Monday, March 14, 2011

Spring fever

I gardened!

It's probably dumb, because we have yet another series of rain or snow storms coming in this week, but oh well - if I lose $2 worth of seeds, I'll live.

My friend M has a silver poplar in her front yard. It sends up tons of little suckers every year. She usually cuts them out and throws them away, but last fall I asked her to save them for me. Today seemed like a good day to plant them, so I went over and we dug them up and I took them home.

I'm putting them in the DMZ, the area between the perimeter fence and the horse-safe hotwire fence. It's about 10' wide so there's plenty of room for the little saplings to spread out. (The internet assures me that silver poplars aren't poisonous to horses.) They grow very fast, and they seem pretty hardy, so hopefully I'll have a decorative forest in not too many years.

I dug each little treeling a hole, filled the hole mostly full with compost, then shoved the tree in and covered it with soil. I hope the compost holds water a little better so these guys can go a little longer between waterings.

Once I had all of them in the ground, I lined my raised bed with plastic, then filled it with dirt. I alternated thin layers of compost and sand-dirt, then squatted down and really worked the layers together with my hands. I pulled out a bunch of non-compost crap (nails and sagebrush roots and bits of plastic) and a bunch of itty bitty grass shoots. Then I got really excited and planted some stuff - lettuce, spinach, radishes, broccoli, and turnips. I want to succession-plant the salad veggies anyway, so I did tiny plantings of them, and I planted a rather modest amount of broccoli and turnips. All told, I only used about 1/3 of the bed.

I don't appear to have any hand garden tools so I, uh, used a fork. A kitchen fork. It works quite well for making seed holes in fluffy prepared beds!

Then I stapled some black plastic over the whole shebang. It should keep my little seeds from freezing if it does freeze, keep the moisture in, and heat the soil if the sun ever comes back out. My earliest sprout date is 5 days from now, so I'll pull the plastic off of the bottom third later this week. Five days is Friday - but right now the low on Friday is forecast to be well below freezing. Saturday I'll be away at Rides of March, and there's no point in pulling the plastic when I get home Saturday night, so... maybe Sunday morning? I dunno what to do!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Fence rebuild

Yesterday the Leaning Fence of Pisa gave up the ghost and collapsed entirely.

Very distressing! It's not like I wander around naked, and the neighbor's house doesn't even have windows on that side, but I like having a fence there, dammit. I priced out various configurations of new fence then headed to Lowe's today and bought replacement materials.

$194 got me a pile of boards and fasteners.

Check out these clever things! (and yes, my house really is bright blue-y aqua.)

They (theoretically) obviate the need to dig a 2' deep post hole. You dig a relatively shallow and wide hole, then bury the bottom half in concrete. The 4x4 post bolts in to the top half. I oriented the gizmos so that the top flanges face the wind - it should help this thing work better if it's going to work at all.

My neighbor, on the lee of the fence, has WAY more land than I do. Unfair! The grooves in the concrete should hopefully channel rain/snow water away from the posts and help them last longer.

I'll water the ground around the brackets and leave them alone for at least three days. Hopefully the next post on the fence will be in the middle of next week and it'll show a finished fence - it's only about 20' to replace, so it won't take long.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Fabulous garden

We always had a garden when I was a kid, and ever since I moved out I've wanted to have one again. This is my first chance! Not in fertile Mississippi soil, with seasons I instinctively understand and plenty of rain. Nope. Out here in Nevada, in a sandpit backyard, with the wild-west weather and the short growing season.

I'm actually not complaining about the sand. My friend four blocks downhill has 12" of silt on a caliche base - she'll have deep sucking mudpuddles til May. At least I've got well-drained sand, enriched with a little humus, and I do own a very large hair and manure producing machine. Sand + compost = great dirt!


I started seriously trying to figure out how to garden when we bought the house last August. I've been googling off and on ever since then, trying to figure out when you plant stuff here. Last night, I finally found it! If you are trying to garden in the Reno / Tahoe area of Nevada, here's the pdf you've been looking for: UNR's "Getting Started with a Vegetable Garden." (Theoretically) reliable frost-free dates! Growing season! When to plant what stuff!!

I was so excited to find that - and realize that I wasn't actually too late - that I ran out and built my first raised bed. Well, I might not have been quite so excited if it wasn't such a lovely day - it got into the 60s, my lovely sand has dried out, and it's light til almost 6 now.


I've spent six months dithering about what to make the walls of the beds out of. I've priced out fir, redwood, railroad ties, and cinderblocks. I've agonized over sizing and height. And today I just went and raided the woodpile behind the barn and knocked together the biggest thing I could build.

They're 2x6" cedar boards that spent who knows how many years behind the barn. They used to be a deck - there's some paint and stain still visible on them, and the ends of the boards have nail holes. But they haven't quite given their all yet, and I think they should gracefully retire as garden beds. I screwed them to some 3x4" pallet boards that were also in the pile, and I leveled the bed. It's built into a slight slope. I cut the pallet boards with legs that extend about 6 more inches into the ground.

I wanted beds that were 3-4' wide, and the most efficient use of my boards turned out to be 43". I kind of wish I could've built real raised beds, maybe 2' off the ground, but this will do. I've got enough 2x6's to make one more bed, then I've got enough 3"x4" pallet boards to make one even shorter bed. I've also got a bunch of 1x12" shelving boards, but I don't know how long a 3/4" thick board will last. And I think three beds will be enough for my first year gardening. :)

Is there an efficient way to mix compost with existing sand? Should I shovel out all the sand and then layer compost-sand-compost-sand and fork it all together, or is there a better way?

Has anybody tried that Square Foot Gardening thing? It seems really well suited to my situation - tiny beds, lots of soil amendment, irrigation is essential.

What should I plant? I know I want to put in a permanent herb garden - that's one reason I want three beds. Of course I will try tomatoes, but they're hard to grow out here. I must grow carrots to feed to the horse that provides the manure. I'm not going to try corn - not enough space, and I think the wind would demolish it. Definitely bush beans. Definitely squash and zucchini. Definitely radishes and baby lettuce. Maybe turnips. Maybe broccoli and cabbage, but I know they're all brassicas and I have to rotate them carefully.

If I manage to grow tomatoes, and the devil tomatoworms find me, I am going to make my friend come kill them. Tomato worms give me the heebie jeebies like nothing else. Maybe I will catch a chicken and make the chicken eat the worm.

Sometimes I just patch things

I try to only talk about the beautiful yet affordable projects I undertake, because it's much nicer to pretend that any house issue can be fixed with a coat of paint and some clever trim. But some problems are larger, and of course things break with no regard to timing.

We've got a slimy cesspool broken above-ground swimming pool in the backyard. A couple days after we closed on the house, we plugged the filter unit in and the magic blue smoke came out and the filter was no more. We decided not to replace the filter - above-ground pools have a finite life and don't really add to the value of the house. And we're on a well. In the desert. It's kinda dumb.

Anyway, everything else was breaking or malfunctioning and I didn't get the damn thing totally drained before winter, so now it really is a slimy cesspool. Homeowners' insurance requires that our attractive nuisance swimming pool be fenced off with locked gates. We scrambled to get the backyard technically "fenced" - please enjoy this shot of a chain link fence ziptied to the existing fence to cover a random hole.

Classy, I know. Anyway. The double gates by the garage broke in the last windstorm. So did about 18' of the fence on the woodpile side of the house. The whole privacy fence is pretty precarious, and the gate latch board broke. The fence on the woodpile side had a dry-rotted post that gave up the ghost in a blizzard a couple weeks back - I watched it slowly creak sideways in the wind. Poor fence!

I measured for the woodpile fence, then went around and checked the gates. I only needed one 1-by plank to fix the gate, so I checked the barn and lucked out!

Here's the repaired re-locked gate. You can see that I didn't even bother to rehang the handle - it's got a latch on the other side and a lock on the latch and that's good enough.

Yes, the replacement board is too short. It gaps at the top and bottom. It's hard to care, when the tops of the two gates lean against each other because of this:

The board and backing post are split and there's like one carriage bolt holding the top hinge on. It's really hard to care about this - there is NO easy fix. All the boards are incredibly dried out and split from the weather, we don't use the gate, and we only need the fence to be there to keep the insurance company from freaking out and dropping us. As soon as I finish draining the pool I can trash the liner, recycle the aluminum, and get it off our insurance.

We're tossing around a bunch of ideas for what to do with the space when the pool is gone. It'll be some kind of outdoor lounging and/or cooking area - maybe a chiminea, maybe just the grill and some chairs?

Until then, well, it's locked away from suicidal neighborhood children.