comes first…sometimes your head needs to come last

Gratitude Moment: My Body and 10 Tons

I live in the Pacific Northwest (USA), and despite what anyone might tell you (they say we lie about the rain to keep peole from moving here), it rains here ALL THE TIME.  The weather has afforded me a rain induced break from my outside activities for which my body is grateful.  As I’m documenting this journey via this blog I can more easily reflect on the last few weeks and marvel at how my body has kept up with my demands.

I broke my toe (yes it’s a toe – but I really broke it – in a couple of places and where it attach to the rest of my foot) back in February. I broke my toe a week before a trip to Spain for work, bad timing to be sure.  But even though it was very painful, my body stepped up to the challenge and helped me navigate that trip and the next few months.  I’m also just outside the grasp of  THE PLAGUE, which knocked me down for a good 3 weeks.  I started this spring project after being inactive for the better part of 3 months.

These last 2 weeks in the yard have been slower than usual due to The Toe and The Plague, but my body has come through and then some.  Instead of getting down on my body for being sick or slower, I truly appreciate what I’ve been able to accomplish.   Things that normally would have overwhelmed me, I’ve taken bit by bit, and the reward has been well worth it.  After the 1st day of clearing I thought that I wouldn’t be able to move the next day (or maybe ever), my arms and legs were shaking with muscle fatigue.  I literally collapsed.  I woke up the next day a little stiff but I actually felt fine and was able to do even more.

Between Clearing, Irrigation, and Raised Bed Building – I’ve moved over 20,000 pounds of “stuff” in the last 2 weeks (really over about 5 days).  That’s pretty stunning to me – 10 tons!  Bricks and dirt for the irrigation were at least 6 tons.  I calculate the wood for the beds to be about 2000 pounds total and I’ve moved that wood at least 4 times – which is another 4 tons.  During the clearing I moved 100 sq. ft of wet plants, I have no idea what they weighed (a lot).

Needless to say, it’s a remarkable number to me when I add it all up.   Also, most of the work has called for deep knee bends to save my back (lots of crouching), which has asked a great deal from my knees.  My back and my knees are doing great and ready for more!

I want to take this moment to thank my body for always being there for me…for better or for worse…despite my abuse and neglect…

Raised Garden Beds – Building Phase

Mini-Project Name: Raised Garden Bed Building

Goal: Complete 6 of the 8 planned beds by May 1st

Objectives:

  1. Try my hand at my own raised garden bed design & building
  2. Most efficient use of materials & money
  3. Build them “seat height”

The Design:

There are loads of great raised garden bed designs out there – I scoured the web and gathered all the designs I liked best and ended up building the bed shown below:

I haven’t installed the Top Trim yet, I want to get all of the beds in place first. The intent of the Top Trim is to give it a more finished look and also provide a place to sit and place things. Since it’s not required to get the beds to the point of accepting dirt, I’m holding off for now.  I also want to think more about how I can put in brackets to hold PVC tubes for future Hoop Covers.

Here is how the materials broke down for 1 – 8′ x 4′ x 18″ bed – overall I’m pleased with materials cost!

I ended up getting 6 beds almost finished (additional 4’x4′ and 8’x4’not shown below), now I’m playing around with the layout.  My orignal plan called for the beds to be placed East/West (left image below), but after putting them in place and doing some more web research on optimal positioning – I think I’m going to try to have most of them orientated North/South (right image below).  The theory is that the plants will get a more even exposure to the sun.  (Also, there is a more “finished’ looking side to the bed and I think I want that facing the house – form and function are important!)  The frame are easy for 1 person to move so I’m having fun with different layouts.

I’m VERY happy with the progress I made on Sunday.  I spent about 2 hours material shopping in the morning, and another 6 hours building.  Once I built the 1st bed I cut all the wood for the other 5 and assembly of the frames was pretty quick.

Cutting the galvanized steel sheets was a bit of a challenge.  The helpful guy at Lowest gave me a tip.  He said if I bought the saw blade shown below on the left, and install it backwards, that I could rip the sheets like butter.  I tried it and it worked!  I used tin snips to cut the sheets down to the length – if you try this wear full face protection (you best ALWAYS be wearing eye protection), learned this after hot metal shard stuck in my cheek, and also wear thick gloves.

The rains came back in on Monday, I’m hoping for some evening rain breaks so I can finish the existing 6 beds and maybe even build the remaining two. I would love to get dirt for delivery this weekend!

Trim Update:

I never did circle back and show how the trim turned out….see below for a detailed view!

Raised Bed Detail
Raised Bed Detail

Irrigation Part 1 – Success!

1st milestone in the The Plan has been met!  In the past a project like this would have overwhelmed me and one of 2 things would have happened.  1)  Overplan (procrastinate) to the point of needing to skip it entirely or I’ll miss the planting season; 2)  Decide it’s mandatory (can’t skip it), think about hiring it out, become overwhelmed with that prospect (choosing a service, money, etc…), and delay the entire yard project for yet another year.

Mini-Project Name:   Irrigation Part 1 – Backbone

Goal: Install PVC Sub-Main for Drip System

Objectives:

  1. Stop procrastinating and actually do the hard work of laying a foundation for watering (I’ll be so so happy later)
  2. More efficient use of water
  3. Ability to connect to rain collection system
  4. Save time watering!

Irrigation Part 1:

I have to say I feel quite proud of myself!  Next up today I tackle raised bed building!

Mini-Project: Learning from Seed

One of the parallel mini-projects within The Plan, is starting most of the  plants for the food portion of the garden from seed.  I started this mini-project in February.  Here are the details…

Mini-Project Name:  Learning from Seed

Goal:  Grow 90% of the veggies this season from seeds

Objectives:

  1. Have more appreciation for what happens before I buy my plants “ready to go”
  2. Grow plants I can’t typically find at the local garden store
  3. Practice Patience
  4. Save Money

Indoors:

I’ve planted 247 plants staggered over 5 planting dates, spanning 6 weeks in 6 different mini-greenhouses – all currently sitting in my south facing dining room and kitchen windows.

My Greenhouse
Reusing those aweful clam shell packages

So far I really like the Jiffy growing peat pellets for the indoor plants.  It’s inexpensive, the pellets expanded quickly and the 98% of my seeds sprouted!  Unlike the Planters Pride system, the pellets did not expand and only 40% of my seeds have sprouted. Another advantage of the Jiffy system is that you can keep the trays year after year and just buy the pellets, unlike the Planters Pride, the plastic trays are already cracking.

Below is an overview of the seeding process I’m using inside and finding most effective…I’m currently within step 5 – the bottom two pictures are my actual plants.

Outdoors:

No idea how many plants (got a little lazy counting those tiny tiny seeds), but I do know I planted roughly 24 sq. ft. staggered over 2 planting dates, spanning 6 weeks.  All planted in “Box A” (only existing raised bed currently in my backyard):

    • 4 sq. ft of Beets
    • 3 sq. ft of Carrots
    • 7 sq. ft of Mesculun Mix
    • 5 sq. ft of Plum Radishes
    • 2 sq. ft of Red Radishes
    • 7 sq. ft of Snap Peas

The outside plants are not doing that great.  Unfortunately the day after my 1st planting it snowed, then the day of the 2nd planting it hailed.  On the package it said “sow when the ground can be worked”, which I inturrpretted “anytime”! Also, the snap peas seeds were 10 years old, turns out seeds expire – who knew?  Box A looks almost exactly like it did when I planted it 8 weeks ago..there is a hint of sprouting…you can see the radishes trying to grow in the image below on the right.

Left: Box A Planted; Right: Radishes!

Tracking:

No project in my world is complete unless excel is involved, and most importantly, a pivot table of some sort.  The pivot table below shows the inside vs. outside seeds and the plant dates.  I have another view that highlights when they should be moved (theoretically) and then harvest (hopefully) – I’ll save that for later…

Yes…It’s a Pivot Table…More Geek Evidence

There you have it…I’m already learning some “life lessons”…I am accepting less than 100% success -every failure is an learning opportunity, and most importantly –  I can always buy plants if none of this works!

The Plan

The Plan – Next Two Months

Since I’m starting in my own backyard, I have a lot of projects to fit into a relatively small window of time if I expect to actually grow anything this summer.  Below is a schedule of the next two months and “the vision” of what I hope to accomplish.  The bits in blue are my “critical path” tasks and the bits in orange are a few projects I’m running in parallel.  There is a solar workshop this weekend I want to attend to help me assess whether or not my site is conducive to solar (I really hope it is…).  I also started seeds (only about 250 plants!) that I need to get into the ground by mid-ish May (right now they are all in my dining room and kitchen windows).

The Schedule:  Next Two Months

Thanks to Visio, I’ve crudely drawn out “The Vision). The drawing below shows all of the elements I outlined in the Starting In My Own Backyard post.

“The Vision”

The Plan – Next 7 Days:

In the next week I need to get my site cleared, my irrigation “backbone” in place (underground PVC system that will feed the above ground drip system), and I need to procure the materials for the raised beds (which means I also need to finalize the raised bed design).  This plan is ambitious, but I did get a bit of a start the last two days – I took vacation days Monday and Tuesday since it was sunny and cleared the site.

Site Clearing:

The time-consuming portion of this task was the “rescues”.  I had 40 sq. ft. of healthy “Snow on the Mountain” plants, a russian sage, some star jasmine, about 8 sq. ft. of Vinca Major groundcover, and various herbs that needed to be relocated.  I potted all the herbs (about 12 plants were saved) and Russian Sage and placed along the south wall of the garage, and moved the “Snow” out to the driveway planting strips, and the Vinca Groundcover to the existing rain garden.  I’m soooo sore…but very happy with the overall rescue operation.  Keep in mind…these were all basically “left for dead” last fall.

“Snow” move was a success!
“Rescue Wall”

Irrigation System:

The image below on the right is the planned “final state” irrigation system, with the backbone (bits in red) and the drip system (bits in blue) shown…but I really only need to dig the trenches for the backbone this week.

Left Image: “Future State” Irrigation System with Drip; Right Image: Inground PVC “Backbone”

I just need to dig ~100 ft of linear trenching…The goal is to get the irrigation system in place by the 15th so I can start building raised beds.

Raised Beds:

I haven’t found the perfect design online but I have found elements of a few designs I really like.  I want to incorporate corrugated metal, since that is a design theme in my backyard, and I want the warm look of wood.  My plan is to combine the trim elements I like from the design on the left, with the corrugated panel and framing shown in the image on the right.

Left Image: 4′ x 4′ Design from Lowes
Right Image: 8′ x 4′ Design from Artesian Land Arts (Portland)

Materials List:

Since I don’t need to trim-out the raised beds when I 1st build them, I will only focus on building the core frame so I can then get soil in them ASAP.  I plan to build 6 beds of 3 different sizes.

4 – 8′ x 4′ Boxes, 1 – 4′ x 4′ Box, 1 – 6′ x 4′ Box, 1 – 12′ x 3′ box

I’m guessing the 8′ x 4′ beds are going to come in around $120 for just the framing & siding…I’m hoping all 7 new beds come in around or less than $800 before the trim and soil.  It’s amazing how quickly the hardware bits (lag bolts and screws) adds up!

OK – now that I’ve officially “published” my plan I better get to work!