Monday, April 30, 2012

4/30 garden update

Time for a garden update! I've been working in fits and starts out in the garden, and have made some slow, slog-y progress. It's enjoyable in that way that hard work is satisfying, though it's a little frustrating because as much as I wanted this to be a family project, it's just not yet. This probably won't be a surprise to anyone but my dumb ass, but grunt-work gardening is just not a good fit for a two-year-old. I tried letting Nico hang out with me in the garden last Monday while I worked, and he spent his time asking for my adult-sized shovel (over and over), dumping out a pot of strawberry sprouts while my back was turned, tripping over stuff, and (once I relented and let him pick up my shovel) knocking bricks off the raised bed as I was trying to build it.

In exasperation, I finally set him on the outside of the fence so I could finish the last bit of the raised bed across the back of the garden, only to have him stand there sobbing "Come inside! I come inside!" while I worked. I thought to myself, This is stupid. This was supposed to be our project together, not something I do while he gets excluded and cries. We ended up going inside, having a snack, doing a craft, and taking a nap. I went back out later once MB was home to keep Nico entertained and got the dirt in the big raised bed. That evening I also I planted three tomato sprouts (a gift from evilducky) in the far right section and bean and pea seeds in one half of the center section. I also covered the previously-planted strawberry bed with straw. Eight of the original nine plants have survived so far. Since then, two of the tomato plants haven't been doing so well, but one looks good. We'll see how it turns out, I guess.

Some pictures of the work that was done before today: original raised bed cleaned out for strawberries
pile of free bricks, waiting to have the mortar chipped off
awesome little wheelbarrow, scored on freecycle
hosta plants as big as Nico, with an annoying proclivity for crowding the sidewalk all summer long
leaves hacked off so I could get to the base of the gargantuan hosta to dig it up
Hosta relocated to side-yard landscaping. The second unruly plant was gifted to J-Dog. If you hear later about a hosta eating Chicago, please know that I was in no way involved.
Strawberry plants in the ground with blueberry bushes in front (a gift from J-Dog). Two days later, one strawberry plant had apparently been eaten and I spent 45 minutes installing a makeshift fence to keep rabbits out of the garden.
big mess on the left side; Lab mix for scale
brush cleared out to make space for the raised bed extension

attempt at rabbit-proofing the corner

Though it's official nickname is -- deservedly -- the world's ugliest garden, it's also quickly becoming the Garden That Free Shit Built. So far all the bricks, the fence wire, the blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, and the tomatoes have been gifts or obtained through freecycle / craigslist. This allows us to stretch our not-huge garden budget a lot further and to feel like smug hippie recyclers. Hooray!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Garden Reclamation

I had decided to just let the garden go again this year. Last year I cleared and landscape-fabricked half of it before it got too hot and I gave up, and then I never ended up planting anything. I figured I could let it sit one more year and re-evaluate next year, but then Nico developed a sudden fascination with digging in the dirt. It started on a walk one day with my dad, when they stopped by to visit a friend of Dad's in the neighborhood and Nico was allowed to dig around in the guy's front porch planter. All the way home that day, he chirped in the backseat, "Play in the dirt! Play in the dirt with Grandpa!" Ever since then, he's been regularly requesting to play in the dirt again. This week Dad took him to the big park playground and let him play with his dump truck in the big dirt-filled but plant-free planter there.

Knowing that Nico is excited about dirt makes me want to get him out there in it while he's interested. Thus the new plan is to clear out the raised bed I built the summer I was pregnant and plant some easy toddler-friendly things like snap peas and cherry tomatoes. I've also decided that redoing the landscaping fabric every year is too much of a pain in the ass for too little benefit. It takes forever, it costs money every year, and inevitably the birds and Indy tear it all up. The new plan of action is to eventually go to all raised beds back there with mulch or something in between them. To that end, Dad and I picked up a half-truckload of bricks from a freecycler a few weeks ago. Nico and I stopped by the Home Depot one night after a spontaneous dinner date to price dirt for the new bed I want to build. Hilariously, every time we passed one of their lines of lawn tractors, Nico would say, "Wow! Look at all those toys!" Dream big, my son! He was also quite enamored of the huge rolling ladders that the guys were pushing around the store. ("That's a really big ladder! He was pushing a really big ladder!")

I officially started the garden overhaul last Thursday with some unexpected help from MB. Evilducky had offered me two blackberry plants and I wanted to get a spot ready for them before we went away for the weekend. The place I picked should be good for thorny, sprawly plants, but unfortunately it was buried in a pile of mulch left from a years-ago project plus a cut-up holly bush and some scrap wood that had been dumped on top. I want to know who decided holly was an acceptable landscaping plant so I can drive to that person's house and punch him or her in the face. I probably will be picking dried-up razor-sharp holly leaves out of that corner of the yard for the rest of my life. I spent about two hours bagging up the trash and trying to get all the holly out of the mulch. On the bright side, I had expected the mulch underneath the trash to be rotted away, but I salvaged an entire outdoor trash can full that was perfectly usable. While I worked on that, MB -- who has never been hugely invested in past garden projects -- cleared dead scrub and weeds along the whole west side of the perimeter and build a new raised bed along the back fence.

how it looked when MB started

how it looked when MB was done

The blackberry plants arrived Friday evening, so I went out Saturday morning to edge their new home with bricks, plant them, and put the salvaged mulch back in place. I have a metal fence-ish frame-ish type of thing someone else gave me that might work as a trellis, so that may be this next weekend's project.

horrible mulch pile of shame

happy little blackberry plants

Nico helping me water the berries

There are allegedly some strawberry starts coming my way, so Monday night I went out and cleared the original raised bed that I built in Spring 2009. There are so many metaphors applied to gardening, but this was completely gardening as atonement. I did two hours of penance for being dumb enough to fill a raised bed with grass-infested yard dirt and then dumb enough later to let it go wild for two years untended. Once the dead grass was cleared off the top, I took the top row of bricks off to pull grass out from underneath, and then I had to turn over all the dirt in the bed with a shovel and pull out the clumps of grass roots. Finally, finally, I mixed in two bags of composted manure that Nico and I had picked up at Home Depot earlier in the day. Now I must be vigilant against grass re-infestation for the rest of the year.

I haven't filled the new bed that MB built yet, but I think we bought enough dirt. Dad and I also got another half-truckload of free bricks Monday, so we may get a little more bed-building done this year than I'd dared to hope. Time will tell. I'm definitely only up for gardening in short bursts of two hours or so…spending an entire day out there does not sound at all enjoyable. Of course at this point, it's more reclamation than gardening.

Just for fun, here's a picture of Nico helping me push the cart at Home Depot on Monday afternoon. The photo doesn't really do it justice -- it was probably one of the cutest things ever.

(cross-posted from my regular blog in case I manage to do regular garden blog updates this year)