February 28, 2010

2010 Garden Begins at New House!

It's here! It's here! We've stared at the date on our calendar since November and it's finally here!

I got our dirt at Mecklenburg County's "Compost Central", which as it turns out was just a mile and a half from where I work. So during lunch one day, I got a big-@ssed load of county compost, a.k.a. "black gold", and prayed I'd make it home safely. I did, though my truck drove completely weird. I think I was a bit overloaded. The next day I got another load, and that bulldozer operators skimped a a bit when filling my truck bed, so altogether I think between the two loads we evened out.

No, that's not from a giant mole. Rather, it's compost pile, load #1.

Then Yvonne and I sat down for a contentious round of on-the-spot game-changing planning ... as in something like 3 hours! However, Yvonne didn't just want to start digging in the dirt, though I did, and I had a sinking feeling she was right. As we talked it out, we realized that we want the easiest, most productive means of gardening in our back yard. Our gardening guru, Jerry Baker, uses "enclosed beds" in his own back yard. So what's good for Jerry is good for us. No tilling the ground and having to worry about fences versus coyote urine granules to keep out the critters ... and oy vey, the weeds, oh, yes, the weeds. And our first gardening experience here in Charlotte at The Cameron on Pecan Avenue utilized extremely successful enclosed beds. So we decided that enclosed beds were the route we'd go, combined with our successful county compost experience last Fall at Flynnwood.

So we began our first garden at our new house by, of course, measuring Tabla. (Doesn't everyone start their garden by measuring the pets?) He was pretty happy about it, 'cause it meant he got to head-butt something ... like the yardstick. The purpose was to see what the average height of the male cat is, since cats seem to be a "pest" in these parts, followed by geese and rabbits. We've seen rabbits and were really concerned about them until we read that cats really do a great job of keeping rabbits at bay ... and we know there are something like 5 or 6 cats that pass through our yard daily.

Next up was a trip to Lowe's, for a ridiculous, long wait to get some wood, nails and tie clamps. We'd spent the previous week planning ('cause we like to do that) and getting dirt. We began by laying out the pieces of wood in the order that they'd be put together, all based on the graph paper diagram Yvonne seemed all too pleased to draw out beforehand. Of course, after gridding out on graph paper, we had to grid out in the actual yard using flour as our demarcation lines on the ground, as we measured out the actual square footage compared to a plat diagram we had when we bought the houses versus Yvonne's graph paper diagram. My brain was itching from the inside out. Were we EVER going to get to plant anything? Please?! Aaaaaiiiiiiiieeeeeeee!!

So with the pieces laid out in the appropriate order... "uhhh, how does this look? To the right? No, to the left? Unh-hunh, how much? 6 inches? Another 6 inches. Now? How 'bout now? And again??"

we began nailing them together to create our 16' x 4' enclosed beds. We went with 2x12" treated boards. Should be good enough to keep out grass, weeds, voles and other varmits. Yvonne hammered like a girl, so I took over on the nailing duties. Actually I love hammering nails in wood and am pretty darn good at it. :) I just used her long nail experience as an excuse to take up the hammering reigns. Shhhh, don't tell her, though. ;)

Then it was time to fill the boxes. YEAH!!!! Oh, wait ... uhhhh, "Calling all precincts, calling all precincts: be on the lookout for a white male suspect, 5'11" driving a dirty gray pickup truck, dirt under his nails, newsboy hat and bad plaid shirt. Roger."

We spread a layer of newspaper to help kill the grass. (Actually, Yvonne did most of that. Okay, she did all of that. ;) )

and then tacked a layer of black plastic to the inside of the boxes to hold the dirt (I did that part ... we really worked great together). Yvonne cut a bunch of slits in the plastic for drainage, using scissors, while I nailed little ticky tacky nails up along the top edge of the plastic.

Now, it was time to use the collected leaves we'd be stealing from our neighbors all winter long. Nice of them to help us out like that, huh? I just LOVE IT when people do all the work for you, namely raking their yards and putting perfect compost material in tidy clear plastic bags for you. Awesome!

Next went in a layer of leaves. We filled up about half of the depth, knowing full well it would settle. The leaves provide excellent drainage, will break down to create awesome compost, and also allows us to use only half the dirt to fill the boxes.

Then we topped with compost.

We did a wheel barrel test before finishing the second box. Wanting to ensure there is enough room to get between the two boxes. Yep, looks good enough.

Then we built the second box....

and repeated the filling process.

Once all the dirt was in Yvonne smoothed it out...

I took a pH reading. Woo-HOOOOO, we were at 6.3 on the pH scale, awesome, awesome, awesome!!!

After we ran out of daylight Saturday, we prepared a seed soaking tonic to help the seeds along. Jerry Baker, again, totally rules.

For our first planting we're using spinach, turnips, lettuce, carrots and beets. Onions are good neighbor plants for all of those, so we left space to plant onions inbetween each, with one larger row of onions then several sub-rowlets. We'll plant those in a couple weeks (if the seeds arive ).

We gave everything we planted a good soak...

and covered them up for a good night's sleep. It's still in the 20s here at night so they need to be protected from the cold. The frost cloth keeps temps 15-20 degrees warmer underneath, while letting rain and good sun through. I was excited, 'cause this means we can overwinter many things come 2011. :) The bags of leaves, and a piece of slate my brother Mark gave me holds the cloth in place. Then, just two days later? Snowfall here in Charlotte. Good thing we put the new seeds to bed. :)