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Monday, April 27, 2015

An Award

I've never gotten an award for this blog before.  It comes and goes.  Its random.  I always hope some people like what they read of course, but I don't think I have much of a regular following.

But I was given an award.  And with so many kind words, I blushed reading them.

Its the Very Inspiring Blogger Award...
Pretty Fancy, huh?

I'd say I don't really deserve it, but that would suggest that Ramblingon made a mistake, and I don't want to suggest that.  No one ever knows how one appears to others, you know?

Thank you Ramblingon!  I don't read many blogs other than cat ones, so I think I will just hold on to this award for a few days until I look around a bit and find one I think is "inspiring".  I WILL, just need to expand my reading.  And maybe that's the point of these awards.  To make you think about other blogs.

But I do want to say that receiving this award makes me feel like the best tree in my back yard at full bloom...
I will sleep happy tonight!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Garden Enclosure Again

I'm pleased to say that I set the last post and cross-piece of the garden enclosure frame yesterday.  Most of the posts are set 2' deep in clay and gravel (and the soil around them is tamped down hard), so they should stay secure.
The ground slopes both ways, but the top is level, which was more complicated to construct but will look better.  One thing I've learned over the years as that a couple days extra work makes things better forever.

The framing is 1" PVC pipe, but I put metal conduit pipes inside them for strength. 
Note that the upper cross-pieces don't sag...

I got the basic structure from a website HERE but I had to make some improvements.  First, there are some parts of the site's plans that seem to require at least 2 people.  Second, mine is larger.  Third (and forgive me) but I couldn't make PVC connectors fit onto metal conduit like the site suggested. Fourth, the site hung the chicken wire horizontally and that seems harder.  I am draping the chicken wire over the top and down the sides to use the frame as a support while I work.

Yes, I could hire someone to help, but part of the point of doing this is doing it myself.  I could have just hired a crew to build the whole thing.  A big part of my life has been "Mark Do", LOL!*

Today I made sure all the posts were as level as possible as I tamped the clay soil around the posts with a piece of 4"x4" post (checking with a post level all the way around).   

JOHNSON - Post Level, 3 Vials
BTW, I just grabbed that image now.  I had had some difficulty attaching the level to the PVC pipes conveniently with a bungee cord.  When I saw the rubber band in the image it was "slap forehead time".  DOH!  Live and learn...

So today I went and checked the posts for solid footings.  They CAN move; it will take weeks for the clay soil to settle and harden.  I've done that with other uprights (like birdfeeder poles and trellis support 4"x4"s) and it is strong/solid eventually.  But I'm going to be throwing and dragging heavy rolls of 4'x5-' chicken wire over the tops and pulling it tight, so I wanted some temporary bracing.

I considered screwing some 12' boards diagonal across the posts (leftovers from building the fence years ago), but decided rope would do.  Pounding some 3' metal bars into the corners, I tied ropes along all the diagonals until the whole structure seemed solid enough for some pushing.

I'd show a picture of that, but my long ropes are camo colored and simply don't show up.  So just trust me they are there.

But before I can cover the structure completely with the chicken wire, I have to build a door.  The website I based the design on was going for "cheap" (under $100) and used gifted old window screens.  I'm not trying to waste money, but "better" is more important that "cheap".  The original design site is several years old; I wonder how solid the structure is now?  I need this to last 20 years. 

Instead, I think I will buy a good screen door, build a frame for it, then mount that in line with one of the paths between the framed beds.  That way I can get a wheelbarrow inside the enclosure.

I haven't decided on how to build the screen door frame and attach it to the general structure, so I will probably over-build it so it can stand on its own.  "Over-building" is my fall-back position when I'm not sure how well things will work out.  I'm thinking a frame of 4"x4" posts to attach the screen door with 8" flat metal braces on all corners and on both sides and some 8" lag screws in each corner both ways for peace of mind.
Product Details

Did I mention I "over-build"?  Well, it's better than "under-building".  Have you ever heard a bridge-builder say "I think I'll under-build this one?  Would you want one to?  LOL!

Getting the rolls of chicken wire over the structure is going to be a bit tricky.  I have 3 stepladders (8', 6', and 4'**), so I  can set one up at each post across the frame.  The balancing of them across the top baffled me for days, but last night I envisioned laying some of those old 12' boards across the 10' spans like railroads.  Is THAT cool or what?

So the chicken wire rolls will unroll across the top on the boards and down both sides.  And I will leave an extra foot of chicken wire at the bottoms to fold outwards to thwart squirrels or groundhogs digging under the edges to get into the garden.

I am slightly dreading the effort to cover the whole structure with the chicken wire.  It isn't going to be easy.  I expect some frustrating moments.  But I expected (and had) some frustrating moments setting the posts in place and getting the cross pieces attached.  So I'll get the chicken wire rolls laid across one way or another.

Pictures of that as it goes next time...

* "Mark Do" comes from childhood where I demanded to tie my own shoes when Mom tried to do it for me.  I didn't do it well at first (she told me years later), but my shoelaces were never loose.  My adult guess is that Mom had a challenging and independent child.  I don't remember it.

**  My box black oil sunflowers seed bird-feeder is up on an 8' pole.  The 8' stepladder is heavy and awkward.  So I bought a 4' one.  It was too short to reach above the box for refilling.  So I bought a 6' one.  As Goldilocks might have said: "Ah, just right"!  So I have 3 stepladders...

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Garden Enclosure

It progresses.  I discovered some real problems as I went recently.  I want the top of the enclosure to be level.  But the ground slopes front to back and right to left.  That makes digging the holes for the frame real tricky.

I tried to measure the slope of the ground first.  That got me a general idea that is dropped 1.5' in both directions, but it wasn't very exact.  I suppose I could have lived with that, but my Dad was always one to point out minor flaws in anything I ever built (no matter how well built), so I have a reaction to that even though he is gone now.  Old habits die hard.  And there IS a point to seeking perfection in any project, Dad criticisms or not.  A few extra days work means years of admiring work well done.

So I wanted to make sure that, even though the ground was sloped, the top of the frame should be level.  If I had surveyor's equipment, that would have been easy.  But I don't.  So I thought about it a few days.  With some complicated ways that seemed really awkward in reality.

As I was trying to get to sleep the previous night (and I did the construction yesterday, so that was 2 nights ago), I kept turning the problem over in my mind.  It finally struck me...  A water level!  I would build the enclosure from the top down!!!

For those of you not familiar with the idea, water in a bucket with a long tube attached will stay at the same level as the bucket even when you move the tube around.  It's not a new invention, but it was a new thought to me.  I found a nice (free I hope) picture to describe it...

Well, saved me the effort of drawing and scanning it myself.  And I wasn't cutting off the tops of the PVC pipes, I just dug my holes a bit deeper to make them match at the top.  I marked each PVC pipe 8" down from the top and made the water level match it THERE.  So the tops of all my PVC frame uprights are level.

The garden enclosure is 20' by 20'   with the raised framed beds I built, that gives me 2' between each bed and 2' around the outside of them (inside the enclosure).  I hope that makes sense.  When I post this in a few weeks as an instructional post, I'll add diagrams.

But the point is that it finally solved my difficulties with the sloped ground.  Some pictures of the general steps...

The holes dug.  The digging was horrible.  The basic soil in the back yard is gravel, clay, and more gravel.  A post hole digger wasn't sufficient.  I had to use a breaker bar.  That's a 5' solid iron rod about 1.5" in diameter, with a chisel point at the bottom.  It weighes 12-15 pounds.  You lift it, you pound it down, you swivel it about.  Its the "breaker bar 2-step dance".  LOL!  THEN you use the post hole digger to scoop the loosen debris out.  It's great (but unwanted) exercise.  Good for causing hand blisters too.

This is the lowest end of the yard.  The higher end holes got to 2.5' deep
Here are the PVC pipes sitting in the holes at one end.  They may not look all in a row, but they are.
As each one was individually set at the proper depth so that the top was level, I shoveled dirt back in and stomped it down hard.  There is still some "wiggle" room to allow for attaching more pipes at the tops.
 Here is a corner, showing the connections.  It's not easy, being just me to be at both ends of the pipes, but I set up ladders to hold one end of each pipe while I set the other end in tightly.  I'm used to having to construct "helper" supports on projects.  A 6" spring clamp atached to a ladder makes a nice "V" shape to hold the far end of a pipe temporarily...
I initially thought it would be easiest to start at one corner and work my way around the perimeter, but it  wasn't.  Doing all the north/south first was easier for supporting the pipes!  BTW, see the spring clamp attached to the ladder there?  It was a very good "third hand".
And a secret.  The PVC pipe is too flexible for a good solid structure.  Metal is better.  But I couldn't find the kind of connectors I needed that fit the metal conduit pipe (unlike a site I found about building such a structure said I could).  So to get the rigidity of metal conduit pipe AND the connections that fit PVC Pipe, I put metal conduit pipe into each PVC pipe! 
THAT solution took a few days thought last Winter...  And metal conduit pipe is inexpensive, so that was not a concern.

I have most of the uprights and half the crossbeams in place.  Took two days but it will be worth it.

Why am I doing this?  Well, the squirrels and groundhogs developed a taste for my garden seedlings a few years ago and basically ruined my garden 3 years in a row.  When I cover this frame with chicken wire, they won't be able to get in.  And I will place bent chicken wire at the bottom to stick out 2' to prevent any tunneling.   Bwa-Ha-Ha!

I will have a garden yet...

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Daffodil Tour

Well, I decided that for once I would just get the small camera tripod, set the camera on "macro" and take a picture of all the different daffodils in the back yard.  I know that most people would choose a couple and plant lots of those.

But I wasn't sure which I preferred and I figured some would thrive and spread and some would just not.  Apparently not.  Most just stay politely where they are and keep going.  So maybe I should just add more of the various kinds to make larger patches.

But let me show you the various ones.  I don't know their names, though I'm sure I could identify most in a catalog...  Ad there are a few surviving hyacinths that the voles have not yet found and a wild columbine too.

The better of the remaining Hyacinths.  The flowers generally get smaller every year here, but some seem to do well.

These were an accidental overplanting of a previous different one.  Apparently, I had a very firm opinion that there should be daffodils THERE more than one time!  LOL...

Another Hyacinth.  Originally I had 50 each of red, yellow, blue, and purple.  But there aren't many left.

 Another Hyacinth...  There WERE a dozen here, just a few years ago.

Among the 100 yellow Daffodils I planted in this spot, one white was mixed in.  I keep thinking I should pull it out, but somehow I never can get myself to do it.  There is a certain orneryness that I like about that misfit...
The wild Columbine...
Another Hyacinth...  All alone now.
The nice thing about having all these different Daffodils is that everytime I think I have a favorite one, I turn around and "oops look at THAT one".  LOL!

BTW, a co-worker friend and I tried once to figure out the differences between daffodils, narcissus, and jonquils.  Don't try.  Even the experts disagree.  So in the same way my cats call all small rodents "mousies", I call all these "daffodils". 

Like I suppose the dinosaurs called all mammals "things I can step on".  "Or "snacks".  ;)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Garden Enclosure

Is starting to get built, FINALLY!  I have to dig 9 holes 2' deep.  And there's a reason I don't just grow my garden on the soil.  Its AWFUL!!!

I could have sold the soil to a gravel company.  Its rocks and clay a foot deep and after that its sand.  The sand is OK to dig through; the rocks and clay is the hard part.  It takes a breaker bar.

I can't even find a picture of what I have to show.  But imagine a 5' iron bar about 1.5" around with a chisel point.  You lift it and pound it down into the hole and you loosen the rocks and soil.  Then you use a post-hole-digger to grab the loosened soil and pull it out. 

 The breaker bar weighes about 20 pounds.  And you have to pound it down about 30 times per hole.  Good exercise...  But it DOES loosen rocks and hard soil.

I dug 6 of the required 9 holes today.  I stopped when I sensed a blister coming...  But tomorrow needs only 3 more holes.

The holes are to support PVC pipes that will form a grid to support 1" chicken wire to keep out the varmints.  A lot of work, yeah.  But when the squirrels and groundhogs are unstoppable otherwise and you want a garden, you do what you have to do.

And I'll certainly show the garden enclosure pictures as it is built!

But the main thing is that I did the really hard holes today.  I think the best way to do any project is to do the hardest part first.  It only gets easier after that.  Besides, if the hard part is TOO hard and you have to give up, then you haven't wasted time on the easier parts that will be of no use.

The garden enclosure is surrounding 6 raised framed beds filled with 1/2 topsoil and 1/2 leaf compost.  It's going to be a great new garden, replacing the poorer ones I built 25 years ago which finally rotted out.

The new ones are larger and deeper.  And level!
The enclosure will be 20' by 20' by 8' high.  I still have to figure out how to attach a walk-in screen door..

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The New Garden Beds

Pictures at the end...

They are finally all built and filled!  I started last Fall to tear out the old 25 year old ones (and which were not my best work (being unlevel and too shallow).  I bought wood to construct more and larger and taller ones.  I got 5 of 6 finished before the ground froze and it was too cold to work outside.

So the first thing was to build the 6th bed, then move all the remaining good soil from the old ones.  That took some time.  The ground stayed frozen well after the air warmed up in March.  Then I had to wait for the yard to dry enough to bring in more topsoil and compost.

I waited because there were 2 ways to do that.  First (because the lawn was soft from thawing) was I could get the soil and compost from a landscape supply place in the hauling trailer, park it in the front yard at the street, bring the lawn mower with the yard trailer (3x4 feet) to the hauling trailer, shovel it full from the hauling trailer, drive it around back to the garden, and unshovel it into the beds.  I've done that before and its a lot of shoveling!

Second, I could wait for the lawn to dry enough to drive the hauling trailer straight back to the garden and unshovel the load once (and right next to it).  That's an iffy trick of getting between Spring rains and not wanting to wait too long to get it done.

Now, the new beds had some decent soil from the old beds, and I wanted to mix compost (a lovely black and crumbly local leaf compost called "Leaf-Gro") into the existing soil.  I did that 2 weeks ago.  That got most of the beds half-filled.  But the last bed had little good soil and the rest had settled about 4" down.

I went back to the landscaping supply yard expecting to have to get more topsoil on one trip and then more compost on a second.  But Wonder of Wonders, they had something NEW.  A thoroughly mixed 50-50 blend on the Leaf-Gro and topsoil.

I examined each of the 3 carefully, crumbling handfuls, smelling it, and looking at the color.  Their pure topsoil is very good stuff, the Leaf-Gro is very good stuff, and the 50-50 mix seemed to really be 50-50.  To explain how I knew, I found clods in the 50-50 mix and crushed them.  Half were topsoil and half were Leaf-Gro.  And the color of the really sifted parts (99% of the mix) was right between them in color.

Sure beats mixing the individual parts together with a spading fork one forkful at a time over 160 square feet of beds! 

I got two front-loader buckets of the mix (about 2 cubic yards or a bit over 1.5 cubic meters) according to the landscape place.  I think they underestimate the front-loader; I think I got 2 cubic meters (from measuring the volume in the trailer.

But having the trailer right at the garden SURE made things easier.  Sure, shoveling is tedious.  But straight off the back of the trailer into a wheelbarrow once and dumping it only 10' away into the beds was shoveling it once rather than twice.  And I had EXACTLY enough to fill ALL the beds to the top (the soil will settle a bit).


Half-done last Fall.  There is JUST enough space between the beds for my wheelbarrow.
More done last Fall.  BTW, you can see how I attached the lower and upper frames.  The dark wood on the inside is a 1"x6" pressure-treated board that attaches the 2 together.  There is one on each long side of each bed. 
All built by this Spring.
The tarp-covered trailer of 50-50 topsoil and compost mix.   Oops, didn't get a picture with the tarp off...  But you can see it was nearly filled.  5'x8' trailer filled 1.5 feet high = 60 cubic feet = 2+ cubic yards).
Filled all the beds to top (it will settle a bit).   The beds are 4' wide, 3' and 4'.  With 2' between them and allowing 2' on the outsides, it is a perfect 20' square for the framed chicken wire and pipe enclosure!
Did all the emptying/shoveling in 2 hours!  And had to slather muscle-rub on my hands when I went to make dinner later when the muscle cramps started.  OUCH!  Its been a long un-excerising Winter...  But I recover fast.  Oh, and just how did I scrape the trailer so clean, you ask?  Two words.  Snow Shovel!
And I have 2 trash barrels full of leftover pure Leaf-Gro compost  to use on the flowerbeds!
Now I just have to build the PVC pipe and chicken wire enclosure to protect the magnificent new garden from the Evil Squirrels, Evil Rabbits, and Evil Goundhogs.

Well, what is life without the next project?  LOL!  And I have plenty of them on my list...

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Renovating The Flowerbed

They HAD to go!  Two Eunonymous shrubs I've had for 20 years...  I liked them, but what was "supposed" to be "5 feet high and 3 feet wide" was 8 feet high and 6 feet wide.  And started to get invasively sending up shoots all around the flowerbed. 
The remaining parts will get chainsawed soon and the shoots dug out.
They were evergreen and variegated, which was nice, but there comes a time when too much is just too much.   They will be replaced with Butterfly Bushes and Nandina.  And space for annual Sunflowers.
They will add to my compost pile.  But it does give a chance to redo the fence background.
I have several in other spots.  They are "polite" neighbors there either.  They will go soon too.  But on the chance that I will find a good spot for cuttings, they will stay for now.  I'm thinking they would be a VERY good privacy border along the drainage easement in the front yard.  And since they are nearly impossible to kill (but don't spread much unless pruned), they may find that a wonderful permanent spot.

Everything has a place, even if not where originally placed.