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 — 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 — 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. 🙂

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!!! 🙂

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 we’re whipping up in the kitchen, don’t we, — especially if we’re cooking when we’re hungry? It’s so hard to wait. And that’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.) We’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. We’ve got some work ahead of us still, but seeing them all cut excited me. I can’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 had’t seen her in person for months. I’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 — 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.

Gratitude Spiral: Day 361

Today, I’m grateful for turtlenecks.

No, not turtle’s necks. 🙂 Turtleneck shirts. I look forward to the cooler weather just so I can pull out my turtlenecks to wear. They’re so comfy and cozy, keeping my neck warm (since my hair is short and doesn’t cover my neck). A simple pleasure.

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 349

Today, I’m grateful for a coat of sealant on our back deck.

I put it off all summer but, thanks to a streak of warm November weather, was able to check it off my to-do list yesterday. It’s not one of my favorite jobs, but I’m grateful for the opportunity, the physical ability, and the resources to get it done.

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 339

Today, I’m grateful for the beauty of the season’s first snow.

I thought it would be a dusting of light snow, easily brushed away when I was done admiring it. But it’s wet and somewhat heavy. At least it’s not deep. And it’s fun to watch out the window.

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 322

Today, I’m grateful for yesterday’s soaking rain.

For much of this year, New England has been suffering a drought. We’ve lacked a steady dose of rain, which has been hard on gardens and lawns, not to mention its effect on wells, or rivers & streams. Yesterday’s rain doesn’t erase the drought, but the thirsty ground sure had a good drink! And for that I’m grateful.

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 279

Today, I’m grateful for this first day of September.

In this strange year, where summer is passing quietly by, I welcome the cooler mornings and the change in the air that means fall is coming. No school-aged children live in my house, but still, the delay of the school year due to Covid-19 makes it feel like I’m holding my breath sometimes. In any case, I’m thankful for this new month that will hopefully bring some changes.

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 263

Today, I’m grateful for cooler weather after a heat wave.

I think we chose one of the hottest weeks of the summer this year for our New England vacation (a strange, social-distancing kind of vacation). Now, we’re back home and the air has changed. The cooler temperatures make it much more enticing to head outside for a walk or to do some much-needed yard-work.

What are you grateful for today?

Gratitude Spiral: Day 202

Today, I’m grateful for beautiful June weather.

This time of year in New England, it’s possible to sleep with the windows open on a cool night and enjoy warm sunshine during the day. It’s really the perfect combination.

What are you grateful for today?