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Step 3: Dirt

21 May

Dirt. When you have a yard, you think you’re the queen of all dirt. Why on earth would you need MORE dirt when your empire is already full of it???

Well…as I found out removing grass from a 25 by 10 foot spot in my yard, when you dig up grass, it takes 3-5 inches of dirt with it.  And this is 100 square feet of dirt that you’ll need to replace so that you don’t have a giant unsightly hole in your lawn.

So…off to Lowes!

dirt

In case you were wondering, that’s what $200 worth of soil looks like from Lowes. It took me 2 trips in a Ford Escape to get this home, and A LOT of help from the staff at Lowes with loading it all into my car (seriously, the staff at my local Lowes are ridiculously helpful. I love it there).

I got 33 bags (33sq feet) of a good mulch-y top soil, and 12 large bags of vegetable-specific garden soil (30 sq feet). I supplemented all of this with 6-7 additional bags of topsoil and organic garden soil we had lying around the lawn from other projects.

If you’re doing the math, you’ll realize this means I only got around 70 square feet of soil.

But don’t despair! I have 6 cubic yards of mulch in my driveway thanks to the city of Alexandria! That’s wayyy more than I need for this project (in fact, way more than I need for anything…anyone want some mulch???).

This is my dirt, in my garden.

dirt2

Side note: I had wanted to try organic garden soil, but it came down to a cost issue—it cost me $80 for 30 sq feet of high quality vegetable garden soil I purchased, but it would have cost meat least twice as much to get the same amount in organic soil. I am all about organic gardening, but for a project this size the start-up cost is enormous, and wasn’t possible within my budget.

Step 1 and 2 of building a garden: Finding and Digging out a Space

18 May

Hi, I’m Erin (aka schmerin). And this is my first post about building my garden in Del Ray, Alexandria. This is cross posted from my blog, Garden and Gears.

In years past I’ve done windowsill gardening in Arlington–mostly herbs like basil, oregano, and some ill-fated pepper plants, and last year I used containers to garden on my fiancé’s townhome’s back porch.

So moving on to this year—WE RENTED A HOUSE WITH A YARD! Did I tell you? It HAS A YARD! That gets lots of sunlight! So this is my first post on how we built our garden.

Step 1 and 2 of building a garden: Finding and Digging out a Space.

Task 1: Find a location. Our backyard is a decent size, but has some weird bushes, a shed, and an odd cement path. All of which we’ve been informed by the landlord cannot be moved. So we looked around for a spot that had four qualities:

  1. Wouldn’t be an eyesore for the neighbors.
  2. Got plenty of sunlight during the day.
  3. Large enough to be around 20 feet long and 5-10 feet wide.
  4. Was easy to block the dog from getting into.

The spot that fit all of these qualifications ended up being on the west side of the lawn, behind the shed.

Task 2: Realize there is grass where the garden should be, but no grass in the center of the lawn (?!?!?). In case you were wondering, digging up and moving grass is really tough. Day 1 and about 6-8 hrs of work resulted in a 10×10 foot hole, and a nicely patched spot in the center of the yard.

Day 1 of digging

Day 1 of digging

Task 3: Add fencing. This step I’d actually recommend doing after digging the hole since the fencing blocks the shovel from getting to the right angles, but my fiancé and neighbor went ahead and did it at this point anyways. The green fencing is from Lowes, and is attached to 8-10 green stakes. It looks nice, and isn’t an eyesore for the neighbors. The gate was not built yet at this point.  The total size of the fenced in space is 25 by 10 feet.

Chris and Dave building the fence

Chris and Dave building the fence

Task 4: Keep digging.

Still digging...

Still digging…

Task 5: FINISH DIGGING! Digging took 3 days of 6-8 hrs each, spread over 3-4 weeks. Digging up grass is really tough work, especially on 80 degree days with full sun, which seemed to be every weekend.

FINISHED DIGGING!

FINISHED DIGGING!

Next post…DIRT.

Lean On Me: A Support Story

14 May

I’m dedicated to updating at least once a week, more if possible. Lots of exciting things going on upstairs!

ShmErin and I went to Campbell and Ferrara on Rt 1 in Alexandria a few days ago to pick up some strawberry pots that were on sale…50% off! We got pots and plants. The guy who took care of us was VERY friendly and helpful. I feel like a dope for not getting his name, but I’m going to tell them he was great. I got two strawberry plants, two peppers, and two yellow squash plants. Now, the squash were really four, as each one had two little guys in the pot. I knew that separating them might not be the best idea and I could damage both, but I thought that if they were apart they’d do better. Also, tearing the roots a tiny bit would stimulate new growth, but I didn’t know if this would be too much for them. I risked it. It worked. The morning after planting, all four squash plants were happy and looked great. Here they are in their new tank with two red bell peppers and one hot pepper. Marigolds all over to help keep bugs away.

Photo May 12, 7 49 46 PM

This is the first year I have strawberries. They also like their new pots. The guy at the shop said they have shallow root systems, which is why they do well in pots. I don’t know if i put them in correctly. I basically put their runners through the soil and into the other holes in the pot. I think I was supposed to plant the actual runner itself so it develops its own root system, as that’s what happens when they’re in the ground. We’ll see what happens. I might have to do some plant surgery in a few weeks. However, the few little berries that were there earlier ripened quickly and both plants have made new leaves in the last three days.

Photo May 12, 6 08 20 PM

Tomatoes REALLY like their new buckets. They look much better now that they’re in their new homes. I debated staking them vs caging them. Cages would go out too much and take up too much room on the roof. I decided to use 6′ bamboo stakes and tie them on top. Not quite a cage, not quite a stake. It won’t do much until the plant is larger, but it will keep them mobile and I won’t take up too much space from my neighbors. We are excited about having greenery in another corner of the roof.

Photo May 12, 7 58 57 PM Photo May 12, 5 47 44 PM

Finally, I couldn’t figure out how to trellis the cucumbers and squash. In the past I’ve allowed the cucumbers to just hang over the sides of the tank, but this year I want to keep them up. I couldn’t really find anything that would work well in the tanks, so I eventually figured I should build one. I used last year’s tomato stakes and came up with this. (Really glad I’m able to reuse some of them, they were $3 each and I had a bunch of them.) I put nails in to two 6′ stakes to act as “shelves” and then tied on horizontal posts using coated wire in a cris-cross form. worked really well. The vertical stakes are very secure and will hold a lot of weight from the plants pulling on them. I’m going to redo it and make it slightly larger to get the outer plants, and then I’ll make a second one for the cucumbers in the other tank.

Photo May 12, 8 18 46 PM Photo May 12, 8 36 48 PM

Finally, I don’t really have a need for something like this for herbs right now, but how perfect would this set up be for a small garden space or even a balcony? Saw it at Lowe’s. Pretty self explanatory. Plastic pots drilled onto a folding trellis.

Photo May 11, 5 44 29 PM Photo May 11, 5 44 34 PM

You Say Tomato, I say, Well I Also Say Tomato

11 May

It’s official, people!

Tomatoes are here to stay!

Most importantly, I remember my Grandpa Ben growing tomatoes in 5 gallon buckets in our commercial building in NYC, using any available outside space with sun. I don’t remember if he was ever successful. (I’ll have to ask my father about that.) But, he kept trying. I think he’d be proud of me for this year’s garden. 

Here are my babies, nice and big, waiting to be transplanted. I can’t believe I was actually able to start tomatoes from seed. First time! I’m really happy.

Photo May 10, 6 25 26 PMI drilled holes in the bottom of each bucket for drainage. I think I wound up making 15 holes in each. Then I put a few inches of bits of styrofoam on the bottom, also to assist with drainage. Remember, we put a whole lot of styrofoam into the tanks early on. I was able to use up a lot of left over stuff I already had. It’s very difficult to find a styrofoam recycler, and I really didn’t want to just trash it.

Photo May 10, 6 28 07 PM   Photo May 10, 6 51 03 PM

Then I filled the buckets with a mix of organic potting mix, organic garden soil, and left over dried, spent beer grains from Farmer Russell. It helps with drainage, too. It looks like there’s a lot of grain in here, but I wound up adding a lot more soil mix.

Photo May 10, 7 05 26 PMIn go the peat pots. Plants are buried up to their first set of real leaves. All of those fuzzies on the stem will turn into roots. I left enough space and there will be enough settlement in the buckets that I will be able to add at least another inch of potting soil in a few more weeks, covering more of each plant’s stem and encouraging more new root growth.

Photo May 10, 7 22 16 PMAnd we’re all in! I have six plants in total, but two of them are going to ShmErin later this week. Here are my four all finished, and then in their new corner. If this space doesn’t work out, it will be easy enough to move them. I will stake the plants in the next week or two. Not sure if I want to do three stakes or a cage for each one.

Photo May 10, 7 25 12 PM   Photo May 10, 7 40 54 PM

Also, side note. I was wearing shorts and a tshirt upstairs last night as I worked, as it was quite hot today. Totally got a bit of a skin reaction from the potting mixes. I forgot that that happens to me. Oops. Had to shower again before bed. Oops again.

New Homes for Little Plants!

8 May

Plants have been moving into their new homes over the past week or so.

I finally moved the parsley and basil into the pot with some other herbs. They seem to be loving it!  I saw that the cotton flannel I put in the bottom of the pots to prevent dirt from falling through was starting to disintegrate, and some roots were able to pop through. Very happy there. Also helped keep everything together.

Photo May 03, 3 36 16 PM   Photo May 03, 3 30 57 PM

Here they are, all together.

Photo May 05, 5 24 51 PM

Baby cucumbers moved into their tank, too. Only four of the six survived, so I’m starting two more inside. I hope they’ll be able to move out in about two weeks. That will also help me stagger the harvest a bit.

Photo May 04, 4 25 25 PM   Photo May 04, 7 49 52 PM

All six tomatoes are doing very well! Three red cherry plants, three yellow pear. They are now living outside all the time, except when it’s really windy. The peat pots are very light. Also I am watering them twice a day because they dry out super fast. I still need to drill drainage holes in the white 5 gallon buckets that I now use for water so I can put the tomatoes into them. I think being in the smaller containers will also help them retain a bit more water. We’ll see. I bought potting soil and garden soil. I’ll do a mix of that for them.

Photo May 06, 6 44 11 PM   Photo May 04, 4 14 08 PM

Dumped one bucket of compost onto the tanks last week before I put the cucumbers in, so I was able to start a new batch of compost. It’s already looking REALLY good, lots of creatures flying around and eating all the whatever. Very active.

Photo May 02, 7 33 19 PM

Finally, visitors. Apparently we have wasps up there, but Farmer Russell assures me they’re beneficial. I promise to stay out of their way. So far I’ve just seen one at a time and they don’t seem to be interested in me at all. I’ve checked the whole roof for nests, so we’re clear there. Plus, they’re gone by the evening.

Photo May 07, 11 08 06 AM   Photo May 03, 3 25 13 PM

A Slow Start to 2015

29 Apr

We’ve had a few nights in the 40s in the past week, so I’m glad I haven’t put anything out yet in the garden.

However, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been preparing behind the scenes. I started some seedlings inside a few weeks ago, and they’re actually looking fairly decent. I know I said I wouldn’t have tomatoes this year, but I’ve decided I’ll put them in the buckets and not the tanks. One plant per. I have 6 little tomato seedlings now, three yellow pears and three red cherries. I also started 6 cucumbers, but only four are looking good. I’ve been taking them outside during the day and they sleep inside. I hope to have them all planted in about two weeks.

Photo Apr 28, 1 34 07 PM I decided to put a bunch of herbs into the huge pot I used have only for rosemary. Now rosemary, tarragon, and sage are sharing a space. I will eventually add in the parsley I started several months ago, and possibly the basil. They are now living in the hallway, getting direct sunlight every day.

Photo Apr 20, 4 01 18 PMPhoto Apr 19, 4 05 07 PM

ShmErin got a huge dumpster full of mulch from the City of Alexandria. Wound up being a liiiiiittle bit more than she had anticipated! I took some to beef up the tanks. I’m going to add the compost on to it this weekend, too.

Photo Apr 19, 3 58 23 PMPhoto Apr 19, 3 58 26 PM

Finally, my neighbors and I bought some new solar LEDs. I put them up last night all along the fence. They look great.

Photo Apr 28, 9 25 45 PM

More Window Sill Lovelies

6 Apr

I think we’re past the point of freezing, but who knows. We had a frost in May last year. I’m going to mix my new compost into the tanks this weekend and do some seeding. I’ll start with radishes, cucumbers, and carrots. I don’t think I’m going to go for tomatoes this year, as they require a lot more water than I think I can handle.

But good news! ShmErin will be joining us on the blog! She and her fiance moved in to an adorable 90+ year old house and they are working on their yard. She will be chronicling here.

Until then, here is my window sill garden! Basil and parsley are the same from TWO MONTHS AGO. They haven’t gotten much larger, but they’re still happy. In the middle is the celery. I soaked the root end of a left over bunch of celery and it started to grow new leaves in a few days, then eventually some little roots. Yesterday I potted it. We’ll see how it does.

Window sill garden

Window sill garden

Here is the new celery…

Photo Apr 05, 11 39 05 AM Photo Apr 05, 11 36 49 AM

Sprout Talk – Chia Edition

27 Feb

More snow on the ground this morning. I’ve been coaxing seeds to open up and spread their green-ness in order to make me happy and increase the oxygen in my place. This post has been sitting for about 10 days while I watched everything grow. Some great success, some mild success.

Three weeks ago I planted a pot of chia seeds because that’s all I had here in my kitchen. I normally just toss them into smoothies and such, sometimes make a pudding out of them, etc. A sprinkling of seed, some water, and in a few days, TINY GREEN CHIA SPROUTS! Too much soil for eating, though. Chia sprouts When seeds germinate by having a soak in water, they release sugars and proteins to help nourish the wee baby plant in its first few days, changing the flavor and making the seed and new sprout itself very healthy. (By the way, this is also the first step in making beer. Germinated grains are dried, milled, and added to water. The newly freed sugars feed the yeast that’s then added to ferment. This was my old life. Message me if you want to talk alcohol production!) Because they grow in just a few days and don’t require planting OR light, they’re great for winter snacking. I don’t know why I didn’t think to do it earlier.

Looking online I found several sprouting trays for purchase and decided on a cute $18 one from Amazon that is 6″ in diameter. Hm…. I looked into making my own and found directions for trays and jars. Both would take just a few minutes to assemble. I had everything I needed for three small stacking trays using cleaned take out containers, so I went that way.

I drilled lots of drainage holes in the two shorter containers and one of the larger ones and carefully cleaned off all of the plastic “shards” from the drilling. The undrilled containers act as drip trays. Then I took one of the lids and cut out most of the inside so I had only the rim left over. I attached the lid to an large undrilled container, and the large drilled container fit right in. Then the smaller drilled container inside that, then a full lid, so I had two “levels” there. The second small drilled container fit into the last large undrilled container, then a lid.

3 large, 2 small, 3 lids

3 large, 2 small, 3 lids

Lots of holes for drainage

Lots of holes for drainage

3 large, 2 small, 3 lids

3 large, 2 small, 3 lids

 

 

 

 

 

 

I folded some paper towels and cut them into circles to fit inside the containers over the drainage holes. Two dampened circles per tray, unless you’re using really thick paper. Seeds need to soak for a few hours (or overnight) before hanging out to sprout. Rinse them, then add to them to the sprouter. Chia seeds, you may know, get somewhat gelatinous. After they soaked for a bit and were good and gooey, I spooned a decent amount into each of the three trays, added a bit of water to the top and gently pressed on the lid. (I wound up not using them to allow for better air flow, just let them sit on top w/o snapping it on.) The excess water dripped down to the bottom trays, so there was no worry about over watering.

Soaked chia seeds

Soaked chia seeds

With paper towel filters

With paper towel filters

Small inside large, inside large with cut out lid.

Small inside large, inside large with cut out lid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, it worked, and it didn’t. They sprouted, but before they did that, they stunk. I mean, rotting fish stunk. There was plenty of airflow, and I even removed the tops altogether. I’m happy to say the smell went away after they were fully sprouted. There seems to be a sweet spot in the growth where the sprouts were tastiest. Once they had a set of big green leaves (and by big I mean about 1/4″ each) they got bitter. What was pretty cool though was that the roots bonded with the paper towel, making something of a chia mat.

Photo Feb 19, 11 53 40 PM

Stinky, maggot looking sprouts.

Photo Feb 26, 3 56 33 PM

Roots embedded in paper towel

Photo Feb 26, 3 57 24 PM

Roots in paper towel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Feb 26, 3 56 06 PM

These guys wound up getting really big! 2/26

Photo Feb 26, 3 55 50 PM

Final day, 2/26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the first part of my sprouting experiment. I also used quart sized canning jars to sprout mung beans, adzuki beans, and buckwheat groats. More of that in the next post.

Snowy Rooftop Morning

17 Feb

I went up to the roof ONLY to take some pretty pictures of our snowfall from last night. We got about 6″ here in in Arlington, a decent amount. We might get some more in a day or two. Our temps are VERY low, though, in the single digits at night and teens and 20s during the day.

Decent snowfall

Decent snowfall

Here are some bright morning photos. I really liked the way the snow fell in between the slats in the deck.

Untouched by footprints!

Untouched by footprints!

Clear sky!

Clear sky!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The garden was covered in a blanket of fluffy snow. Finally, we get lovely snow! Not really that good for snowballs or snowmen, but easy enough to shovel and clean off of stuff. So far this season we’ve had heavy, wet snow or “wintry mix” that just isn’t nice.

Image 9

Tank

Tank

Tank

Tank

 

 

 

Another shot of the slats.

Decking

Decking

 

Shhhhh! The thyme is sleeping!

Thyme

Thyme

Happy Tu B’Shevat! (Some Indoor Plant Chat)

4 Feb

Happy Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “birthday of the trees”!

In honor of this fun holiday, a bit of indoor seed starting chat.

I’ve been growing seedlings inside, mostly herbs, not necessarily for consumption but more for sport, if you will. Right now I have ginger, basil, parsley.

I make ginger beer. Right now for fun, but we’ll see what happens with it. Anyway, I wanted to see if I could grow my own ginger. I started with a few pieces of organic ginger root, left them in a bag in the fridge, and when they grew “nubs,” I planted them in a pot. It grew very quickly and sprouted several stalks. Now it’s just a pretty ornamental. Kind of looks like bamboo, and it has a scent that is bright, almost grassy citrus. Smells very clean. I’ll plant it outside in the roof garden when temps get to about 60-65F. From what I’ve read, harvest should start after about a year, enough time to let the root system grow. After all, we’re hacking off chunks of the root. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold back and let it grow. We’ll follow this ginger development over the next few months.

Ginger, about two weeks after planting.

Ginger, about two weeks after planting.

Many fragrant stalks.

Many fragrant stalks.

Ginger, happily growing today.

Ginger, happily growing today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baby basil seedlings, Dec 1, 2014

Baby basil seedlings, Dec 1, 2014

Basil today.

Basil today.

I planted some basil, too. These guys first went in in December, and they’ve barely grown since then. I just started to see a second set of leaves from the few remaining seedlings, so that’s nice. Normally by 10 weeks we’d be significantly larger, but we’re not outside here.

 

Parsley today, planted Dec 1, 2014

Parsley today, planted Dec 1, 2014

Same story with the parsley. Second, and some third, sets of leaves, but not that much else going on. More lanky, lazy looking parsley. I was considering letting my rabbit have at these seedlings, but I can’t let her eat my science experiment just yet!

I do have actual seed starting pots and pellets that I’ll bring out in about a month or so. I’m going to build a little seed starting box and see if I can get some plants to grow upstairs this year instead of buying ready baby plants. I’ll probably stick with herbs, but we’ll see how adventurous I’m feeling.

 

Oh, here’s my ginger beer!

Rabbit's Domain Ginger Beer!

Rabbit’s Domain Ginger Beer!

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