Garden Project: Finished. . . And Lessons Learned

It’s finished!

If you haven’t seen the beginning of this project, check out the first three posts: New Beginnings, Getting There, and So Close.

After installing all the cages on the garden beds, I took a trip to The Herb Farmacy in Salisbury, MA. It’s always fun and interesting to browse the selections in their greenhouses. They’re the gardner’s version of a candy store! I chose some tomato, cuke, zucchini, and butternut squash plants. I also picked up a couple of nasturtiums and basil.

The zucchini and cuke plants now share space in one of the tall-caged beds, beside the peas, along with one of the nasturtiums.

In the other tall-caged bed, I put the two tomato plants and the basil. It’s hard to imagine these small seedlings will fill the space I’ve given them. It’s tempting to put too much, too close together. In the past, I’ve done just that and ended up with a garden jungle! This year, I’m trusting the process. ๐Ÿ™‚

The butternut squash and the 2nd nasturtium went into one of the low-caged beds in front of the strawberries.

Meanwhile, the spinach, kale, lettuce, beets and carrots are getting bigger, although recently assaulted by a blizzard of helicopter seeds.

Finally, it was time for the finishing touches. I planted marigolds in the cinder blocks outside the beds, then laid landscape paper and spread mulch around and in-between the beds. I splurged on the final embellishments: lovely potted pink geraniums placed on paving squares at a few outside corners.

The end result is just what I envisioned (well, pretty darn close, at least) and I’m looking forward to an easier, more productive gardening season this summer. I’ll leave you with a random list of things I learned during my garden-bed-building adventure:

  1. It takes hard work to bring a plan to fruition. Sometimes it’s fun. Sometimes it’s just hard.
  2. When you go to the local home improvement store to find nails similar to the ones you had on hand, but used up, be prepared to encounter a few well-meaning males who want to explain to you that a two-by-four is really only 1 1/2″ thick. (Thank you so much. <eye roll>)
  3. If you don’t buy all the nice cedar boards that you need in one trip, they may very well be gone next time you go looking for them. (sigh)
  4. You can’t construct a perfectly square corner with two bowed boards.
  5. Hardware cloth is not cloth at all.
  6. Your math-brain may see half-inch hardware cloth as a beautifully squared grid, like graph paper, but it’s not.
  7. If the website doesn’t say SCREENED loam, it’s not.
  8. Close is good enough sometimes.
  9. There’s no shame in asking for help.
  10. It takes hard work to bring a plan to fruition… but it’s so worth it in the end. ๐Ÿ™‚

Garden Project: So Close…

One of the greatest joys of this current garden project is that I set a goal, listed the interim steps in detail, gave myself a rough timeline, and have been sticking to it. The end product is in sight. If you want to read about the beginning of the project, check out New Beginnings and Getting There.

Something was eating the strawberry plants. At first, we set the short cages over them, just to keep them safe. But now hinges and chains have been installed on the short cages making them easy to open and close. I’m not 100% sure that the bees are getting through the cage openings, so I’ve been propping them open during the day. I’m looking forward to harvesting ripened strawberries this year, instead of having to pluck them early before the chipmunks and squirrels steal them.

The third and fourth beds will house taller plants, like tomatoes and zucchini. The frames of the taller cages are shaped like four-foot staples. (I have staples on the brain after attaching so many sections of hardware cloth!) The first tall cage was installed on the third garden bed using hooks and eyes, last week. Two flat, removable panels were attach to either side and secured with a simple combination of screws and wire.

This weekend, I managed to fill the 4th bed with soil, finally deciding to screen out a good deal of rocks and debris as I did so. It made the job harder, but was certainly worth the effort. Then, with the help of my husband, we secured the 2nd tall cage to the 4th bed and installed the two flat panels to close the cage. Finally, I attached old cabinet handles to the short cages to finish them.

What a sight to see โ€” all four garden beds filled and covered and ready for the growing season.

Snow peas, potatoes, spinach, and kale have already been planted and are starting to come up. I still need to spruce up the area around the beds, but I’ve got time. In the next week or two, I’ll be taking a trip with my gardener-friend, Dawn, to the Herb Farmacy in Salisbury, MA, to pick up organic tomato and squash plants. I’m so looking forward to this new gardening adventure and hoping these new beds with their cages will make gardening a little more productive and fun.

Stay tuned for the final installment of Garden Project, when everything is planted and I’ve added the last few finishing touches. In the meantime, happy gardening! ๐Ÿ™‚

Garden Project: Getting There

In Garden Project: New Beginnings, you can find a description of the beginning of this project.

Assembling four 4′ X 8′ boxes out of cedar was only the first step. I needed these garden beds to be critter proof if they were going to serve their purpose. So, I ordered a roll of hardware cloth, which isn’t cloth at all. It’s metal fencing, similar to chicken wire, but stronger. I decided on the roll with 1/2″ mesh โ€” great for rain and sun and bees to get through, but not so for the smallest of chipmunks.

All this hardware cloth needed to be cut to size and stapled onto the bottom of the boxes as well as onto the frames of the cages (more about them in a minute). So, I bought a new wire cutter and went to town on the hardware cloth.

I had a couple of old Craftsman hand-staplers, but trying to find staples for them turned out to be more of a headache than it was worth. They seemed better suited for affixing yard-sale signs to utility poles than metal fencing to a 2″ X 6″ anyway. My daughter had a newer, more sturdy stapler. Hers was better suited for the job, but hard to use (with my small hand).

Thankfully, a neighbor stepped up and offered the use of their pneumatic staple gun. A total game-changer!

The cage designs took a little thought. They needed to be sturdy enough to hold up under the hardware cloth, but not so bulky that they’d block sunlight from the gardens. To save on both wood and fencing, I decided to make two of the cages about eighteen inches high, since they’d be protecting strawberry plants and other low plants, like carrots, beets, and leafy greens. I could even put squashes, like butternut or pumpkin, under these low cages.

Two of the cages needed to be high enough for taller plants. These would be four feet high, since that’s the width of the hardware cloth and also half the length of the boards I could buy for the cage frames. Would I do doors on the tall cages? That seemed like a lot of work and would require even more wood to frame the doors. Instead, I settled on removable front and back panels, so I could access the plants from both sides.

Picking through 1″ X 2″s and 2″ X 2″s to find the straightest ones was even harder than finding straight cedar boards. We (my daughter and I) settled for mostly straight. We quickly realized how many metal mending brackets (straight ones, L-shaped, T-shaped, and corner ones) we’d need to make these cages stable. Some brackets came with their own screws, but others left us rummaging through our own supplies of random leftover screws. We started with the low cages.

Again, the work was subject to the weather, but we managed to get the two low cages built and covered with hardware cloth. The tall cages aren’t complete, yet.

Meanwhile, the cedar boxes needed to moved off our back deck to clear a space for building the cages. The old garden still needed to be dismantled, the new beds filled, and the strawberries transplanted.

It snowed the day my order of loam and compost was supposed to be delivered. So, they delivered it the following day. The compost was in great shape, but the loam was soaked and clumped like clay. Disappointing, not to mention heavy and hard to shovel.

The snow day gave me a chance to fix a casualty of too much bending over to staple hardware cloth.

Each 4′ X 8′ garden bed took hours for me to fill by myself. The first two took a full day each. I got help with the third one. And the fourth is still sitting empty. A lot of measuring and leveling was included in placing the beds and prepping them to be filled. The yard slopes (as most yards probably do) so a two-tiered garden space made sense. I used cinder blocks that had bordered the former garden space to divide the levels.

The strawberries, which have begun to flower, have been transplanted โ€” just in time, apparently. Some animal (deer maybe?) has started nibbling. The small cages need to be attached with hinges as soon as possible.

Hopefully, in the next week or so, the tall cages will be done so the peas and a few other early crops can be started. Eventually, when all the veggies are safe in their caged beds, I’ll be able to clean up the area and top it off with some attractive mulch and flowers. Stay tuned!

Garden Project: New Beginnings

I haven’t done much blogging lately because all my creative energy has been channelled elsewhere. In other words, after a discouraging growing season in 2020, losing too many battles to the local squirrel, chipmunk, deer, and groundhog populations, I decided to go on the offensive. I’m building new garden beds.

Ideally, I wanted a totally enclosed gardening area, complete with a roof, to keep out those pesky invaders. But the price tag was absolutely laughable. So…plan B. I designed garden beds topped with cages instead. And I decided to build them myself. OK, not really all by myself. My daughter is helping me. She inherited my father’s chop saw and has it set up in her garage. She’s already used it to build a kitchen table, so I thought I’d count on her help and expertise. ๐Ÿ™‚

My design consists of 4′ X 8′ beds with cages on top. The space I cleared in my yard can fit six of these beds, but I thought I’d start with four. Finding and buying lumber was my first step.

I wanted cedar, but no place had any 2′ X 10’s or 2′ X 12’s, so I settled for 2′ X 6’s that could be stacked for the sides of the beds. Our local lumber suppliers didn’t have these either, but they were available in a neighboring state. Road trip!

Picking through lumber to find twenty-four fairly straight eight-foot boards was no easy task. We, my daughter and I, found eighteen decent boards at our first stop. Then, we travelled another fifteen minutes north to buy an additional six. My trusty fifteen-year-old minivan transported the lumber back to my daughter’s garage. There, I measured and she cut, to make sixteen eight-foot boards and sixteen four-foot ones.

I shopped around online for garden bed corners and found these metal ones at Plow and Hearth. I bought them for the finished look they’d provide, but they turned out to be the perfect way to join imperfect lumber into half-decent rectangular boxes.

But first the wood needed to be treated. I used a poly-whey, food-safe stain for the outside and a food-safe internal wood stabilizer for the remainder of each board.

Finding a few dry March days in a row, above fifty degrees fahrenheit, in New England, was a challenge, but it finally happened.

And I managed to keep all the wood dry until it was stained and stabilized and ready to assemble into garden boxes.

So far, so good! Next time, I’ll show you the cages we’re building and, when they’re all in place, I’ll show you the final product. Until then, happy spring!!! ๐Ÿ™‚

Missing…

Yesterday, I learned of the death of a writing acquaintance. I didn’t know her outside of our writing circle, but the loss still hit me. It immediately brought to mind other deaths that have impacted me in the past year. Standing outdoors in the sunshine yesterday afternoon, I looked up into the sky and the image of an escaping balloon came to me. Have you ever seen a balloon seller holding a fistful of balloon strings, only to have one balloon somehow escape and drift heavenward? The bunch of balloons that’s left behind is still colorful. But it’s changed. One balloon is missing.

The pandemic has brought significant change for us all. We talk about getting back to normal and can easily make the mistake of thinking it’ll be the same as it was before Covid-19. But there’s a global sense of grief to work through. The people I’ve lost didn’t die of Covid-19. But still, they were there before we all went into hibernation and they won’t be there when we get back together. Extended families, clubs, organizations, companies, and work places will be missing people. Not that all the missing people have died, necessarily, but they’ve pulled back, been let go, quit, or moved on. Things won’t be the same. And the best we can do is acknowledge that. And move forward.

Have you ever watched a drifting balloon climb higher and higher, until it’s no more than a tiny speck in the sky? A strange mix of loss and appreciation accompanies the sight. That’s how I feel right now, thinking about the losses of the past year. And I’m left trying to focus on appreciating every varied person and thing in my life โ€” like colorful balloons tethered together in a big beautiful bunch. ๐Ÿ™‚

 

A Taste Or Two Of Spring

You know that little thrill of licking brownie batter off the spatula just after you put the pan in the oven? (Oh, is that just me??) Anyway, we all like to sample a bit of whatever weโ€™re whipping up in the kitchen, donโ€™t we, โ€” especially if weโ€™re cooking when we’re hungry? Itโ€™s so hard to wait. And thatโ€™s how this past week felt to me with the tease of a couple of warm March days. I could taste spring!

My first taste involved one of my daughters and the mitre saw she inherited from my Dad. (Stay with me here.) Weโ€™re going to be building new garden beds for my backyard this spring. Several weeks ago, we took a road trip to the only two Home Depots in the area that carried the cedar two-by-sixes we needed. Long story, short, we spent an hour or so cutting some into four-foot lengths and trimming the rest to eight feet. Weโ€™ve got some work ahead of us still, but seeing them all cut excited me. I canโ€™t wait for gardening season!

The second taste involved another of my daughters. She lives almost two hours away and works as a baker. For both of those reasons, we hadโ€™t seen her in person for months. Iโ€™d been waiting for decent weather on one of her days off, so we could spend some time outdoors together. Last Friday, the promise of temperatures in the high fifties, or even maybe sixty degrees, was just what we needed. And it did indeed turn out to be a beautiful day!

We hiked a trail at a local state reservation. We watched for birds and talked a bit about photography as she tried out the new camera she got for Christmas. It was midday, so bird activity was minimal. After walking for a while, we actually thought we might not see any. But then a few nuthatches and chickadees flew right across in front of us and sat chirping in the trees for several minutes. We walked on and saw a large black-ish bird fly by at a distance. When we got to the spot, we discovered a pileated woodpecker. A second one flew by a few minutes later. Even though they moved too fast and stayed partially out of view, I took one poorly focused picture โ€” enough for proof, if not for hanging on a wall. All in all it was fun and left me pining for more warm spring days.

An Empty Drawer

Spring is around the corner. It could be the warmer weather, or the extended hours of daylight, or the season of Lent that many of us celebrate, but something about this time of year moves us to want to clear the clutter from our lives. Spring is a season for purging, whether your clutter is physical or of a more spiritual nature. It’s just that time of year.

The other day, I tackled my bureau. Well, no, I didn’t physically take it down. But I faced the once-organized-but-totally-neglected mess in its drawers. I can’t remember the last time I put on a pair of pantyhose, yet I’d managed to stuff at least a dozen pairs into a shoebox-sized bin in the top drawer. Fashionable scarves that I haven’t worn once since this pandemic began were squished into a second bin. Socks and belts and random boxed jewelry filled in the spaces between the bins. And that was just the top drawer.

Everything came out of the drawers. I vacuumed them out and then neatly put back what I decided to keep. I could go into detail about how I made those choices, but that’s a subject for another day. And not the point I want to make today. Instead, what I found interesting, was that when I’d finished, more than half of the large, deep bottom drawer was empty. And my immediate impulse was to figure out what I should put in there. Surely I had other spaces that I could clean out and better organize, transferring some of their contents to this mostly empty drawer.

But I left it mostly empty, instead.

What was it about an empty drawer that made me uncomfortable or dissatisfied? Why do we always need to fill the empty spaces? I don’t think there’s an empty drawer or shelf anywhere in my house. Why is that? I saw an ad on tv the other day for a closet-design company. The poor people in the ad needed help because they had too much stuff and no where to put it, so the closet designers solved their problem by creating a wonderfully organized space for them. Now they had room for all their stuff. And more! How satisfying. But, I thought, what if they just got rid of some of their stuff instead? We’re so programmed to not consider that option. But, it is an option.

I wonder, if you and I looked around our homes today, would we find an empty drawer or shelf or cabinet or closet or tabletop? Or do we just spread our stuff into every available space, buying something because it will fill that one empty spot? How would you feel if you emptied one of these spaces and left it empty? Would it feel great, at first, but then feel like an itch that needed to be scratched? A void that needed to be filled? Why? I’m not trying to answer that question here. I just find the question very interesting.

You?

 

Off The Hook

I started writing a different blog entry today. I’ve been on a weekly blogging streak since the end of November and felt compelled to get something out today. But the piece I was writing got so bogged down in heavy questions, without a lot of satisfying answers, so I left it for another day.

Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to do that. I’d have forced myself to plod along miserably until I’d made my point and finished my task. But, life is short, time is precious, and I decided it’s ok to let myself off the hook once in a while. It’s one small step in learning to take better care of myself.

What about you? When was the last time you let yourself off the hook for something? With no guilt allowed? Beating yourself up for what you haven’t done is highly overrated, you know. Nobody wins.

So, instead, I’ll say: It’s Sunday afternoon, the last day of February. The snow cover outside is shrinking, and I actually saw green daffodil tips poking out of an exposed patch of garden earlier. Spring is coming. And I’m good with that. ๐Ÿ™‚

A Lengthening Of Days

Lent. Literally, the lengthening of sun-hours each day as we emerge from the darkness of winter. Light emerges from darkness, and in Lent we acknowledge the darkness of both individual struggles and societal difficulties.

The whole world is emerging, slowly, from the dark grip of a pandemic. We share in this global experience, yet we each have our individual challenges, ones that may have been thrust into focus by the shifting tide of what “normalcy” means. For some, life has become an overwhelming daily battle on the front lines of this disease. For others, it’s been a time of withdrawal, swallowing losses in rapid succession. For some, it’s become a season of reflection and assessment. A friend recently confessed to me that it’s given her time to reflect on her use of time. And I think that’s worth looking at.

How did you and I spend our time before this pandemic hit? Were our activities rewarding and fulfilling? Did we make time for things that we professed to be important? Or were we overwhelmed with busy-ness? Have you had time to ask yourself how things might be different as you emerge from the isolation of quarantining and social distancing? I know it’s a question I need to ask myself. If we take a moment to be quiet, away from distractions, and really face that question, are we brave enough to listen for the answers? If we are, the answers are there, I believe. God speaks in that quiet. And if you don’t believe in God, the quiet will answer anyway. God, or the deep truth that lives in the stillness at the center of who you are, will offer guidance. The challenge is being willing to listen. This is light emerging from darkness. This is what it means to live a Lenten journey.

Vaccine Success

Yesterday, I took my almost-eighty-five-year-old mother for her first dose of the Covid vaccine. What a relief to know she’s on her way to better protection from this nasty virus.

Signing up for the appointment was somewhat frustrating, in that each time I’d run through the preregistration questions, I’d get to the end and my chosen slot would no longer be available. I’d have to start over, answering the same questions again. I finally got wise and skipped ahead, over the next available time slot, and managed to secure her an appointment. That was a few weeks ago. I hear the Massachusetts website has been upgraded since then.

Anyway, we arrived a few minutes early to the vaccination site โ€” a hotel about a twenty minute drive from her home. Everything ran smoothly, starting with the officers who directed the cars entering and exiting the parking lot. The building entrance was a long walk from the parking lot for an elderly person using a walker, so the first officer directed me to the front curb where a second officer helped me get my mother out of the car and set her up with her walker. Then he escorted her into the building while I parked.

Inside, signs marked our way toward the hotel ballroom which held a dozen or more vaccination stations. Chairs were set out along the way, from the front door to the ballroom, for anyone needing to sit for a minute. At the entrance to the ballroom, we were directed to the left, to one of many rows of three chairs, where people waited to be called to a station. We waited no more than a few minutes, just enough time for my mother to remove her coat. Vaccination station #2 waved their sign and beckoned us to them.

The vaccination itself felt a little anticlimactic. I guess I wanted cheers or maybe music and fireworks. Nothing. So, I’ll now provide my own:

I’d been hearing about the new “buddy” proposal in Massachusetts, where the one who brings the eligible person would also be offered the vaccine. That plan hadn’t been discussed yet at the time I’d made my mother’s appointment, but I’d heard that some “buddies” were being offered the vaccine on the spot, even without their own appointments. I wrestled with the question of whether or not I’d take the vaccine if offered. I’m not in one of the high-risk groups. So many people need it more than I do. I probably won’t be eligible for months to come. What should I do? After reading a NY Times op-ed about this very dilemma, I decided that I’d take it, if offered. Well, they didn’t offer. So, no fireworks for me yet.

Before we left the vaccination station, they scheduled an appointment for my mother’s second dose, writing it on a small card that serves as her proof of vaccination. We were directed to the far end of the ballroom for observation. Again, we took seats in one of many three-chaired rows and waited the required fifteen minutes, along with many others who’d just received the vaccine. We’d actually been given a Post-It note with the time of our allowed departure written on it. When our time was up, my mother asked, “Now what?” The significance of the experience seemed somewhat lost on her and she was relieved to hear that it was time to go home.

The whole experience gave me hope. Hope that someday most of us will be vaccinated. Hope that fewer people will be sickened, debilitated, or killed by this disease. In the meantime, I’ll continue to do my part by wearing my mask, washing my hands, and practicing social-distancing. And reminding my mother to do the same. ๐Ÿ™‚