Sunday, May 11, 2008

Is it a garden if there are no plants?

Since we moved in to the house I have wanted to put a garden in the back yard, there was a perfect place for it along the fence on the north side of the property. The previous owners had almost triangle shaped area covered with redwood chips and yard fabric that they kept a play set on. Here is a photo from our inspection a couple years ago of said play set.

Last summer we grew some herbs in containers on the back patio and we enjoyed having fresh herbs so much we decided to finally take the plunge and grow some vegetables. Instead of doing more containers though we thought we would take on some raised beds for veggies and herbs. A few things played into this decision; 1) I really wanted to take down the sucker elm that was growing in the bed of wood chips before it got any bigger and 2) we knew that if a few containers went well we would want to do more veggies the next year anyway so we figured it was smart to just skip ahead ;).

The first step in this little adventure was taking out the redwood chips (as we discovered the day we moved in the previous owners had already taken the play set with them) which was a much easier task then we had imagined it would be. Once we discovered that the yard fabric under the chips was laid down in such a way we could effectively lift it and push the chips up the slope towards the gate that leads to the compost pile it just became a matter of pulling up yard fabric and using the pitch fork to move the piles when they got too big. We now have a nice supply of wood chips for the compost pile for a few years.

Next up was the tree. That means it's time to use the chainsaw, ah yeah! A few quick minutes with the chain saw took down the elm. An hour or so of snipping, cutting and swearing broke it down into twigs and some decent sized pieces for the fire pit. The stump, if you could call it that, wasn't going to go as easily. (that is me taunting the tree after I took it down, it made me feel like a big man)

This is pretty clearly a sucker elm, there are a ton of them in the neighborhood, as such there is not a traditional root ball to dig up and remove nicely. So I started digging, not sure what I would find. I dug down about 2 feet and it was pretty clearly just a runner that had turned up and started growing into a tree. A little work with an axe wasn't really getting me anywhere, and when the axe head flew off above my head I was done with that. The simple answer was dynamite, but the hardware stores now a days do not carry it (I did not really consider dynamite mom, relax) so it was back to the chain saw. I dug a little farther down and just chopped the stump off as far down in the hole as I could get, filled the depression in with dirt and paid a gypsy to put a hex on it not to grow again.

All of this happened between the middle of April and last week. Knowing that I wanted to put in two 5'x5' raised beds and grass seed in the rest of the newly bare spots I thought it would be "smart" to break up the compacted dirt and dig in some leaves/compost to help aerate and feed the new greenery. Well it was technically a "smart" idea, it just was not the easiest to implement. A friend loaned us a hand tiller that made getting into the top couple inches pretty easy, but the clay underneath that wasn't as easily moved, this required some shoveling. So over the course of about 3 hours I managed to get all the dirt turned and leaves/compost turned into it about 6 inches down.

Now that we had a nice base it was time to build the beds. This was much easier than I was anticipating, a few minutes with the circular saw and my 10' lengths were cut up. A few minutes later and we had some deck screws in and were ready to place the beds. The hardest part of this last step was turning in some steer manure and digging up some extra soil so as to actually have "raised" beds.

Next weekend we will put the first plants in and get the soaker hoses laid out. We are also going spread the topsoil and get the grass seed down, hopefully the weeds will take it easy until then so the grass doesn't have to compete. So, is it a garden yet, or not till next week? ;)
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