email: cavebear2118 AT verizon DOT com

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Enclosed Garden

After several years of increased varmint invasion, I have decided decided to take the bull by the horns (or more properly the squirrel by the tail) and exclude the little beastards entirely.  I'm going to totally enclose my garden in 1" chicken wire.

My original (and technically "current") garden has a 32'x2' framed trellis, plus four 8'x3' beds and two 4'x4' beds.  But over the years tree shading and invasive vine growth has reduced that to 12 feet of trellis, two 8x3s and two 4x4s.  And they are over 20 years old, so the wood frames are rotting badly.  With the need to rebuild the beds anyway, the varmint problems invited a serious solution.

First, let me assure you that I realize home gardening does not save money on food.  It is a hobby (of great personal satisfaction) and no hobby saves money.  Hobbyist fishermen don't get fish cheaper than can be gotten at the grocery stores, and the same is true for hunting.  So if my plan seems to cost more money than its worth, don't be surprised.

Second, last year the squirrels (and possibly a groundhog and a rabbit or two) ate or pulled up almost all of my seedlings early and ate most of my ripening tomatoes and melons later.  That was the last straw; I could either give up of double-down.  I'm doubling down!

I started looking for structure ideas last Fall and found one site where a person had constructed an enclosed structure about 8'x10' using EMT pipes (thin metal pipe used to hold electrical wire underground) and chicken wire suspended over picture frame wire.  I sketched out a few designs on that idea and realized it needed to be stronger for the 20'x20' size I wanted.

One thing I discovered was that PVC pipe fitting fit over EMT pipe quite tightly.  So I figured out the kinds of connections I needed to build a 20'x20' grid of 1"x10' EMT pipes.  There aren't metal connectors in complicated shapes like there are for PVC pipes, so that was great.

I ordered the PVC connections last week and they arrived a few days ago.  But I wasn't committed to the structure until I started to take apart the existing framed beds.  I started on that today.  My 2'x32' trellis bed had 6" concrete remesh wire as the vertical support.  That's the heavy wire grid they put into concrete driveways for strength.  I use it for super-strong tomato cages and trellis material. 

The act of commitment was to cut the trellis remesh wire off the posts supporting it.  I have a tool called a "Sawz-All" that is basically an electric kitchen knife on steroids.  It can cut wood or metal.
I unrolled 125' of heavy-duty extension cord out to the garden, plugged in the Sawzall and started cutting the concrete remesh from the trellis posts.  It went easier than I thought.  But there is ALWAYS some suprise to any part of a project.  Well, the first half of the remesh grid came off fine and I propped it against the fence (it will be used later). 

The second half was not so easy.  Years of evil vines (some 3/4" thick) had the wire remesh locked down.  It took a good 30 minutes to cut the vines loose.  No matter how many I cut there were more from unexpected directions, so it took multiple tries to get it all loose.  I finally got that half propped against the fence, but there is probably another hour of pruning to get all those interwoven vines cut out of the remesh.

So part is done.  A small part.  But a start is good and I have to continue now or there won't be any trellis to grow cucumbers, pole beans, etc on this year.  The first part of destruction requires the remainder.

The next step is to pull up all the scrap carpet I've used to suppress weeds in the paths between the framed beds.  I already know that there are many weeds growing through it, so pulling it up won't be easy.  Then I have to take apart the framed beds themselves.  That old lumber is all trash, but it will leave the good garden soil without support. 

With Spring coming late, I don't have as much time as I expected to have to complete this project.  Of course!  Any normal year, I could have started this project in early March.  THIS YEAR, we have more snow forecast for Wdnesday! 

Basically, I have to set nine 10' EMT pipes in the ground 2' deep in a 3x3 grid and then connect them all at the top.  I can dig individual holes but my test dig in the rocky clay soil was not promising to be easy.  I could rent a power auger to drill holes.  Or I can rent a power trencher to make a trench along the entire outside of the structure and then backfill the soil around the EMT pipes.

I may go with the trencher because I have some other uses for one.  There are tree roots coming from neighbors' trees and I need to get them out because they are are making the ground unlevel and the new framed beds need to be on flat soil.  But maybe I can cut them with an ax and pry them out with a steel bar easier.  I'll have to give the latter a try first.

The last part of the project is to use the interior structure space as efficiently as possible.  I have done some sketches and realized that my original layout of framed beds was very inefficient.  Well, that didn't matter when I had the whole backyard.  Now it matters.  The most efficient 20'x20' section of the existing beds had 126 square feet of garden.  The best 20'x20' section I have layed out so far has 224 sq ft with 2' wide paths.

A new post when I do more...

I'll be taking lots of pictures as I go on this.  I can tell from doing internet searches that a lot of people want to do this but don't know how and will find my project.  I don't have anything to show yet, but should soon. 


Ramblingon said...

Good. I was going to say please post pictures.

That was a plain wild violet I took a picture of. Tiny, no bigger than a nickel. They come in purple, yellow, palest blue.

Viola papilionacea

They are called weeds but to me and many many others they are delicate dear tiny flowers.

Megan said...

Phew - this project sounds like a huge amount of work, Mark! Good luck.

Sydney, Australia

Andrea and the Celestial Kitties said...

We had/have a woodchuck who tore down all of our corn stalks and makes it impossible to garden any more. Stupid thing lives under the neighbors shed and he's huge. And probably has a family by now..
Greg greg tomatoes last year (and got a few actually) and used old boards to keep the weeds down. Surprised me, but it did work I guess. Now if we could just put a board over that woodchuck...